Corrie Sanders: Heavyweight world champion

 

Corrie Sanders was not a man accustomed to displaying emotion, but he burst into tears when returning from Germany after shocking the boxing world by obliterating the high-flying Wladimir Klitschko to win the World Boxing Organisation heavyweight title in 2003. He was expecting the usual family delegation to meet him at the airport but this time he was greeted by the roar of hundreds of fans, black and white, headed by his friend, the former flyweight champion "Baby Jake" Matlala.

"I'm just so proud to be a South African," he said between sobs, later explaining: "I just couldn't hold myself. I was so amazed that so many people came out for me."

The Afrikaner, then 37, was a modest man, refreshingly free from hubris, or from any hint of racial prejudice. A decade earlier, for example, in the dying days of apartheid, I invited him to join me on a trip to Soweto to visit Matlala, who had just won a world title. He didn't hesitate, and the 6ft 4in heavyweight and the 4ft 10in flyweight had a whale of a time together. He sometimes noted that he had more black South African fans than white – and seemed genuinely delighted when they would stop him in the street to wish him well.

His moment of glory in Hamburg took just three minutes and 27 seconds. By then he had dropped Klitschko four times, leaving him helpless. But in the end, it proved to be a solitary high-water mark in a 46-fight career (42 wins including 31 knock-outs) that never quite lived up to its potential.

Sanders was an extraordinary natural athlete. At 20 he played rugby union at centre for Northern Transvaal B (then South Africa's leading provincial side), ran the 100 metres in 10.9 seconds and went on to become a pro-am golfer with a one handicap, regularly shooting sub-par rounds. He also played a mean game of tennis, and generally preferred talking about football, cricket and rugby than anything pugilistic.

One of three children growing up in a working class family in Brits, near Pretoria, he started boxing at the prompting of his father and uncle and took to it effortlessly, ending up with an amateur record of 180 wins and 11 losses. He turned professional in 1989 as an alternative to a career in the police and soon showed his potential. He was fast on his feet for a big man, with sharp reflexes and wonderful hand-eye coordination, excellent defensive skills, and knock-out power in both hands. But his chin was dodgy and his dedication erratic.

He racked up 23 straight wins, his victims including Britain's Johnny Nelson along with several American fringe contenders. But three weeks after his country's maiden democratic election, he was poleaxed in two rounds by the American Nate Tubbs.

The rebuilding process involved regular forays to the US and Britain, and over the next six years he registered 13 wins, including 11 knock-outs. But he turned down advice to advance his career by relocating. "I love my country too much to move to the US like other boxers," he said.

Finally, in 2000 he was put in with a top contender, Hasim Rahman. Sanders outboxed him for a couple of rounds, but it turned into an atavistic brawl with both men tasting the canvass. In the seventh Rahman's greater desire, conditioning and resilience told. He went on to beat Lennox Lewis for the world title; Sanders languished without a fight for 18 months.

He returned to stop the future British champion Michael Sprott in one round, but it looked like his moment had passed until Klitschko, the dauphin of the division, offered him a shot at the lightly regarded WBO title. The 40-1 outsider was considered too old and fragile for a giant who was 10 years younger, two inches taller and 18lb heavier, but Sanders used a sports psychologist to motivate him and trained as never before.

He also listened to the advice of his friend, Lennox Lewis. "He told me not to hold back and said I should pressure Klitschko from the first bell and he wouldn't be able to handle that, and he was right. Then, after the fight, he phoned to congratulate me. I really appreciated that call."

It should have been the start of big things, but contractual problems and injury kept him out for 14 months, and he returned undertrained and overweight to take on Wladimir's harder brother, Vitali. Still, he managed to wobble the giant Ukrainian before being stopped in eight. After three more wins and a loss he retired aged 42 to concentrate on his business interests and on the fairways.

He was celebrating his nephew's 21st birthday at a restaurant in Brits when a gang of robbers burst in and opened fire. Sanders dived in front of his daughter to protect her and was shot in the stomach and hand. He was rushed to hospital but died soon after – one of around 50 people who, on average, are murdered in South Africa each day. "I think he died a hero," said his ex-wife, Sunette.

Cornelius Johannes Sanders, boxer: born Brits, South Africa 7 January 1966; married Sunette Sanders (marriage dissolved; one son, one daughter); died Brits 23 September 2012.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
arts + ents
Life and Style
tech

Sites using the popular Gigya comment platform were attacked by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)

Extras
indybest
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Langley James : Web Developer; PHP, MySQL, Java; Blackfriars; £25k

£25000 per annum + training: Langley James : Web Developer; PHP, MySQL, Java; ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

£40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

h2 Recruit Ltd: New Business Sales Manager - Talent Management - £60,000 OTE

£35000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A true market leader in ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Consultant - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development Consulta...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?