Remembering ‘Dick Tiger’, a Nigerian that brought the West to its knees
He is a Nigerian hero that prefers to be called a Biafran.
After quickly becoming Nigerian champion in his first 3 years as a pro, he would travel to England only to lose his next four fights by decision and then go through several home-cooked decisions. But that wouldn’t break his spirit. He just kept fighting until he was beating top contenders so heavily that American journalists were impressed.
Hall of famer and middleweight champion, Gene Fullmer, who established his excellency by twice defeating Sugar Ray Robinson, would fight Dick Tiger in his first title defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In a huge upset, Tiger decisioned Fullmer. In their rematch, they would fight to a draw with Tiger retaining the title. In the rubber match, Tiger brutally beat down Fullmer and forced him to retire in the 7th and retire from boxing at the age of 32 (despite him having knocked out several top fighters in the past few years).
The third Fullmer bout was the first world title fight ever held in Africa in boxing history. Tiger fought the racism of his promoters and demanded the fight be held there. It would set the stage for Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire 11 years later. Dick had successfully journeyed to the Western World, taken the world title, and brought it back to defend by knockout against a boxing legend.
Fullmer would also raise public respect of Nigeria by complimenting both the fans and Tiger himself saying: “If you have to lose, it’s a pleasure to lose to a great fighter, sportsman, and gentleman like Dick Tiger,” declared the gracious Fullmer, who was astonished by the tributes and adulation the Nigerian fans bestowed upon him. “There were at least a thousand fans waiting outside to cheer goodbye,” he marveled after his return to the United States.”
In 1958, the Queen Elizabeth II appointed him as CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).
He beat future champion Terry Downes in 1957. He TKO’d Wilf Greaves after a controversial split decision loss to regain his title. A few years later, he would drop Rubin Carter 3 times and give him a thorough beating. He would go 2-2 against future hall of famer Joey Giardello. He would embarrass quality contender Henry Hank amongst many others.
After his last fight against Giardello in 1965, he developed spasms in his back and would begin to often urinate blood signaling his end, but yet he kept fighting to support the causes and people he cared about.
A year later, in his first fight against the all-time great welterweight challenger Griffith, 77% of the press (17/22) in attendance scored the first meeting for Dick.
Following what many saw as a questionable call to Griffith, Tiger moved to light heavyweight and decisioned 3-1 favorite light heavyweight champion and future hall of famer Jose Torres in two straight fights overcoming a 3 inch reach and 2 inch height advantage plus many pounds of muscle.
In his third defense of the title, Tiger would fight the legendary Bob Foster (inducted into the HOF in the very first year of its existence) who came in with a 7-inch height and 8-inch reach advantage. Tiger here was KO’d for the only time of his career by a monstrous left hook that would lead (amongst other lefts) to Foster’s left hook becoming a thing of fable. Foster would also go on to defend his title 14 times before his first retirement.
DicK Tiger of Nigeria - A forgotten Nigerian hero
As Eastern Nigeria voted to secede from Nigeria and become the Republic of Biafra, Tiger declared Nigeria dead to him and called himself a Biafran. He relinquished his O.B.E. insignia in protest of Britain continuing to export munitions to Nigeria, which would use them against civilians to quash the rebellion. He would become a Public Relations Officer and Lieutenant in the Biafran army training soldiers and spending most of his boxing purses to care for his fellow Biafrans.
In 1969, Tiger would decision hall of famer Nino Benvenuti.
With Biafran’s surrender in 1970, Tiger had his property seized and was exiled from the home country that once called him a hero. He lost to Griffith in the rematch in a lifeless performance and now was blacklisted from getting fights (due to “undesirable connections”) and forced to retire a year later. Post retirement, he worked as a security guard in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In 1971, he became terminally ill with liver cancer and was allowed to return to Nigeria to spend his last days with his wife and five children and coaching the East Central State of Nigeria’s boxing team before he passed away at the age of 42 on December 14th, 1971.
He’s pretty widely renowned as one of the two best African boxers of all time: historians and journalists go back and forth on whether #1 is fellow three-time world champion Azumah Nelson or himself. He was also the first African boxer to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. He was a two-time middleweight champion and one-time light heavyweight champion who forced his way to fame and greatness through his decency and his dedication.
This article was first published by the Reddit.
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