The one and only Silver Assassin
Promoters are forever looking for a dazzling, charismatic fighter who draws large crowds to tournaments and hits the headlines as often as he hits his opponents.
Someone like Charlie Weir.
It is now more than 30 years since Weir had his last fight; more than 20 years since he died, aged 35, as a SA boxing legend.
There just has not been anyone like the Silver Assassin since then.
He was “a tall, sinewy junior middleweight with a dash of silver in his forelock and lethal power in both fists,” Chris Greyvenstein wrote in his book The Fighters.
Bert Blewett, another leading boxing scribe, wrote: “He always had the knack of getting people to turn their heads.
“The first time I saw him, in April 1977, he caused a whole row of hardened reporters to do just that. We were settling at ringside for the rematch between Gerrie Coetzee and Mike Schutte at Wembley Stadium when someone shouted, ‘There’s Charlie Weir!’
“Without exception, every reporter in the row turned his head in an effort to spot the young boxer, who was sitting ten rows back among the crowd. At that stage Weir hadn’t even had his first professional fight but he already had the magical quality that would make the media sit up and take notice.”
Greyvenstein pointed out one of the reasons for Weir’s ability to draw spectators: “Kosie Smith simply has to be rated with the best hitters in our boxing history and certainly, with the possible exception of Charlie Weir, the hardest hitter of the past dozen years.”
JUNIOR AMONG SENIORS
Charles Henry Hughwright Weir was born in Kimberley on November 26 1956, the youngest of five children. He has three sisters and a brother, Donald, who was also an outstanding sportsman.
Their father taught them the basics of cricket, hockey and soccer when they were still little boys, and introduced them to boxing at an amateur club in Kimberley. Both won SA junior titles.
Charlie was still a junior when he fought in the SA senior championships in Cape Town and won the lightweight title, beating Hennie Jordaan in the final. He won the welterweight title in 1974, stopping Ronnie Cowley in the third round, and the light-middleweight title in 1975 and 1976.
After his victory over Peter Mgojo in the 1975 final he was voted Champion of Champions and the next year he received the Best Boxer award.
Donald gave up boxing to concentrate on hockey, in which he became a leading provincial player.
After his compulsory National Service training, Charlie turned professional under the management of Willie Toweel, a former British Empire lightweight champion who had also won four SA titles as a professional.
Weir was a natural southpaw but fought from the orthodox stance. In his first professional fight, in Durban on August 1 1977, he knocked out Zachariah Thabethe in 2 minutes 45 seconds.
He was instantly recognisable because of the streak of white in his black hair, the result of a boyhood accident in which he was cut in the scalp.
In his first year as a professional, Weir beat Sias Bosch, Bushy Bester, Coenie Becker, Kevin White from England, Danny McAloon from the US and Eben Marais – all inside the distance. Only the fight against Bekker reached the fifth round.
Weir was an overnight sensation. The news media turned him into a star and promoters queued to sign him up for their tournaments. Sponsors soon joined the frenzy as everyone predicted he would soon be a world champion.
Some astute critics, however, pointed out that he was “too wild” and that his defence was not up to standard.
They were right. In his eighth fight, in Cape Town on December 1 1977, veteran southpaw Joe Hali staggered him early in the first round and Willie Toweel had to throw in the towel in the fifth round.
Critics were saying the bubble had burst; that Weir could not take a punch.
After a break of three months, Weir fought Wolfgang Gans of Germany in Johannesburg on March 11 1978 and won a dull fight on points over eight rounds.
On April 17 that year, also at the Ellis Park Tennis Stadium, he met Hali in a return match. He made a cautious start but was caught with two big left hooks in the second round. It stunned him into an attack.
He caught Hali with a right that sent him cartwheeling across the ring. When Hali got up, Weir rushed in and nearly knocked him through the ropes before referee Stanley Christodoulou stopped the fight.
Weir was then matched with unbeaten Sydney Bensch. They fought for the vacant SA “white” middleweight title at the Film Trust Arena in Bedfordview on May 15, 1978. Weir knocked Bensch down with a left hook in the first round and hit him twice more while he was on his haunches.
Christodoulou cautioned Weir and let the fight continue. A battered and bleeding Bensch was knocked out in the second round.
Weir won his next four fights that year, beating Mike Hallacy, Steven Smith, Doug Lumley and Mike Baker, all inside the distance.
In 1979 he stopped former British and European middleweight champion Kevin Finnegan in the seventh round. He got up from a first-round knockdown to outpoint American Mike Colbert over ten rounds.
At that stage, promoter Rodney Berman had big plans for Weir. There was talk of a fight against the winner of the WBC and WBA middleweight title fight between Vito Atuofermo and Hugo Corro.
TAP TAP MAKHATINI
Weir first had to fight former SA middleweight champion Elijah “Tap Tap” Makhatini at the New Kingsmead soccer stadium in Durban on April 30, 1979. A record crowd of about 20 000 saw Weir being knocked out with a classic left hook in the eighth round after taking counts in the second and fifth rounds.
After the fight it was reported that Weir did not want anything more to do with Willie Toweel who had told reporters he had failed to obey instructions. And it also emerged that Weir had been nearly 5 kg overweight a week before the fight.
He then teamed up with Billy Lotter, a former SA heavyweight champion, who sent Weir to join Cus D’Amato at his special training camp in the Catskill Mountains about 100 km from New York.
D’Amato had guided Floyd Patterson to the world heavyweight title and was considered one of the most knowledgeable trainers in the US.
Weir spent four months with D’Amato who had him working on his balance, defence and putting combinations together.
After more than nine months out of the ring, Weir returned to action on March 24, 1979. Fighting at the Ellis Park Tennis Stadium in Johannesburg, he floored American journeyman Bruce Strauss three times before the referee stopped the fight after only 2 minutes and 20 seconds.
It seemed the old Charlie Weir was back. In 1980 and 1981 he beat Terrence Makaluza, Joseph Sishi, Carlos Betancourt, Johnny Heard, Sugar Ray Hammond, Steve Michalerya, Steve Gregory, Tyrone Rackley, Henry Walker and Jerry Cheatham, all inside the distance.
Then he knocked out a Colombian, Nicanor Camacho, in the second round at a rain-soaked Rand Stadium. But controversy again clouded his performance because he hit Camacho twice after knocking him down in the second round. It caused an uproar in the news media.
Meanwhile, an unknown junior middleweight from Japan, Tadashi Mihara, outpointed American Rocky Fratto over 15 rounds to win the vacant WBA title. That sank the proposed clash between Weir and Fratto, who had been expected to win and then defend the title against the South African.
Weir was then scheduled to meet Mihara but because of political reasons the fight never took place.
American promoter Bob Arum then worked out a compromise. An American, Davey Moore, was matched with Mihara, with the possibility of the winner defending the title against Weir in Johannesburg. Moore stopped Mihara in the sixth round in Tokyo in February 1982.
KNOCKED OUT BY DAVEY MOORE
Meanwhile, Weir was matched with Clement Tshinza, a useful junior middleweight from Zaire. Weir stopped him in 39 seconds, paving the way for a bout against Moore at the Ellis Park rugby stadium on April 24 1982.
Torrential rain caused the fight to be postponed to the Monday. Some reporters gave the unheralded champion no chance but Weir, who probably won the first round, went down in the second from a left high on the head. The writing was on the wall.
Weir looked like an amateur and took another three counts before going down for the fifth time. Venezuelan referee Luis Salburan counted him out 39 seconds into the fifth round.
It was one of the biggest disappointments SA boxing fans ever endured. Fred Forge wrote in the Natal Mercury: “Yes, the chin that was always regarded as suspect following knockout defeats by Joseph Hali in 1977 and Tap Tap Makhatini in 1979 again let Weir down as he suffered his third defeat in a 32-bout career.
“And the demolition job carried out by the nimble-footed, hard-hitting Moore who repeatedly beat Weir to the punch, made it clear that yet another South African’s world-title aspirations were nothing more than an optimistic dream.”
Less than four months later Weir stopped SA junior middleweight champion Coenie Bekker in the second round of a non-title fight.
On October 2 1982 Weir stepped out for his last fight. He knocked out future WBO welterweight champion Manning Galloway of the US in the seventh round to finish with a record of 31-3, including 28 knockouts.
Weir’s killer instinct and aggressive style enabled him to assemble a knockout ratio of 82.35 per cent. His natural charisma made him one of the post popular and exciting SA boxers in history.
Between 1977 and 1981, when he was at his peak, he was a sensational fighter. He received the King Korn/Boxing World Prospect of the Year award in 1977 and was named SA Boxer of the Year in 1978 and 1981.
Sadly, Charlie Weir died at the age of 35 – on June 19 1992 in the HF Verwoerd Hospital in Pretoria – after losing a long battle with cancer.