On This Day: Dick Tiger passes away aged just 42

dick tiger
Paul Wheeler pays tribute to Dick Tiger, one of the greatest African fighters off all-time

A TRUE gentleman outside of the ring, but an aggressive warrior inside it, Dick Tiger represented his native Nigeria with pride and honour. A supporter of the Biafran cause in his homeland, Richard Ihetu, as he was born, started boxing professionally at the age of 23.

Whilst fighting in his mother country, Tiger amassed a near perfect record inside the squared circle, picking up the Nigerian middleweight strap along the way. His ferocious counterpunching style brought him great success, as he drew his challengers in before unloading heavy shots.

After 15 wins in 16 contests in Africa, Dick relocated to Liverpool, to be trained by Peter Benencko. However, despite his obvious talents, the stocky middleweight initially found it difficult to adjust to the fighting technique of his British opponents. He lost his first four bouts in the country (all on points), before settling in and stringing together some victories, including a stoppage win over future World middleweight boss Terry Downes.

Following an Empire middleweight title victory over Pat McAteer (w ko 9), Tiger fought another five contests in England before heading over the Atlantic to campaign in America. He picked up highly creditable wins over respected contenders such as Gene Armstrong, Joey Giardello, Holly Mims and Hank Casey. However, it was a sixth round knockout of Floro Fernandez in January 1962 that caught the attention of the US public.

By now a successful and popular figure in the States, Dick earned a shot at Utah’s Gene Fullmer, with the winner being recognised as the WBA world middleweight champion. The powerful African bombarded Fullmer with damagingly accurate blows for 15 rounds, securing him a convincing victory.

The pair fought twice more in the next year, with Tiger retaining his belt on a draw and then stopping Gene in seven in their rubber match for the vacant World middleweight strap in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Old foe Joey Giardello dethroned Dick in December 1963, although he regained the world crown just under two years later. World welterweight king Emile Griffith then put in a fantastic performance to wrest the middleweight belt from Tiger’s grasp, which convinced the Amaigbo man that he would fair better at light-heavyweight.

In his first appearance at the new weight, the 37-year-old Tiger outscored Jose Torres over 15 rounds to become the new World light-heavy ruler. He outpointed Torres again in a rematch and successfully defended the title against Roger Rouse (w rsf 12), before the much younger and taller Bob Foster became the first man to knock Tiger out in May 1968.

After defeating Nino Benvenuti on points and losing to Emile Griffith once again, the two-weight world champion called time on his career in 1971. He sadly died of cancer only six months later in his treasured Biafra.

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