I Remember "The Tank" - by Terry Pettifer

There was a time in the midseventies when this scribe worked at a liquor retail store in downtown Johannesburg, on the corner of Bree and West streets. One block behind the business premises where I was employed stood the old Newtown
abattoir.

Because of financial restraints and having just got married, I was obliged to walk from Johannesburg’s major bus terminus at Van der Bijl Square, some twelve blocks to what was then the Bree Street bottle store, a dusty triangular building whose clients were essentially bloodspattered slaughterhouse workers that consumed copious measures of white malmsey wine during their tea and lunch
breaks. As I recall, the smell of death was always present and the stench of contaminated carcasses being incinerated is something I’ll never forget.

Yet not all my memories of Bree Street were unpleasant and though training to become a retail store manager, I snatched what quiet moments there were to scribble stories on my first love…boxing!

Most of my stories that I forwarded to the newspapers were ignored and it wasn’t until a boxing publication based in Durban, called “Knockout” hit the book shelves that I found an outlet for my work. Not that the monthly magazine welcomed my essays with open arms, after all, who was a 22-year-old fight nut named Terry Pettifer?

However, I persevered and then a kind gentleman named Chip Wilson, eventually decided that one of my articles titled “Everyone Loves a Puncher” warranted publishing. It was a turning point in my life and although I continued working in the liquor industry for the next two decades, the Pettifer pen regularly contributed stories to numerous publications, including The Star, Boxing World, Boxing Beat, Southern Courier, Sports Weekly, Boxing Express and Sports Illustrated among others.

It was at the Bree Street bottle store, however, that I first encountered Mike “The Tank” Schutte. A meat-hauler at the Newtown abattoir, Schutte was then one of the leading contenders for the national heavyweight title and it was purely coincidental that shortly after our first meeting, he beat Jimmy Richards to win the SA heavyweight title during the same month my first article appeared in “Knockout” magazine.

Our friendship prospered with the passing of years, although I could never have imagined someday doing the obituary at Mike’s funeral.

A powerful, barrel-chested heavyweight with a bludgeoning left hook, Schutte once hovered on the fringes of international acclaim and was briefly rated at number 10 by The Ring magazine.

Mike’s two fights with Gerrie Coetzee are now part of South African fight lore
and despite losing the national title to the “Boksburg Bomber” on a disqualification
in 1976, Schutte remained a colourful and immensely popular heavyweight until his retirement from the ring three years later.

The first Schutte versus Coetzee bout took place at West Ridge Park Stadium in Durban and experts agree that it was one of the dirtiest fights ever witnessed in a South African ring, with both men guilty of foul tactics like head-butting, rabbit-punching and hitting below the belt and kicking.

In an eagerly anticipated rematch, Coetzee won a hard-fought points decision
in Johannesburg but in the process broke both hands which very nearly ended his career.

At his best the Tank was a considerable fighter and among the international
fighters he beat were Joe “King” Roman, Chuck Wepner, Terry Hinke, Tommy Kost, “Wild” Bill Carson, Obie English and Rudi Lubbers.

Schutte later enjoyed a colourful career as an all-in wrestler and this was followed by various stints in the movie and music industry. Extremely humorous, Mike subsequently became somewhat of a folk legend in lieu of him replacing the mythical “Van der Merwe” as the target of good-humoured jokes.

An amiable and loving personality outside the ring, Schutte had a natural wit and was always willing to laugh at his own expense. When your writer asked him why he had ‘kicked’ Gerrie Coetzee in that infamous brawl in Durban, Mike’s reply was as straight to the point as the man himself: “Because I was cross and his head was right there” he said.

Prior to his death, Mike had been sick for quite some time and yet he was determined to spend a portion of his last Xmas Eve and Old Years Eve with yours truly.

Our bull-terrier Diesel was less than a year old at the time and Mike, who
had previously owned three bull terriers, made no secret of his affection for
the dog.

“This guy is going to be a handful when he’s big”, grinned Schutte, “I only wish I could be around to see that happen”.