Boksburg, South Africa (November 5, 2023) - Top Heavyweight Gerrie Coetzee, a South African former boxer known as the Boksburg Bomber, made history as the first boxer from the African continent to fight for and win a world heavyweight title. Coetzee held the WBA version of the championship from September 1983 to December 1984. But behind his remarkable achievements lay the challenges of "The Bionic Hand," a fighter plagued by persistent issues with his right hand.
Coetzee earned the nickname "The Bionic Hand" due to his frequent struggles with his right hand, which required multiple corrective surgeries. In Afrikaans, he was affectionately known as "Seer Handjies" or "little sore hands," a moniker bestowed upon him by fellow South African boxing great Kallie Knoetze.
Coetzee embarked on his professional boxing journey on the night of September 14, 1974, defeating fellow South African Christian Roos with a decision win after 19 bouts. He followed this victory with an impressive streak of 21 consecutive wins, amassing a record of 22-0 before his first shot at the WBA heavyweight title.
Among these victories, Coetzee secured a rematch win over Roos, knocking him out in three rounds. He also triumphed over former world title challengers Ron Stander, Randy Stephens, and Pierre Fourie. Notably, he clinched the South African Heavyweight championship with a unanimous decision victory against amateur rival Kallie Knoetze in ten rounds. Coetzee's achievements also included a first-round knockout of former world heavyweight champion Leon Spinks, an impressive feat that bolstered his reputation as a genuine title contender in the post-Muhammad Ali era of top heavyweight boxing.
Renaldo Snipes, an accomplished American boxer known as "Mister" Snipes, marked his career with a title championship bout against Larry Holmes. Snipes, a two-time Chicago Golden Gloves Champion, began his career with a first-round knockout and continued to garner 21 consecutive wins. His biggest moment came when he challenged world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes on November 6, 1981, in Pittsburgh. Snipes managed to knock down the champion in the seventh round but was ultimately stopped in Round 11. Despite complaining about a long count, replays showed that Holmes rose at the count of 4 and valiantly fought off the charging Snipes.
Following the Holmes bout, Snipes engaged in a series of battles against world-class fighters, leading to wildly entertaining brawls. His record stood at 39 wins (22 by knockout), 8 losses, and 1 draw. He faced formidable opponents such as Trevor Berbick, Gerrie Coetzee, Tim Witherspoon, Greg Page, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and more.
Snipes came tantalizingly close to a lucrative fight with Mike Tyson in 1990, but a broken right hand in a match against journeyman Jamie Howe cost him the opportunity. The injury and the subsequent two-year rehabilitation period prevented him from seizing the moment. Upon his return in June 1992 at the age of 36, Snipes faced Garing Lane, surviving an eighth-round count to secure a split decision victory. He followed it with a knockout of Eddie Curry the following year. However, his age and the challenge of facing the younger and larger Cuban giant Jorge Luis Gonzalez proved insurmountable, as Snipes was stopped with only 40 seconds left in the 10th and final round.
Gerrie Coetzee vs. Renaldo Snipes
Two top heavyweights clashed in a memorable showdown that left a lasting mark in boxing history. Renaldo Snipes, the unbeaten heavyweight from White Plains, New York, extended his victory streak to 22 by facing the rugged South African fighter, Gerrie Coetzee. The 10-round battle was a rollercoaster of excitement, complete with unexpected knockdowns and a controversial decision.
The New Westchester Theatre set the stage for this epic bout, which surprised most ringsiders with its final outcome. Coetzee, demonstrating composure and power, delivered two knockdowns to Snipes, making them the first knockdowns suffered by the unbeaten fighter in his career. The first knockdown was triggered by a hard left to the head, while the second resulted from a right to the jaw.
Despite these knockdowns, Snipes showed resilience, and the contest was marked by intense exchanges in the ring. Snipes never truly dominated Coetzee, and his edge was evident in only the fifth and sixth rounds. To the surprise of many, Judge Carol Castellano was the sole official who cast her vote in favor of the South African. Judge Nick Gamboli and Referee Joe Cortez scored five rounds for Snipes, four for Coetzee, and one even. Castellano's card reflected six rounds for Coetzee, three for Snipes, and one even.
The decision left many spectators stunned, including Hal Tucker, the manager of Gerrie Coetzee, who labeled it the "most disgraceful decision" he had ever witnessed. Coetzee himself expressed disbelief at the official announcement, asserting that he had won the fight convincingly. Yet, with the decision made, there was nothing to be done.
Renaldo Snipes, after experiencing the early knockdowns and periods of being on the defensive, believed the verdict was "fair." He acknowledged that his initial performance left room for improvement but felt that he came on strong as the fight progressed.
Snipes emerged from his locker room and expressed his desire for a championship fight, boldly declaring, "Bring on Larry Holmes." This remarkable encounter showcased the tenacity and determination of both fighters, leaving fans and experts alike discussing the controversial decision for years to come.
The nationally televised contest was held amidst a demonstration outside the venue, with protesters voicing their opposition to a white South African fighter competing in an American ring due to the apartheid policies of South Africa at the time. Despite the picketing, the bout proceeded without incident, and Coetzee remained undeterred.