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Tiger the best out of Nigeria





At one time there were only eight weight divisions and only eight world titles in boxing, and Dick Tiger was an undisputed double world champion.

Possibly the greatest fighter to come out of Nigeria, he won the middleweight title twice, beating Gene Fullmer in 1963 and Joey Giardello in 1965. Then he won the light-heavyweight title when he outpointed Jose Torres in 1966.

Born Richard Ihetu on 14 August 1929 in the village Amaigo, he became a larger-than-life hero in Nigeria.

He received very little schooling and worked as a "bottle picker" at the Eke Oha market in the Aba township. That is were he got involved in fights that led him to boxing.

In the rough environment of the market be later became an "enforcer" at the long queues at the water pumps. His skills were noticed by British army officers and they suggested he take up boxing.

After a short amateur career he joined the professional ranks in Lagos in 1952 when he was 23 years old. He stopped Simon Eme in two rounds and won his next six fights before suffering his first loss, to Tommy West in a challenge for the Nigerian middleweight title.

Tiger had taken his record to 15 wins and that one loss when a British insurance salesman, Jack Farnsworth, who later helped establish the Nigerian Boxing Board of Control, arranged for the fighter to move to England.

Tiger set himself up in Liverpool, but found it difficult to adjust to the climate. He lost his first four fights before registering a win in May 1956 when he stopped Dennis Rowley in one round.

Settling in, he lost only two of his next 17 fights before winning the British Empire middleweight title when he stopped Pat McAteer in nine rounds on 27 March 1958.

Later that year he met top-ranked Spider Webb and Yolande Pompey, losing on points to Webb and outpointing Pompey.

Midway through 1959 he decided to move to America, hoping to get a crack at the world middleweight title.

He also took time to return to Nigeria to marry Abigail Ogbuji. Within a year she gave birth to twins. They had six more children.

Managed in America by Jersey Jones, Tiger won and lost to fighters such as Randy Sandy, Gene Armstrong and Joey Giardello before losing his Empire title to Canadian Wilf Greaves on 22 June 1960 in Edmonton. He returned to Canada five months later to reclaim his title with a ninth-round knockout over Greaves.

On 23 October 1962, in San Francisco, Tiger gained a 15-round points decision over Gene Fullmer to win the NBA middleweight title. He was named Fighter of the Year for 1962 by The Ring magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America.

The return match with Fullmer ended in a draw and a third fight was set up. British promoter Jack Solomons arranged for the fight to be held in Ibadan, Nigeria.

On 10 August 1963, Tiger took complete control and Fullmer was unable to continue at the bell for the seventh round.

After that, Tiger was recognised as the universal world middleweight champion and awarded the Order of the British Empire.

His reign was short. He lost the title to Giardello only four months later and had to wait nearly two years to get a return bout.

On 21 October 1965, Tiger regained the middleweight title when he outpointed Giardello over 15 rounds. Once again Ring magazine and the Boxing Writers Association chose him as Fighter of the Year.

After a non-title win over German Peter Mueller, Tiger lost the title to Emile Griffith at Madison Square Garden in April 1966.

He was 37 and some critics felt this was the end. However, before the end of 1966 he moved up a division and dethroned world light heavyweight champion Jose Torres.

After outpointing Abraham Tomica in a non-title fight, Tiger knocked out Roger Rouse in defence of his belt.

In May 1968, at the age of 38, he met Bob Foster. Age, height and reach counted against the champion and he was bombed out in the fourth round. This was one of only six inside-the-distance losses he suffered in an 81-bout career.

Still he continued, beating Frankie de Paula, Nino Benvenuti and Andy Kendall before losing to Emile Griffith in July 1970.

At the age of 40 Tiger retired from boxing in July 1971.

Despite losing assets and investments during the Biafran war, he managed to secure a good life for his family. He also worked as a security guard at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In July 1971, Tiger was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and given only a few months to live. He returned to Nigeria and died on 14 December 1971 in Aba, near his birthplace. An estimated 20 000 people lined the roads to Amaigo to view the funeral procession.

He was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1974.


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