A GREAT favourite of mine in the journeyman class from the late 1950s and the 1960s is Tommy Tiger, a Nigerian boxer who settled in Leicester.
He took part in 120 professional contests, managing to win only 30, but he was popular around British rings during that period. Nowadays there are many journeymen with records like Tommy, but back then he was quite rare. He was one of the last UK-based boxers to hit 100 contests before they went out of fashion for about 20 years, back in the 1970s. Ray Fallone was the last of the bunch.
Tommy started out in his native Nigeria, where he competed for the Nigerian featherweight title in 1958. He boxed other lads there who also came over to the UK to earn better money, with Sammy Etioloja, Ola Michael, Nye Ankrah and Love Allotey amongst them. He arrived during 1959 and quickly settled with a Leicester-based manager, Johnny Griffin. Fellow stablemates included Jimmy Assani, Sunny Osemegie, Costa Lawrence and Joe Falcon, for Griffin specialised in picking up lads from around the Commonwealth. I am fairly certain that Tommy will have been on the bum-end of the deal, not only with decisions, but also with his purse size, as black fighters at that time were not treated as well as they should have been. This is no reflection on Griffin, who may have tried his hardest for his lads, but the promoters will have turned the screws on him to accept a lower purse.
Tommy is perhaps best remembered for the two contests that he had with the up-and-coming Ken Buchanan in 1966. Both contests took place at the National Sporting Club, then situated at the Café Royal in London’s West End. The BN report for the bout is short and sweet, but revealing, “Former ABA champion Ken Buchanan clearly outpointed Tommy Tiger over eight rounds, but knew he had had a fight when the final bell sounded.”
Buchanan was happy to meet him again, two-and-a-half months later and this time Buchanan more clearly demonstrated his authority in what was only his seventh pro bout. “Ken Buchanan, one of Britain’s brightest prospects, conceded six and a quarter pounds to Tommy Tiger, and finished a clear points winner over eight rounds. The Scot’s left jab dominated the fight and he frequently hit the tough Tiger with three or four jabs without reply. Buchanan had the usually quiet members breaking out with spontaneous applause with his brilliant and speedy boxing.”
After this bout Tommy met another ABA champion, Al White of Dulwich, at Walworth’s Manor Place Baths. This what a hat-trick for Tiger during 1966, having also boxed Ron Smith, of Liverpool, in the bout immediately preceding the second bout with Buchanan. Smith outboxed Tiger at Blackpool and then White did the same, with BN stating that “Buchanan, Smith and White all know they have had to fight before getting out of the ring. Tiger takes everything in the way of a jab, is tireless and can throw a useful short counter punch to the head and body. He is just about the best lightweight trial-horse in the business.”
Tommy also boxed Maurice Cullen, Vic Andreetti, Des Rea, Pat McCormack and, in his last contest, Jim Watt. All were British champions, and all were good, with Watt becoming the world lightweight champion in 1979. Tiger also had a good series with Bermondsey’s Vic Chandler, and he beat Ray Fallone in a battle of the centurions in 1968.
When he finally hung up his gloves, in 1969, Tommy remained in Leicester, where he had lived throughout his career, after loyally staying with Griffin for eleven years, and he became a trainer at the East Goscote ABC, taking particularly interest in the development of the schoolboy boxers.
His real name was Babatunde Taiwo, and I wonder if he is still around. He was a cracking little fighter back in the day.