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Boxers Of Yesteryear: Dick Tiger

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Dick Tiger

 

 is undoubtedly one of the greatest boxers in prize-fight history. He was the second middle-weight boxer, of all time, to move up in class from the middleweight division to the light heavyweight class

At some stage of their lives, most males idolize a sports figure. Boxing champions lend themselves particularly well to this form of worship. Fighters like James Corbett, Jack Dempsey, Benny Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali not only were heroes of their times but also put their unique, mythic stamps on very different generations of male American consciousness.

“I too, got caught up in the aura and sweep of the great champions of my lifetime. But the one fighter I identified with—my fighter, in other words—was not in the same league with Leonard or Robinson or Louis or Ali. A knowledgeable boxing critic might rank him a cut above "hell of a fighter." However, if you judged the entire man, boxer and human being, few could match Richard Ihetu, the African who fought under the nom de guerre Dick Tiger”. (Sam Toperoff - Sports Illustrated – Oct 13, 1986)

Dick Tiger CBE (born Richard Ihetu August 14, 1929 - December 14, 1971) Born to noble, but cash-strapped parents in Amaigbo, Imo State, Nigeria, did not let his humble beginnings deter or derail his drive to excel. He turned the deficits in his environment into benefits. He believed in himself, and achieved, astronomically. From each misstep, and fall, he bounced back, always able to recover and refine his skills to beat down the next opponent. He was always able to upgrade, and reinvent himself.

Dick Tiger is undoubtedly one of the greatest boxers in prize-fight history. He was the second middle-weight boxer, of all time, to move up in class from the middleweight division to the light heavyweight class, and remains the only boxer from the African continent ever, to attain such a status. Dick Tiger is credited with helping to rejuvenate boxing during the 1950's and 60's boxing industry recession. His fistic prowess transcended boxing. His exploits in the boxing ring served as a bridge in boosting amicable diplomatic relations between African nations and the USA.

After Dick Tiger had conquered his opponents in the Nigerian boxing scene, he left the shores of his beloved homeland, and set sail for England. While in England, Dick Tiger's fistic abilities was so impressive that he not only wore the crown as British Empire Middleweight Boxing Champion , but also caught the attention of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England, who appointed him as Commander of the British Order (CBE), in 1958. In 1959, Dick Tiger immigrated to the USA. It was in the USA that Dick Tiger honed and perfected his boxing skills, to become one of the most sought after by boxing promoters and fight fans, but most avoided by boxing contenders. He became a constant attraction at the famed Madison Square Garden. Fight fans and admirers alike came in droves to witness the enigmatic boxer that is Dick Tiger. Audiences always left his bouts satisfied; entertained. He always gave his all. He never failed them; just as he never failed his family, his country, and his profession.

On May 20, 1965, Tiger floored Rubin "Hurricane" Carter three times and won a unanimous 10-round decision. Tiger took on Gene Fullmer and won the world's Middleweight title by decision in fifteen. Later in a rematch he drew in fifteen and in the rubber match won by knockout in seven rounds.

The next year (1966), Dick Tiger defeated Jose Torres to become the undisputed Light-Heavyweight Champion. He retained that title for 2 years, before relinquishing it to Bob Foster in 1968, by a knockout - the only time in Dick Tiger's stellar career, where he lost by a knockout. That notwithstanding , his resilience as a boxer was irrepressible. In the same year that he gave up the light heavyweight title, he went on to crush more worthy opponents in the ring, most notably, in the fight with Frankie Depaula. Boxing fans, and the viewing public rated that fight the "Fight of the Year".

In 1967, Dick Tiger returned home to give his support to his native Eastern Region in the vicious ethnic pogrom executed in the Northern part of the country; leading to the eventual proclamation of the republic of Biafra and the ensuing civil conflict. He staged charity bouts in Port Harcourt to raise funds for Eastern refugees who escaped mass killing in the North. He became the celebrity who boosted the national morale. He led efforts to collect dead bodies of victims of air raids that primarily targeted civilian populations.

He returned to the United States, but failed to successfully defend his title against a six-foot-three Bob Foster. The war, and his pride, would not permit him the luxury of retirement. “The thing about Dick Tiger is that he has an honest heart and willing hands”. By this time, his boxing career had come to an end, and at the end of the civil war in 1970, he longed to return home, but feared reprisals for his role in the war.

Dick Tiger's fought four more times, defeating his next three opponents. His last fight was in 1970, with Emile Griffith. He lost that fight, and later in the same year announced his retirement from professional boxing.

After retiring from boxing, Tiger worked as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. One day, he felt a strong pain in his back. Tested by doctors, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Tiger had been banned by the Nigerian government in his country because of his involvement in the Biafran movement; however, the ban was lifted immediately after news about his condition arrived in Nigeria.

He died of liver cancer on December 14, 1971; he was 42 years old.

Under the banner, “no victor, no vanquished” a general amnesty was granted to Nigerians who played a part in the war. His role(Dick Tiger) in the Biafran cause angered the Nigerian military officials. In numerous interviews he alluded to war crimes committed by the Nigerian side; he distributed leaflets alleging same at fights in Madison Square Garden; he insisted that the Biafran Anthem be played before his bouts. He returned his M.B.E. civil medal to Queen Elizabeth II of England, and condemned the British for their moral and military support for Nigeria. These were considered highly provocative and unforgivable by Nigerian military officials, and despite formal guarantee of safe passage by the Nigerian consulate in New York, he was interrogated for 3 hours upon arrival, his passport was confiscated, never to be returned; later the military refused his request to leave the country in order to undergo proposed radical treatment for his ailment, thus dooming his chances for recovery and sealing his fate, to which he eventually succumbed.

Charley Rose ranked him as the #8 All-Time Middleweight; Herb Goldman ranked him as the #9 All-Time Middleweight; Tiger was elected to the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1974 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

Notes - The Republic of Biafra was a secessionist state in south-eastern Nigeria. Biafra was inhabited mostly by the Igbo people and existed from 30 May 1967 to 15 January 1970. The secession was led by the Igbo due to economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions among the various peoples of Nigeria. The creation of the new country, named after the Bight of Biafra (the Atlantic bay to its south), was among the complex causes for the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War. Land of the Rising Sun was chosen for Biafra's national anthem.

Biafra was recognized by Gabon, Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire, Tanzania and Zambia. Other nations did not give official recognition, but provided assistance to Biafra. Israel, France, Portugal, Rhodesia, South Africa and the Vatican City provided support. Biafra also received aid from non-state actors; Joint Church Aid, Holy Ghost Fathers of Ireland, Caritas International, MarkPress and U.S. Catholic Relief Services all gave support.

Sources:

Dick Tiger Foundation.

Sports Illustrated

BoxRec

Wikipedia (The Republic of Biafra )

Further Reading:

Dick Tiger: ‘The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal’ A Biography by Adeyinka Makinde

Link:

Sam Toperoff - Sports Illustrated – Oct 13, 1986

Dick Tiger - Patriot, rebel, humanitarian, philanthropist and world champion, has never been honored with a proclamation, plaque or statue in his homeland. This generous man of many parts; a devoted family man, courageous fighter, Nigerian patriot, Biafran rebel who built schools, provided start-up capital, offered scholarships, and served his people, deserves more than has heretofore been accorded him. It is in honor of this illustrious son, father, husband and friend that this Foundation is established. (Dick Tiger Foundation ) The Legend Lives On

 

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