South African Heavyweights ... Two by TwoBy Deon Potgieter With a dearth of heavyweights currently active in South Africa there will be a lot of attention on the debut of two new prospective talents on Friday night at Nasrec Johannesburg. Jakes Els from Brakpan and Barend Liebenberg from the Free State will be making their debut against each other in a fight which is seen as an indicator of whether either or both could be a savior of sorts for the sport locally. While there is some exciting talent on the rise in the lower weight divisions, it is the heavyweights that attract the masses.South Africa has produced numerous world-class heavyweights throughout its proud 116 year boxing history.Whereas in earlier times the really outstanding fighters arrived one by one, the past 30 years have seen them arriving in twos. The most memorable and fiercest local rivalry of them all was between Gerrie Coetzee and Kallie Knoetze. As amateurs they met on six occasions, each winning three bouts.As professionals, their rivalry developed into a feud, both being out to prove just who the best was. Fight fans and the public at large were divided – you were either a Coetzee or a Knoetze man – there was no middle ground. Given their personalities, Knoetze was the more likable, but Coetzee was seen as the better technical boxer, and both attracted the fans with ease. “We never liked each other,” says Knoetze. “I think it was because he knew how hard I could hit and I knew how fast he was. I’d still be throwing a punch and he’d have hit me twice.” The late sportswriter Chris Greyvenstein said of Knoetze, “He wielded his right with shattering effect, and if Knoetze added the dedication of a (Rocky) Marciano to this gift from the gods, he could have been the best heavyweight in the world.” Coetzee and Knoetze met only once as professionals, with Coetzee winning a very controversial points decision.Coetzee dropped Knoetze in the fourth round, but the man who modeled his mouth on Muhammad Ali came back strong in the latter rounds and had ringsiders, as well as television audiences, convinced he had taken the fight. The judges, however, saw it differently.In 1979 the dream of seeing two South Africans do battle against each other for the heavyweight crown became a real possibility.Both fighters had proven their worth by facing and beating a host of top ten contenders – mostly via the short route. At that stage the WBA world champion Ali was washed-up following his farcical matches with the novice Leon Spinks and decided to relinquish his title rather than face either Coetzee or Knoetze, who would most certainly have inflicted some serious and unnecessary damage on the legend. Knoetze and Coetzee then met Big John Tate and Spinks in an elimination tournament for the vacant title. “It was what everybody here wanted to see, Gerrie and myself for the heavyweight championship of the world,” says Knoetze. “It was a dream.” Knoetze, overwhelmed by the enormity of the occasion, ran out of gas and lost to Tate on an eighth round technical knockout. “Physically I was ready. I could have beaten anybody,” says Knoetze “but mentally I was still an amateur. When I got in the ring I was scared” Knoetze’s preparation prior to the fight consisted of numerous functions to satisfy sponsors and, always being a big party animal, the big hitting and charismatic fighter indulged himself more than would be expected of a fighter in training for a fight of this magnitude.A week after Knoetze’s shocking defeat, Coetzee took on Spinks in Monte Carlo. At the time Spinks was thought to be the tougher of the two Americans. After all, Spinks had just gone 30 rounds back to back with “The Greatest.” Coetzee showed no respect for this hyped status, however, and scored one of the most memorable knockouts in heavyweight history. Spinks was clearly out of his league and visited the canvas three times shortly after the start of the first round. A record number of 90 000 spectators flocked to Loftus Versfeld on October 20, 1979 to see Coetzee take on Tate for the WBA heavyweight world title. An uncannily lack luster Coetzee put on a dismal performance and Tate won a very dull 15 round points decision. Coetzee got another shot at world honors against Tate’s conqueror, Mike Weaver, a year later. Failing to finish off the job after having Weaver in all sorts of trouble throughout the bout, Coetzee himself was stopped in the 13th round of a grueling and very exciting contest.Two years later, on September 23,1983, Coetzee got it right and knocked out Michael Dokes – a man who had never even been knocked down until then – in the 10th round of a pulsating battle for the WBA crown.