The last time Corrie Sanders, 40-3 (30 KOs), was in the ring he stopped Russian fighter Alexei Varakin in two rounds in Austria. That was December 14, 2004. A back injury suffered in training a few months later caused the former WBO and WBU world heavyweight champion to call it quits, but he’s contemplating a return.
“Look, it wasn’t easy walking away,” says Sanders. “I was getting a lot of attention and there were still a lot of expectations of me. The age factor creeps in as well and when the body starts complaining sometimes it’s best just to stop. I know how hard it must have been for Vitali (Klitschko) to stop, but your health is more important. The saddest thing about Vitali’s situation is that he’s still young enough and given the current crop of boxers around, he could have dominated the division over the next 5 to 7 years. A lot of people have said that if I was ten years younger I would have been the dominant force. Unfortunately I’m not and what’s done is done.”
Asked about him possibly returning, Sanders eludes the question: “I’m turning 40 next month and I’m no George Foreman and I don’t want to be a George Foreman. Everybody knows that I’m not a lover of boxing, but to be honest I do miss it. I never thought I would, but there’s something about going to the ring to fight that you just don’t get anywhere else.”
When asked to describe his biggest regret, Sanders says “If I could change anything I would have changed my management team earlier in my career. I really feel that I was kept back and not allowed to achieve all I was capable of doing in the ring. Promoters here tend to wrap their boxers in cotton-wool, feed them fighters not up to the task so they can’t develop and only let them out when it’s too late and they’re basically stuck for opportunities. It happened to me; Pierre Coetzer, Sebastian Rothman, Phillip Ndou, the list goes on and on.”
A fight Sanders pursued for many years which never came off was against Lennox Lewis. “I always wanted to get Lewis in the ring. I knew I had the beating of him. When I fought [Vitali] Klitschko, Lewis chatted a lot with me and he admitted that they avoided me and were concerned about fighting me. I appreciated that he was prepared to admit it to me personally. It meant that I must have meant something.”
Asked about Hasim Rahman being the new WBC world champion, Sanders smiles.
“Our fight was rated as one of the fights of the year. Everybody knows what happened there. Rahman’s a solid fighter. He exposed Lewis weakness in South Africa and then Lewis exposed Rahman’s in their return. It was a wakeup call to me when I saw Rahman getting the Lewis fight in South Africa and I knew that it could have been me. I would have liked to have gotten back in the ring with him and who knows anything is possible …”
The fight that is most likely to be the one to bring Sanders back into the ring is an all South African affair. There has long been interest in seeing Sanders face-off against former IBF heavyweight champ, Frans “The White Buffalo” Botha. With Botha again residing in South Africa talks are raging and sponsors are showing interest in luring these men back for a final showdown. “Even though I beat him four times in the amateurs people are still keen to see us against each other in the pro ranks,” says Sanders. “He obviously thinks he can beat me and I think I can beat him. It would be good to do it and prove once and for all just who is the best.”
Previous showdowns of South Africa’s top heavyweights of their eras have all proven classic clashes with incredible drawing power and local interest: Pierre Coetzer vs. Johny Du Plooy, Gerrie Coetzee vs. Kallie Knoetze, Mike Schutte vs. Jimmy Richards – all great matches worthy of an encore, and there’s no doubt that a Sanders-Botha fight would be an electric affair.
“It wouldn’t be about ratings. It would be a fight for the country. But who knows if Rahman steps up after that? Money talks.”
Whatever his detractors may think of him, even nearing forty Sanders has one of the fastest pair of hands in the history of the division and can land with authority. When turning pro in 1989 he could run a hundred meters in under 11 seconds and at 6'4″ that takes some doing. Had he been groomed properly and unleashed in his prime he may well have impacted on world boxing in a big way. He seems to have made peace with what could have been and looks very comfortable in his skin. “If I could have fought anybody in any era I would have loved to have faced Muhammad Ali. He was also one of the fastest guys ever and it would have been great to compare hand-speed in a fight.”
Outside of boxing, Sanders still plays golf when he gets a chance, and although he’s a scratch golfer and has won a number of tournaments, he won’t be turning pro. “Being a professional sportsman at the highest level takes a lot of time and dedication. I’ve been there,” Sanders says. “And it was boxing for me. If I was a pro golfer I would want to compete on that level and don’t feel that I could make the sacrifices needed at this time.”
Sanders also has a fledgling game farm with a variety of buck. It was recently gutted by a fire but he’s in the process of rebuilding and plans on developing a few lodges for international visitors. Precious moments for him career-wise are of course his title wins over Johnny Du Plooy (KO 1) for the national title early in his career, defeating Ross Purity (W12) to win the WBU crown, stopping Wladimir Klitschko (TKO 2) for the WBO heavyweight title, and even though he lost he counts his fight against Vitali for the WBC crown (L TKO 8) as something of a highlight as well. On a personal level and clearly more important to him was the birth of his two children, a daughter and a son. “Their births were the most special moments in my life and more than anything I want to be there for them.”