Jim Amato looks at the legendary Dick Tiger, one of the very elite middleweights in the history of boxing.
He was born Richard Ihetu in his native Nigeria in 1929. He died forty two years later in Nigeria. In between he established himself as one of the best pound for pound fighters of the 1960's. He was known to the boxing world as Dick Tiger. It was a very fitting moniker for the man who was crowned world champion on three occasions.
Dick turned professional in 1952 after a brief amateur career. Within three years he established himself as the best middleweight in Nigeria.
It was off to England in 1955 to try and broaden his horizons. He lost his first four fights on English soil. Hardly the stuff of legends right ? Tiger would not be discouraged. By mid-1956 he was starting to put together some impressive wins. He stopped future world champion Terry Downes in 1957.
On March 27, 1958 Tiger halted the popular Les Mc Ateer in nine to win the British Empire middleweight title. Later in the year he lost to the talented Spider Webb.
The year 1959 saw Tiger step it up. He met Randy Sandy, Rory Calhoun and Joey Giardello, two bouts with each. He also fought Gene Armstrong and Holly Mims. Talk about stiff competition.
In 1960 he lost his British Empire title to Wilf Greaves but he would regain it by the end of the year. That started a seven fight win streak that would lead to shot at the world's title. Among his victims were Gene Armstrong , Spider Webb, Florentino Fernandez and Henry Hank.
On October 23, 1962 Dick challenged the defending WBA middleweight champion, the rugged Gene Fullmer. They met in San Francisco and Tiger won the title by decision.
On February 23, 1963 in Las Vegas, Tiger met Gene Fullmer in a rematch. They fought to a draw after fifteen rugged rounds and Tiger retained his title. When the " other " champion Paul Pender retired, Dick received full recognition as undisputed middleweight champion On August 10th Fullmer met Tiger one more time in an attempt to regain his title. This time Tiger stopped Fullmer in seven rounds.
In his very next fight Tiger lost the title to old adversary Joey Giardello. While waiting for a return match Dick would defeat Jose Gonzalez and Don Fullmer. He was then upset by the slick Joey Archer. He came right back to defeat Rocky Rivero and score a huge win over Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.
On October 25, 1965 Tiger beat the classy Giardello to reclaim the crown. Six months later Tiger lost the title to the one and only Emile Griffith.
Tiger decided to move up to light heavyweight and he was granted a shot at the champion Jose Torres. The Puerto Rican Torres was fine fighter. He was a well schooled smooth boxer with power. Torres and Tiger met on December 16, 1966. Torres would box but Tiger kept boring in. It was Tiger's relentless aggression that upset Torres to capture his second title in a different weight class. They met again on May 16, 1967 and it was almost a carbon copy of their first fight. Tiger won another decision and retained his crown. Six months later he would halt highly regarded contender Roger Rouse to retain the title.
In 1968 a lean, mean punching machine named Bob Foster was gunning for a title shot. the proud champion Tiger gave it to him. Foster was 6'3" and had a terrific jab. What he also had was terrifying power in either hand. Tiger tried his best to get inside and work on Bob's lean rib cage but he paid a heavy price every time he tried. Finally in the fourth round a devastating left hook from Foster put the champion flat on his back. The ever game Tiger tried to rise but it was over. The title reign of Dick Tiger was ended.
Five months later Dick would meet Frankie DePaula in a barn burner. The crude slugger DePaula surprised everyone by puttng Tiger down a few times in the early rounds. Again Tiger dug deep within himself and rallied over second half of the fight to pull out the verdict.
Next up middleweight champion Nino Benvenuti. It was rumored that Nino was foolishly thinking of moving up to challenge Foster. Dick Tiger drove those thoughts out of his head by winning a convincing decision. There were rumors that Tiger was offered a crack at Foster and his old title but he supposedly declined.
Tiger would next out fight the tough as nails Andy Kendall. At this point Tiger was still the second best light heavyweight in the world.
On July 15, 1970 the aging Tiger would meet his old nemesis Emile Griffith. For whatever reasons Tiger just could not fathom Griffith's style. This would be Dick Tiger's last boxing match. He would have a much tougher future foe.
Dick Tiger lost his final fight to the dreaded disease, cancer. He passed away on December 14, 1971. Thirty five years have passed since his tragic death. Today he has been somewhat forgotten. With no disrespect, Dick Tiger would have been able to hold his own with anyone from 160 to 175 today. He was extremely strong. He was always in top condition. He was a tenacious fighter who would just wear an opponent down. Most of all he was durable. In 81 fights he was stopped once, by Bob Foster. No shame there as Bob is considered as one of the hardest punchers of all time.
Below, a list of some of the top quality boxers that Tiger met in his outstanding career.
Champions: Emile Griffith, Nino Benvenuti, Jose Torres, Bob Foster, Joey Giardello, Gene Fullmer and Terry Downes.
Contenders: Andy Kendall, Frankie DePaula, Roger Rouse, Jose Gonzalez, Rubin Carter, Joey Archer, Don Fullmer, Florentino Fernandez, Spider Webb, Henry Hank, Gene Armstrong, Yolande Pompey, Randy Sandy, Holly Mims Wilf Greaves and Rory Calhoun.
Now that is impressive!