“Pierre the Lion Heart” proclaimed the headline in the Rapport the Sunday morning after Pierre Coetzer, bleeding around the eyes, stopped American James Pritchard in eight rounds. There is no better line than that to describe the career of one of our best heavyweights.
He may not have won a world title but he added more than his share of drama to the heavyweight division and was a hard night’s work for any heavyweight in the world.
He was also involved in two of the best shootouts in South African ring history.
The first time was in 1984 when he met Bennie Knoetze for the vacant national title. It did not look good for Coetzer at the start of the fight. Knoetze’s relentless pressure had him bouncing off the ropes in the first round and visiting the canvass twice in the second stanza. It looked all but over, but he had other ideas and came storming back in the third round. A vicious combination punctuated by a left hook and right hand sent Knoetze down in a dramatic turnaround. Knoetze somehow made it back to his feet but he was in no condition to continue and was counted out on his feet.
Coetzer would duplicate that performance six years later when he met Johnny du Plooy at the Superbowl in a huge local attraction and this time, it took him one round less. The pair’s careers unfolded almost parallel too each other. Both had impressive victories over international opponents. Du Plooy could be erratic was considered the harder puncher and the more naturally talented of the two, despite the fact that Coetzer had avenged his only two defeats in 33 contests against former cruiserweight world champions, Bernard Benton and Ossie Ocasio and was on a nine fight winning streak.
Coetzer had another tumultuous first round, got dropped by a Du Plooy right in the second and then got up to dismantle Du Plooy in the same round, sending him down twice. The long-debated question as to who was better, was finally over!
Coetzer continued his international career and after another seven wins around the world met the undefeated Riddick Bowe in a final world title eliminator in Las Vegas in 1992. Coetzer did all he could and was courageous to the end, but Bowe was just too good and the South African was stopped in the seventh round. Bowe became world heavyweight champion in his next fight, defeating Evander Holyfield in a classic.
Still, the world took notice of the teak tough Coetzer and three months later he was taking on Frank Bruno in London. Coetzer had a moment early on when he stunned Bruno with a short left hook, but the Brit steadied himself and eventually overwhelmed Coetzer in the eighth. Bruno would also win a world title, taking the WBC title from Oliver McCall three years later.
His final stand was in Reno in 1993 against the legend himself, George Foreman. After knocking Coetzer down in the fourth, Foreman appealed to the referee to stop the fight but had to eat his words when Coetzer lasted into the eighth. The fight was finally stopped after he rose from another knockdown and took some more shots from Big George. You guessed it.. A few years later, Foreman regained the world title he lost in 1974 at the age of 45.
Fighting three legends was a fitting end to a memorable career and Coetzer called it a day.
There simply never was a fitter heavyweight with a bigger heart than Pierre Coetzer.