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Corrie – Champ among Champs


The night Corrie Sanders won his last amateur fight now seems ages ago.

He was fighting Fransie Botha in the Portuguese Hall in Pretoria, and he won on points. After watching them fight, most of us agreed that they were talented youngsters.

What we did not know, was that both would become successful professionals and would each win a heavyweight “world” title.

Botha, well in his forties, is still scrapping with some international heavyweights after meeting some of the biggest names in the world during his long career.

But Sanders is dead, killed at the age of 46 by armed robbers who shot him at a restaurant near Brits last week.

Many top SA sportsmen and leading boxers such as the Klitschko brothers, have paid tribute to Sanders who won the WBO title by beating Wladimir almost ten years ago.

Being a good and enthusiastic golfer, Sanders was extremely popular and made many friends in all walks of life after retiring in 2008.

From my point of view, he was the epitome of the gentle giant; always a courteous, pleasant man to interview or with whom to have a chat about the sport he graced.

Having watched him fight so many times, it is a sad time to look back over his achievements as a boxer.

CORRIE SANDERS – 1966 TO 2012

Cornelius Johannes Sanders was born in Pretoria on January 7, 1966 and began boxing at the age of eight.

As an amateur, he compiled a record that was reported to be 180 wins and 11 losses. He won the SA amateur heavyweight title in 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1988.

He joined the SA Police Services soon after leaving school and also showed promise as a rugby player.

In his professional debut, in Cape Town on April 2, 1989, he stopped King Kong Dyubele in the first round.

In his second fight he outpointed the cagey Prince Tukane, also in Cape Town. However, Gauteng was the place to be for young boxers and Sanders return to the north and joined Harold Volbrecht, who trained him throughout most of his career, until about 2004.

The first time I saw the southpaw fight as a professional was at Sun City on May 27, 1989. The 23-year-old southpaw stopped David Malatsi inside a round.

I never missed any of his fights in South Africa after that night, sharing with boxing fans the excitement as he went after his opponents, looking to land that big left.

In a ten-fight winning streak he won eight inside the distance. He was then matched with Johnny du Plooy, one of the most exiting SA heavyweights of the time. They met for the vacant SA title at the Sun City Superbowl on July 27, 1991.

Du Plooy had a record of 24-3-1, including 20 knockouts. He was known as a devastating puncher but Sanders stopped him in the first round.

Sanders never defended the title. He relinquished it in February 1999 to take on better opponents and to fight abroad.

He beat the likes of Mike Rouse, Art Card, Anthony Wade, Mike Dixon, Mike Evans, Bert Cooper and Levi Billups before suffering his first defeat. Nate Tubbs caught him cold and knocked him out in the second round in May 1994.

Sanders, who probably under-estimated the American, was back in action less than three months later. He went to Atlantic City, where he stopped Carlos De Leon in the first round.

He won his next eights bouts in style but his management were unable to secure a world title shot against Evander Holyfield, Michael Moorer or Henry Akinwande who held the heavyweight titles at the time.

WINNING THE WBU BELT

Sanders had to take a fight against Ross Purrity for the vacant but less important WBU belt in February 1997.

The South African won by wide margins but the rugged Purrity took him all the way. When they got out of the ring Sanders had one of the ugliest cauliflower ears I ever saw.

After successful defences against Bobby Czyz (tko 2), Jorge Valdes (tko 1) and Al Cole (tko 1) Sanders lost the belt to future WBC heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman. Sanders was ahead on points but Rahman stopped him in the seventh round.

In November 2001, Sanders stopped Michael Sprott, a Briton, in 85 seconds at Carnival City, Brakpan. Sprott later won the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles and is still boxing.

A year later Sanders stopped American Otis Tisdale in the second round but it seemed his career was coming to an end. He had only six fights and 14 rounds of boxing between June 1998 and November 2002.

LIFE-CHANGING OFFER

But suddenly his whole life changed. He was offered a fight against Wladimir Klitschko, who held the WBO belt.

They met in Hanover, Germany, on March 8, 2003. Klitschko took a record of 40 wins and one defeat into the ring, probably looking for an easy seventh defence of his title.

Sanders was given no chance against the man from Ukraine. But he surprised everyone when he stopped Klitschko 27 seconds into the second round.

His victory was probably the greatest achievement by a SA heavyweight, ahead even of Gerrie Coetzee’s win over Michael Dokes in a bout for the WBA heavyweight title in Richfield, Ohio, on September 23, 1983.

Prior to the bout in Hanover, Nic Collis and I expressed our doubts about Sanders’s chances when we discussed the fight on the Punchline programme on SuperSport.

After his triumphant return to South Africa, we interviewed the new champion in the studio and he did not miss the opportunity to ask, good-naturedly: “What do you say now?”

When Lennox Lewis retired and relinquished his WBC belt, Sanders was matched against Vitali Klitschko for the vacant WBC title. He had to relinquish his WBO belt to take the fight in Los Angeles on April 24, 2004.

Sanders fought courageously but he was stopped in the eighth round.

After that, it seemed the spark was gone. Sanders beat rather ordinary opponents – Alexi Varakin (knockout 2), Colin Wilson (tko 2) and Daniel Bispo (points 10) – before meeting SA heavyweight champion Osborne Machimana.

They fought in a non-title bout at Emperors Palace on February 2, 2008. Sanders was not in good physical condition and not well motivated. Machimana knocked him out 2 minutes 41 seconds into the first round.

It was not the perfect way to end an outstanding career. But Sanders, who had a few injuries to his left hand over the years, is still regarded as one of the biggest punchers in the heavyweight division in recent years.

He also had remarkable hand speed for a heavyweight, which was even compared with that of Muhammad Ali.

Sanders retired with an outstanding record of 42 wins – 31 inside the distance – and only four losses. He was a champion among champions; in and outside the ring.


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