Gerrie Coetzee (born August 4, 1955) is a South African former boxer. He made history two times: He was the first African ever to fight for the world's Heavyweight title, and the first to win the world Heavyweight title. His nickname was The Bionic Man, because he always had trouble with his right hand, and had a few corrective items put in it during three surgeries.
Coetzee started boxing professionally on the night of September 14, 1974, when he beat Christian Roos by a decision in four. He followed that win with 21 more consecutive wins to reach a record of 22-0 before fighting for the world Heavyweight championship for the first time. Among those wins, there was one over Roos in a rematch, which Coetzee won by a knockout in three, wins over former world title challengers Ron Stander, Randy Stephens and Pierre Fourie, a South African Heavyweight championship winning effort against Kallie Knoetzee (unanimous decision in 10), and a first round knockout of former world Heavyweight champion Leon Spinks. With exception of the Spinks bout, held at Monte Carlo, the rest of Coetzee's fights during his early run were held in his native South Africa.
After that, he was able to challenge John Tate for the WBA's world Heavyweight title that had been left vacant by Muhammad Ali. The fight, according to many South African historians, did cause some social impact because it reunited 135,000 people to watch an event between a Black (Tate) and a White (Coetzee) in a South Africa that was split by Apartheid. It was one of the first major public events where Blacks and Whites could join together in public since that ideology had taken over in South Africa. Coetzee became the first African Heavyweight ever to challenge for a world title, but his dream of becoming the first African world Heavyweight champion had to wait, because he was beaten by Tate by a decision in 15 rounds.
Tate, however, lasted shortly as world champion, as he was dethroned by Mike Weaver in his first title defense. Coetzee, by his part, knocked out Mike Koraniki in the first round to keep his lofty status. Then, Weaver travelled to South Africa to defend against Coetzee, once again, fighting in front of a very large crowd. Coetzee's dream was almost reached in this fight, when he dropped Weaver in round eight, but Weaver recovered and knocked out Coetzee in round 13 to retain the title.
Undaunted, Coetzee went back to boxing soon and beat fringe contender George Chaplin before facing with Renaldo Snipes, a man who later would be seconds away from becoming world champion when he dropped Larry Holmes in a title challenge. Coetzee dropped Snipes in round one, but he lost a ten round decision to Snipes.
Coetzee went on, and beat four guys between 1981 and 1983, including former world title challenger Scott Le Doux. But then, he faced future world champion Pinklon Thomas, who held him to a draw. Regardless of that, the WBA then gave Coetzee his third world title try, and the third time turned out to be the charm for Coetzee when, in front of a road crowd in Akron, Ohio and a HBO Boxing audience, he made history by knocking out world Heavyweight champion Michael Dokes in the tenth round to become Africa's first world champion ever.
It turned out that the punch that knocked out Dokes hurt Coetzee even more: He broke his right hand with the punch that knocked out Dokes, and required his second surgery on that hand, a metal implanting surgery, five days after the fight, in New York.
There was much talk about a unification bout with the other world Heavyweight champion, Holmes, in 1984, and a contract was signed for that bout, but Coetzee re-injured his hand during training camp, requiring another surgery and cancelling the fight.
When he was able to get back in the ring, he had to meet mandatory WBA challenger Greg Page (the real #1 contender David Bey refused to go to South Africa as described in "Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King" by Jack Newfield, Bey became the #1 by stopping Greg Page in the first round). Coetzee dropped Page in round one, but lost his world title to Page when he got knocked out in round eight. This proved to be another controversial bout, because Coetzee's camp protested that while Coetzee was on the canvas, the bell had sounded and the referee's count should have been waved off, which would have allowed Coetzee to continue for at least one more round. But after reviewing the fight, the WBA decided to leave Page as the winner by a knockout in eight.
After this fight, Coetzee made token attempts at a comeback. He beat Mike Tyson rival James Quick Tillis by a decision in ten, and went to England to fight future world Heavyweight champion Frank Bruno, losing by a knockout in one. After that fight, he announced his retirement, but came back twice during the 1990s, winning by knockout in three against both Dave Fiddler and Wes Turner in 1993, and then winning against Dan Komiscki in three but losing to former world Middleweight and Light Heavyweight champion Iran Barkley by a knockout in ten, after dropping him in round three, for a minor Heavyweight belt.
Coetzee has stayed retired ever since.
His record stands at 33 wins, 6 losses and 1 draw, with 20 wins by knockout.