Pettifer has left the ring
David Isaacson: First came the shouting, then the gunshot.
Terry Pettifer had been catching up with his oldest friend, Eric Clayton, at a hotel bar. They were in their late 20s at the time and life had taken them in different directions, but the bond they had forged as kids was still strong.
Clayton popped out of the pub at one point and the commotion started soon after. Realising his buddy was in the fracas, Pettifer stood up - and that's when he heard the shot.
Pettifer and Clayton, products of Regents Park, in Joburg's south, had grown up fighting side-by-side, though sometimes, just for the hell of it, they brawled with each other. The pair had been wild, frequently in trouble with their parents and occasionally the neighbourhood constabulary; as teenagers they tried to burn down the local police station.
"If I were to write my autobiography, I would start it: 'We were always angry'," Pettifer, the author of three boxing books, told me last month over lunch at one of his favourite watering holes in Turffontein, aptly called Sluggers.
He and Clayton came from broken homes and as kids they had been at war with the world.
But, in the 14 years I knew Terry, only once did I witness his fury. It happened when he learned that a former boxer had threatened fight promoter Rodney Berman, Terry's boss. Pettifer, an amateur pugilist until a serious motorbike accident, phoned the ex-fighter.
"I'll knock you out," he growled. "I've knocked you out before. Do you want me to knock you out again?"
Pettifer, a parabat during his national service, saw honour in dying on the battlefield. General George Custer was one of his heroes and he wore a moustache and beard fashioned after the American Civil War soldier.
"If you're my friend, I don't care how many guys are attacking you, we'll stand back-to-back and go down fighting," he explained.
Nobody but Pettifer could make dying sound so romantic but he meant every word when it came to standing by his friends.
In his prime, he was stabbed 12 times while helping an injured comrade to safety in a gang rumble. After getting his mate into a car, he returned to the fray, his fists his only weapons.
Fierce loyalty and determination were Pettifer's trademarks. Perhaps that's why Clayton never told him who pulled the trigger. When Pettifer ran out of the hotel his friend was on the ground, wounded in the chest. The assailant had fled.
"Who did this, Eric?" Pettifer asked.
Clayton, who had hooked up with a dangerous crowd, must have known Pettifer would seek revenge - and could be killed trying.
"Don't worry about it," he replied, moments before dying.
Pettifer never lost his wild side in adulthood, but the man who became a beloved character of Joburg's south was often amiable and jovial.
In boxing, Pettifer's knowledge was unparalleled. He could recall information about any fighter or bout - domestic or foreign, past or present. He was mentor to many in the fight game, myself included.
Pettifer's failing heart forced him to cut his work load as Berman's publicist in recent months. When he was admitted to Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital on Friday he was still concerned about churning out publicity for the January 27 tournament in aid of Baby Jake Matlala, the former world champ struggling with medical bills.
Pettifer considered himself a bit of a psychic and maybe he was aware of his ultimate fate.
"I think he knew he was dying," said friend Jeff Ellis, who visited him on Saturday.
Pettifer, 59, died on Sunday. He is mourned by his fiancee, two children, four grandchildren and many, many friends.
- The funeral will be at Glenvista Baptist Church at 3pm tomorrow.