Boxing: Bruno's bout of defiance: Ken Jones on how a heavyweight contender showed his credentials for a world title tilt

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The Independent Online
IT WAS enough to make everybody think, as Mickey Duff had insisted all along, that Pierre Coetzer was the ideal opponent for Frank Bruno, so tough and durable that it took a great deal of strength and persistent fouling to wear him down on Saturday night at Wembley Arena.

In most people's eyes this was a new Bruno, a rough brawler, repeatedly warned by Roy Francis, the referee, for holding, pushing, elbowing, rabbit-punching, hitting low and on the break, before stopping Coetzer after 2min 17sec of the eighth round. In truth, it was the Bruno who shook Mike Tyson with a left hook and survived unexpectedly for five rounds before being overwhelmed when challenging for the undisputed championship in Las Vegas nearly four years ago.

If Coetzer, at 6ft 4in and 15st, came to look like a monument to the hazards of his trade, bleeding from a face that is primarily scar tissue, he had the will to extend Bruno until worn down by a substantial discrepancy in weight and crude tactics that impressed his manager.

'Go on fighting like that and you will be a serious problem for anybody in the division,' Alan Toweel said when Bruno showed up in Coetzer's dressing-room shortly after a hard contest. 'We haven't got any complaints about the fouls. That's boxing. It is the way Americans fight, the only way to fight them.'

Bruno, now strategically placed on the fringe of proceedings after defeating Coetzer in an eliminator for the International Boxing Federation version of the championship, could be heard yesterday defending his illegal belligerence.

'I never go in to fight dirty,' he said, 'but I have to protect myself. Believe me it's not table tennis in there. You have to do what is necessary to win. It's a serious business. Mentally, I'm a lot harder than when I set out in boxing.'

Coetzer, a brave warrior whose persistent aggression, particularly in the early stages of the bout, further exposed Bruno's technical limitations, did not share any sense of outrage. He was not overjoyed by having his protective cup tested so vigorously or the blows that descended on the base of his neck. But in his mind that is all part of a hard business. 'You give it and take it,' the South African said afterwards, regretting only that he had not been able to follow up his best shots.

He thinks Bruno punches as witheringly as Riddick Bowe, who stopped him in seven rounds to qualify for a challenge against Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas next month, and pays respectful account to the effect of a powerful jab. 'I would make him equal on power to Bowe, and it is hard to think of any heavyweight who hits harder,' he said.

This was music to the ears of Duff, whose manoeuvres are tailored to the understanding that money invariably talks in boxing. As things stand, Duff simply thinks of a sum and doubles it. 'I'm told that Shelley Finkel (Holyfield's principal advisor) would want dollars 10m ( pounds 5.8m) to fight Frank. Let's make it dollars 20m,' he said in the clamorous aftermath of Saturday's contest. The facts are as follows. If Holyfield retains the title against Bowe, he will defend against the winner of the bout between Lennox Lewis and Razor Ruddock at Earls Court on 31 November.

If Bowe wins, he will eagerly take on Lewis, who defeated him to win an Olympic gold medal in Seoul four years ago, but not Ruddock, who would then probably be proclaimed the World Boxing Council champion.

It is a tangled web that offers no immediate prospects for Bruno. But Duff is not a man to be trifled with. The way his mind is working now, anything in the heavyweight division is possible. However, his thoughts do not embrace the most pertinent of Toweel's observations. It is that for all Bruno's crude determination, a fast, hard puncher would end his career.

(Photograph omitted)