On this date in 1983, long-time heavyweight contender Gerrie Coetzee of South Africa finally succeeded in becoming a world champion in his third attempt, as he knocked out Michael Dokes in Round 10 of 15 to capture the WBA version of the belt.
Of course, at this point in history, only one man was truly viewed as the heavyweight champion: WBC belt-holder Larry Holmes. Still, the WBA strap was in the center of some exciting knockouts in this era, featuring some of the more talented big men of the 1980s.
The WBC and WBA belts had become separated in 1978. After his stunning upset of Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks had opted to fight Ali in a rematch, rather than face the WBC’s mandatory No. 1 contender, Ken Norton. The WBC stripped Spinks and in June 1978, Larry Holmes survived Norton in a 15-round split decision, to win that title.
The WBA belt had meanwhile become vacant in 1979, when Ali officially retired, following his comeback win over Spinks. In October of 1979, Coetzee had lost a unanimous decision to John Tate, for the vacant title. In March of 1980, Mike Weaver had claimed the WBA title with one of the most thrilling, last-minute KO victories in boxing history. Trailing badly on all three cards, Weaver knocked out Tate with less than one minute left in Round 15.
Weaver defended the title with a Round 13 KO of Coetzee in October 1980. In December 1982, he lost the belt to Dokes in a controversial Round 1 TKO. This was a fight that took place shortly after Du Ku Kim’s tragic death against Ray Mancini, and the referee admitted later that he may have panicked and stopped the fight too soon. A rematch was ordered between Weaver and Dokes, with the result a draw.
Dokes was something of a poor-man’s version of Holmes. He had good footwork, length and knew how to use a jab. At the time he faced Coetzee on September 23, 1983, he looked like the most credible threat on the horizon for Holmes.
Dokes was a definite favorite over Coetzee for this fight. He got off to a strong start, but the veteran hung tough and stayed in the fight. In Round 10, he hurt Dokes and trapped him against the ropes, allowing him to finish the fight and seize the belt.
Coetzee broke his hand in the fight and was out of action for over a year. He would lose by Round 8 KO in his first defense, against Greg Page in December 1984.
After his loss to Page, Coetzee won a fight against James Tillis in September 1985 and was then knocked out in Round 1 by Frank Bruno, in March 1986. Coetzee retired following the loss to Bruno, though he fought and won twice in 1993 and returned for another comeback in 1997, where he went 1-1 and was knocked out in his final bout by Iran Barkley.
After losing his belt to Coetzee 32 years ago today, Dokes won 11 straight fights, before being stopped by Evander Holyfied in March 1989, in one of Holyfield’s first fights at heavyweight. Dokes would fight until 1997, getting knocked out by Donovan Ruddock in April 1990 and Riddick Bowe in February 1993.