Pierre Fourie: streets to stardom
Pierre Fourie, the youngest of Violet Fourie’s four sons, was the naughty one; unlike Martin, Louis and Price. But he became one of South Africa's favourite sportsmen.
It was difficult to keep tabs on Pierre, she recalled. He often went out with his mates and on many occasions arrived home covered in blood after another street fight.
Hidings from his father, also named Pierre, did not help. It seemed fighting was all Pierre wanted to do, said Violet, whose parents had come to South Africa from Wales.
Her husband died when Pierre Jr was only 13 and the youngster became difficult to control.
Pierre was born on June 26, 1943 and grew up in Malvern, Johannesburg. He attended Malvern West Primary School and later Malvern High.
Among his friends at the time were Murdoch Mathisson, who drowned, and George Kleynhans, who died after being stabbed with a knife.
Nobody remembered Pierre ever losing a street fight, but he was badly battered on occasions when he was attacked by gangs. He was stabbed a few times, once with a screwdriver and once with a broken bottle.
One of his rivals was Coert Fourie, who became a professional boxer and later lost a close fight to Pierre for the SA middleweight title.
After the death of Kleynhans, one of his best friends, and having married Julia, his childhood sweetheart, Pierre’s life changed. He had read about Sugar Ray Robinson, who became his hero, and decided he wanted to be a boxer.
His uncle Reggie Morris, who had also boxed, began teaching him.
After winning his first two amateur fights by knockout, he spent eight months training under the guidance of the famous Laurie Stevens, but never got a fight.
In 1965, Norman Fleischer, a former boxer and trainer who owned the Las Vegas snooker saloon in Market Street, Johannesburg, was told about the almost unbeatable young street fighter from Malvern.
One rainy Tuesday afternoon, Fleischer went to 233 Jewel Street where they cleared part of the lounge for Pierre and another young fighter to do some sparring.
Fleischer could not believe what he was seeing. Fourie, who had had only two amateur fights and had done some boxing in the army, moved around with natural rhythm and reflexes.
As he had just started a new business, Fleischer was unable to train Fourie. He told him to contact Alan Toweel, who had a big stable of fighters and did not return any calls from Fourie of Fleischer.
When he agreed to see Fourie, it was the start of a long and successful partnership.
Fourie made his professional debut on May 2, 1966 with a first-round knockout of Sarel Visser and. In his sixth fight, he won the vacant Transvaal middleweight title when he stopped Pat Breedt in the ninth round.
In November 6, 1967, in his ninth professional fight, he faced an experienced Irishman, Lian Mullen, and beat him on points over ten rounds.
The next year, he drew with Don McMillan and beat Marcel Petit, Assane Fakye and Al Sharpe of Ireland before winning the SA middleweight title on November 2 when he knocked out the highly rated Willie Ludick in the first round.
On March 15, 1969 Fourie suffered his first loss when Welshman Dick Duffy beat him on points.
He bounced back with wins over Coert Fourie and Johnny Wood, twice, to retain his national title.
Some experts thought Wood had done enough to win their first fight, resulting in big controversy.
In February 1970, Fourie stopped Ludick in the tenth to retain his SA title for the fourth time.
He then relinquished the title and beat imported fighters such as Frank Young, Johnny Kramer, Mario Lamagna, Harry Scott, Domenico Tiberia and Carmello Bossi to make it a really successful year.
In 1971, he added ten wins against good opponents. One of them was American Fraser Scott, who later claimed he was paid to take a dive.
Fraser made the startling revelation in April 1975 in the book Weigh-In . He wrote he had accepted 3 000 dollars to lose because the fight was to be a steppingstone for Fourie to challenge Carlos Monzon for his world title.
By October 1971, Fourie was unable to make the middleweight limit. He moved into the light-heavyweight division because there was no super-middleweight division at the time; a class in which he would have been more comfortable.
After beating Mario Almanzo, Roger Rouse, Karl Zurheide, Don Fullmer, Amado Vasquez, Luigi Colavita and Mark Tessman, Fourie beat Sarel Aucamp on a close decision on September 2, 1972 to win the SA light heavyweight title. He weighed only 75.55 kg at the time.
In December he retained title by beating Aucamp on a sixth-round technical knockout.
Fourie outpointed Zurheide and Conney Velensek early in 1973 before Allan Toweel agreed to a fight with world light-heavyweight champion Bob Foster, one of the best light-heavyweight boxers in history.
To get the fight, he had to take on the champion in his backyard in Albuquerque, the capital of New Mexico, on August 21, 1973. And he had to accept a purse of about R8 000.
Fourie, who weighed in at 76.20 kg, put up a gallant fight, but the bigger and taller Foster won by wide margins over 15 rounds. A South African judge scored it 149-138 and the other two handed in scores of 149-130 and 148-120.
Fouries’s brave effort captured the imagination of the public and he became a national hero.
In an interview with author Chris Greyvenstein Fourie later recalled, “There is no doubt that Foster beat me thoroughly although Maurice Toweel, in the radio broadcast to South Africa, managed to give me 16 out of the 15 rounds.”
In his first fight after losing to Foster, Fourie beat Germany’s Rudiger Schmidtke by a narrow points decision to make sure of getting another crack at the world title.
Until 1973, whites and blacks were not allowed to fight each other in South Africa. But Fourie’s steady climb to the top stirred up ideas of a world title fight between him and Foster in Johannesburg.
These thoughts coincided with Dr Piet Koornhof’s appointment as minister of sport in 1972. He was enthusiastic about the fight being held in South Africa.
Fourie had proved to be such a worthy contender that a return bout became an attractive financial proposition. Foster was guaranteed a record purse for a light-heavyweight, namely $200 000.
The fight took place in Johannesburg on December 1, 1973.
It was a breakthrough on the way to remove racial discrimination in SA boxing.
Just as president Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic had changed a law, although only temporarily, for the historic fight between Bendoff and Couper to take place, president John Vorster, in November 1973, amended the Boxing and Wrestling Control Act of 1954.
“Interracial boxing” was still prohibited in South Africa, but Proclamation R2173 allowed the minister to approve any departure from some or all of the provisions of this regulation.
This included circumstances such as a world title bout or “an internationally recognised final eliminating contest for a world title,” or a tournament that complied “with the requirements of a South African multi-national tournament and in which South African boxers participated who were registered with the recognised National Boxing Control Board.”
This enabled the minister of sport and recreation to introduce professional fights between white and black opponents, albeit at a restricted level.
Fourie’s return fight with Foster at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg will always remain a landmark in SA sports history.
For the first time since professional boxing was placed under legal control in 1923, a white and a black man met in the ring in front of a racially mixed audience. There were of 37 474 people.
The press coverage was possibly bigger than for any other previous sporting event in SA history.
It was reported that the complimentary tickets cost Maurice Toweel’s Springbok Promotions R24 000; an enormous sum in those days.
Maurice was reported as saying that Mr Harry Oppenheimer had bought six R150 tickets and Sol Kerzner bought five.
In an absorbing fight, Fourie again produced a gutsy performance but the referee, Roland Dakin from England, made the champion a four-point winner, Tim Keleher of Albuquerque gave it to Foster by eight points and SA judge Sydney Beck put Foster three points in front.
Fourie went on to beat Mike Quarry, Rudiger Schmidtke, Tom Bogs and Porter “Baby Boy” Rolle to put himself in contention for another crack at the world title, which was then held by Victor Galindez from Argentina.
In August 1974, the WBC withdrew recognition of Foster as world champion because he had failed to sign for a title defence against John Conteh or Jorge Ahumada.
When Foster announced his retirement on September 16, Conteh beat Ahumada for the vacant title and Galindez beat Len Hutchins in December to win the vacant WBA title.
Conteh was ranked No 1 by Ring magazine, Galindez No 2 and Fourie No 7 when the WBA agreed to Galindez making the first defence of his title against Fourie.
The fight, scheduled for April 5, 1975 at the Ellis Park rugby stadium, was postponed to April 7 after heavy rain.
Fourie, who had weighed in at 76.90 kg, was ahead after ten rounds and looked a likely winner, especially after Galindez was cut over his right eye in the eighth round.
When the result was announced in favour of the champion, the estimated 40 000 spectators were shocked into silence. A strong finish in the last four rounds had given Galindez victory.
After a hard-earned points win over Germany’s Conny Velensek in Durban on June 30, 1975, Fourie met Galindez in a return match at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg on September 13.
Galindez first weighed in at 79.52 kg, which was 104 grams over the limit, but he was on the limit of 79.38 kg for the second weigh-in. Fourie had no weight problems, coming in at a comfortable 78.85 kg.
It turned into another epic encounter. An American judge, Joe Bunsa, scored the bout in favour of the South African. Luis Allende (Argentina) and Peter Lock (South Africa) made Galindez the winner.
The split decision was disputed by most of those in the stadium, including senior reporters.
Knowledgeable boxing writer Paul Irwin wrote, “Joe Bunsa will go down in South African sporting history as the Magnificent Neutral. When Pierre Fourie lost his second world title fight with the Argentine’s Victor Galindez in Johannesburg on Saturday by a split two-to-one decision, it was Mr Bunsa who had our man in front on points – and me, I think he was right.”
Fourie went his grave convinced that he had won both of his world title fights against Galindez.
Just over three months later a rather disillusioned Fourie was well beaten by American Ritchie Kates over ten rounds.
Recovering from the setbacks, he beat Leo Kakolewicz, Ramon Avenemar Peralta and Rafael Gutierrez in 1976 and was offered a fight against Mike Rossman, who not long afterwards beat Galindez for the WBA title. But his mind was already made up: he wanted to call it a day.
He decided to have one more fight. He challenged Gerrie Coetzee for the SA heavyweight title at the Wembley Stadium in Johannesburg on March 19, 1977.
Coming in at 84.40 kg, the heaviest of his career, Fourie was knocked out for the first time in his career. Coetzee, who was more than 11 kg heavier, won in the third round.
It was later reported that Fourie had hidden iron bars in his trunks at the weigh-in to boost his official weight.
Fourie, who was trained by Cookie Mendoza for the Coetzee fight, had broken up with Alan Toweel.
After the fight, Toweel said, “I hated to see him beaten like this. Had I still been his manager, I would never have taken this fight. When I saw him climbing into the ring, I wanted to walk up to him and to, at least, say: “Hello Pierre”.
Fourie announced his retirement immediately after the fight to finish with a record of 52-7-1, including 10 knockouts.
He was without a doubt one of the best fighters to come out of South Africa, even though he lacked a big punch.
This was attributed to fragile bones in his hands. The problem went back to his fifth professional fight, his second encounter with the rugged Boet de Bruyn. Fourie beat De Bruyn on points, but broke both his hands.
Adter retiring, Fourie opened a gym in Mayfair in September 1977 and trained eight professional boxers. He also took out a promoter’s licence.
Sadly, a little more than three years after he had retired – on Saturday evening, June 21, 1980 – he was involved in a fatal crash.
He was on his way to his home in Kibler Park when his four-wheel-drive vehicle left the road and overturned after crashing into a fence at Cecil Payne Park in Maraisburg, Roodepoort.
The following Thursday, on what would have been his 37th birthday, Pierre Jacy Fourie was buried in West Park Cemetery.