Although only a novice, Ewart Potgieter’s immense size earned him star billing in Britain in the mid-1950s
JUST over a decade ago, David Haye made worldwide headlines when he relieved Russia’s Nikolay Valuev of his WBA heavyweight crown. The fight garnered great attention, not for its quality but for the gulf in size between 6ft 3in ex-cruiserweight Haye and the 7ft, 316lb Russian. Even in an era of huge heavyweights, Valuev’s bulk was truly staggering. You can imagine, then, the astonishment aroused by the arrival in Britain, back in 1955, of a boxer both taller and heavier than Valuev.
South Africa’s Ewart Potgieter was 7ft 2ins with an astonishing 94in reach, and at his heaviest fighting weight scaled 351lbs. Not your typical prizefighter, “Pottie”, as he was known, came from a well-off farming background. He was persuaded to take up boxing in his early 20s by hotelier Norman Weiner, who spotted the amiable and articulate colossus towering above everyone in his hometown of Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal. Under Weiner’s management, Pottie had seven bouts in South Africa between July 1954 and April 1955, winning them all inside two rounds. Reports of his exploits reached Britain’s top promoter, Jack Solomons, who saw huge moneymaking potential in promoting the world’s biggest boxer. Jack decided to showcase him on his London shows.
Pottie came to London in early August 1955 and his arrival made national news. He was booked for a September show at White City Stadium featuring a host of leading heavies – Nino Valdes, Don Cockell, Dick Richardson, Joe Erskine, Henry Cooper and twin brother George – all of them comparative midgets next to the South African. Predictably, Pottie had little trouble with his opponent, 5ft 10in Jamaican journeyman Simon Templar, who was “pushed around as if he were a flyweight”, as BN put it, before retiring at the end of the sixth in a one-sided bout. Pottie was out again a month later to stop another Jamaican, Noel “Bull” Reed, in the second round at Harringay Arena. Clearly a step up in class was needed, and for his next outing, again at Harringay after another month’s gap, Solomons provided it.
Unlike any previous Potgieter opponent, Canada’s James J. Parker (26-5-3) had a decent record against quality opposition, having beaten New York’s Jimmy Slade, drawn with fellow Canadian Earl Walls and stayed the distance with the excellent Nino Valdes (who held a decision over Ezzard Charles). This time Pottie looked completely out of his depth. BN’s reporter had Parker winning every one of the 10 rounds. A decision for the Canadian seemed the only one possible, yet the fight was declared a draw.
“I would like to see Potgieter go back to his farm before he takes a really savage beating,” cautioned Peter Wilson of the Daily Mirror. “I have rarely met a man in boxing whom I liked more or one who, in my opinion, is less suited for this most testing of all sporting careers.”
Within a month, Pottie seemed to have taken that advice, citing press criticism of his showing in the Parker fight as a reason for quitting boxing. “Some of them [the reporters] said I was no good, which I consider unfair. It was only my 10th fight and I was still a novice boxing an experienced opponent. I have never been hurt myself and I don’t like hurting others. I am going back to South Africa.”
The 22-year-old left Britain in early December 1955, but returned for four more bouts in America just over a year later, winning two and losing two in the States before retiring for good after a defeat to leading contender John Holman. While far from the best fighting colossus in heavyweight history, Potgieter was certainly not the worst. The fact he never lost inside time suggests, at any rate, he had a decent chin.