CAPE TOWN - WHEN legendary boxing promoter Thinus Strydom was honoured at the Mpumalanga Sports Awards function last weekend, many fans of the fight game took to social media to acclaim the accolade.
Strydom, who has been promoting the “sport of kings” for more than 40 years, has won many awards from organisations, both local and international.
However, there is one stand-out episode in his life as a promoter, and it earned him the respect of the boxing world.
In 1983, the incomparable American boxing promoter Don King, a wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, secured a contract for South African heavyweight Gerrie Coetzee to fight Michael Dokes for the World Boxing Association (WBA) world title in Ohio in the United States.
No sooner had the ink dried on the contracts when King called Strydom, who was Coetzee’s business manager at the time. King informed Strydom that the fight could not proceed because he could not find financial backers for the title fight.
Strydom responded with a typical Afrikaner retort: “’n boer maak ’n plan.” While King was trying to fathom the response, Strydom explained that he was resourceful and resilient and would save the situation. He set out to find a headline sponsor, and he did! At the fight venue, the Richfield Coliseum, in Richfield Township, Ohio, the ring was adorned with Defy branding.
Strydom, an astute businessperson and entrepreneur, had convinced the South African-based company Defy, which was southern Africa’s largest manufacturer and distributor of domestic appliances at the time, to fork out the funds to save the bout.
A few weeks later, the world title fight took place in the US, and Coetzee, the decided underdog, was crowned world heavyweight champion. It was the first time that an African had prevailed in the blue-riband division of world boxing.
On their return to SA, Strydom and Coetzee were greeted by a huge crowd at the airport in Johannesburg. Among the crowd were SA cabinet ministers, and that was ironic because many government officials, during the bad old days of apartheid, were opposed to Coetzee fighting black opponents.
Strydom’s meaningful connection with boxing started in 1982 when he attended a tournament that featured a 26-year-old relatively unknown Coetzee in Johannesburg.
Strydom, ever the fastidious businessperson, was disconcerted by Coetzee’s handlers working his corner with tattered, blood-stained towels during the bout.
Two days later, Strydom telephoned Coetzee and shared his concerns, and offered to help. Coetzee countered: “What do you do differently?”
Strydom responded: “I will see to it that your corner never uses a dirty towel again.”
The upshot was that Coetzee felt convinced that Strydom was indeed the right person to steer him to greater heights. At that stage, Coetzee had lost two fights in a career spanning 29 bouts.
Armed with Coetzee’s signature, Strydom founded World Sports Promotions. Three professional tournaments later, the boxing world had been alerted to the fistic talents of the “Boksburg Bomber”, one of Coetzee’s several ring names.
After the world title conquest in 1983, Coetzee’s career milestone also proved to be a springboard for Strydom to launch World Sports Promotions internationally, with great success.
Subsequently, he staged international tournaments, including several world title bouts, in his native SA and abroad. Internationally, he promoted in various parts of the US, United Kingdom, Hungary, Thailand and Mexico.
In view of his exceptional performance as a promoter over the years, Coetzee was showered with accolades.
These included SA Boxing Commission’s Promoter of the Year award (2007), WBF (World Boxing Federation) International Promoter of the Year award (2007), WBO (World Boxing Organisation) International Promoter of the Year awards (1990 and 1991) as well as “The Key to the City of Biloxi, Mississippi” (1988).
The accolades were also recognition for Strydom’s pioneering roles in SA for the lesser-known WBO and WBF in Africa.
Besides the King connection, Strydom also co-promoted tournaments around the world with world-acclaimed promoters like Mickey Duff, Joe Jackson, Bob Arum and Sol Kerzner.
On home soil, Strydom took the lead in the transformation of boxing in SA by promoting black boxers when it was not fashionable to do so during apartheid.
He broke new ground by featuring black boxers on his bill in formerly “whites only” venues. Strydom also engaged some black trainers to groom his contracted fighters.
In those dark days of SA history, boxers like Thulani “Sugar Boy” Malinga and Dingaan “The Rose of Soweto” Thobela who fought under Strydom’s World Sports Promotions banner were able to challenge for world titles on foreign soil.
It was fitting that when the Hollywood and African Prestigious Awards (HAPAwards) organisation honoured Coetzee in Los Angeles in November three years ago, Strydom was asked to attend the function as a guest of honour.
Strydom’s entrepreneurship paved the way for Coetzee and others to write their names indelibly in the annals of SA and world boxing history.
Nowadays, Coetzee and Strydom are in daily contact. An American film company, Fontabila Productions, has started the production of “Gerrie”, a documentary dedicated to Coetzee’s fistic achievements, and Strydom is their go-to man in SA.
Kenddrie Utuk and Skip Hartquist, the Fontabila Production directors, have been spearheading the production operations, and have already visited SA and were hosted by Strydom.