By Ron Jackson
Former SA heavyweight champion Gerrie de Bruyn has died at the age of 75. He passed away at the Roseacres Clinic in Primrose, Germiston, on Saturday morning.
De Bruyn, who would have turned 76 on March 26, fought the likes of Buster Mathis, Mike Holt, Billy Lotter and Jimmy Richards in a career comprising more than 30 professional fights. A three-time SA amateur champion, he won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Wales. But he later spent more than 40 years in a wheelchair after suffering a back injury in an accident on a building site.
As an amateur, trained by Gerrie Nel at the Primrose Club, he won most of his fights by knockout. He was still a novice when he beat Johnny van der Kolff, who had won a gold medal at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.
De Bruyn was regarded as too young to represent South Africa at the 1956 Olympics, but two years later won a bronze medal in the light-heavyweight class at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff. He was eliminated by Tony Madigan of Australia who went on to win the gold medal. Madigan lost to Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, in the semifinals of the 1960 Rome Olympics.
De Bruyn, who won SA amateur titles in 1957, 1958 and 1959, was a good rugby player but chose boxing and turned professional on April 29 1961. In his first professional bout he beat Sias Hattingh on points at the Olympia Ice Rink in Johannesburg.
An aggressive fighter, De Bruyn was too small to be a factor in the heavyweight division but he was a force as a light-heavyweight in the 1960s. In only his fifth professional fight, he faced Mike Holt, an experienced former SA middleweight champion who then held the national light-heavyweight title. Holt won on points over ten rounds.
When they fought in a return match for the SA light-heavyweight title in 1962, De Bruyn was stopped in the twelfth round.
In September 1964 Billy Lotter knocked him out in the fifth round but after winning six of his next eight fights De Bruyn fought Lotter again, for the SA heavyweight title, and won on a seventh-round knockout.
He made five successful defences before losing the title to Japie Pretorius in June 1969.
De Bruyn had four more fights, winning two and losing twice to Jimmy Richards before he retired with a record of 23-12-3, including 17 wins inside the distance.
He went abroad twice in 1967 but lost on points to the highly rated Argentinian Eduardi Corletti and was knocked out in the first round by Buster Mathis in Goteborg, Sweden.
De Bruyn’s toughest fight started in 1970 when he, only 32 years old, was working as an electrician on a building site. The scaffolding broke and he was seriously injured in the fall; paralyzed for the rest of his life. Despite being in a wheel chair for nearly 44 years, the courageous De Bruyn remained a friendly, approachable man who attended many tournaments and social functions, always ready with a smile and a firm handshake.