Corrie Sanders, the South African southpaw who knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in one of the great upsets in heavyweight boxing history, was shot and killed in Cape Town during a robbery a family celebration at a restaurant.
Sanders, 46, was shot in the hand and stomach at a family member’s 21st birthday gathering at the restaurant in Brits, in South Africa’s North West province, on Saturday night, police said. He died in a hospital in the capital city Pretoria in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“It’s very sad,” Sanders’ former trainer Harold Volbrecht told a South African radio station. “My heart is broken. It’s just terrible. I can’t believe it happened.”
Police Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said three armed men entered the restaurant with the apparent intention to rob it and shot randomly, hitting Sanders. No other injuries were reported. The robbers took a cellphone and a bag from customers, Ngubane said.
No arrests had been made but a murder investigation has been opened.
Renowned for his impressive hand speed, the 6-foot-4 Sanders was one of South Africa’s most successful and popular fighters after a near 20-year professional career that included the South African, WBU and WBO heavyweight title belts.
He retired in 2008 with a 42-4 record, with 31 knockouts, but was remembered for the shock second-round knockout of Klitschko in Germany in 2003 that earned him the WBO title and respect across the world as a wily, fast and clever fighter as well as a powerful puncher.
He then lost to Wladimir’s older brother Vitali for the vacant WBC title the following year, Vitali’s first fight for the title he still holds. Sanders had earlier relinquished his WBU crown in a seventh-round stoppage by Hasim Rahman after being ahead in their fight in 2000.
South African sports figures, television personalities and entertainers all paid tribute on Sunday to the popular Sanders, who also was a single handicap golfer.
“Shocking news about Corrie Sanders’ death, gonna miss u Corras,” South Africa limited-overs cricket captain A.B. de Villiers posted on Twitter from the World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka.
South African rugby player Morne Steyn wrote: “All the best for Corrie Sanders family and friends! We lost one of SA’s legends! God Bless!”