South African Heavyweight World Champions

Gerrie Coetzee (L) throws a left punch against Michael Dokes during the fight at the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio. Gerrie Coetzee won the WBA World heavyweight title by a KO 10. (Photo by: The Ring Magazine via Getty Images)

Boxing: South Africa’s four heavyweight world champions

Here we take a look at South Africa’s four heavyweight world champions from the world of boxing.

South African Heavyweight World Champions

Gerrie Coetzee (L) throws a left punch against Michael Dokes during the fight at the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio. Gerrie Coetzee won the WBA World heavyweight title by a KO 10. (Photo by: The Ring Magazine via Getty Images)

More than 130 South African boxers have held world championships, but only four heavyweights from our country have captured a globally sanctioned strap.

South Africa’s four heavyweight world champions

1 Gerrie Coetzee (WBA Champion 23 September 1983 – 1 December 1984)

In 1983, Gerrie Coetzee became the first South African to win a Heavyweight title in what was his fourth title fight.

Coetzee was not expected to get one over on the Don King-Promoted Michael Dokes, but he dominated the fight before scoring a tenth-round knockout.

The knockout punch might have dealt more damage to Coetzee than to Dokes with the South African bruiser requiring surgery and struggling with the injured hand for years.

Coetzee lost the title in a controversial knockout defeat to Gary Page at Sun City a year later.

2 Corrie Sanders (WBU Champion 15 November 1997 – 20 May 2000) and (WBO Champion 8 March 2003 – December 2003)

Sanders is the only South African heavyweight to succesfully defend his title on more than one occasion. He is also the only South African heavyweight to hold more than one world championship belt.

‘The Sniper’ won the WBO heavyweight title in 2003 after knocking out Wladimir Klitschko in two rounds, in a massive upset. He would vacate the title in a bid to claim the WBC title off of Vitali Klitschko but fell short in his bid to be a triple world champion.

In 1997 he had beaten Ross Puritty at the Carousel Casino in Hammanskraal to win the WBU title which he defended in fights against Bobby Czyz, Jorge Valdes and Al Cole before dropping the belt to Hasim Rahman in Atlantic City in 2000. 

South Africa’s four heavyweight world champions

3 Mike Bernardo (WBF Champion 12 May 2000 – May 2002)

Also a renowned kickboxer Bernardo made his professional boxing debut on 28 February 1993, against countryman Delius Musemwa, scoring a second-round knockout.

Bernardo won the vacant WBF title against Dan Jerling by knocking out the Czechoslovakian fighter in the sixth round in Szekszárd, Hungary.

In his only defence of the title, Bernardo knocked out American Peter McNeely in just 41 seconds. In May 2002 he was stripped of the title for failure to defend the belt.

South Africa’s four heavyweight world champions

4 Francois Botha (WBF Champion 6 February 2009 – 10 April 2010)

On 6 February 2009, Frans ‘The White Buffalo’ Botha beat Ron ‘Rocky’ Guerrero by unanimous decision to claim the vacant WBF heavyweight title at the Tlokwe Banquet Hall in Potchefstroom.

Botha had returned to boxing two years earlier with a unanimous decision victory over Bob Mirovic.

It was the second time that Botha had won a world title fight but his victory in 1995 against Germany’s Axel Schulz to win the IBF heavyweight Championship was declared a no contest retrospectively after the fighter tested positive for nandrolone.

South Africa’s four heavyweight world champions