Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal

Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal


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Makinde’s book also reveals him as a fine human being – intelligent, and resourceful,

with a deep self-pride and a profound commitment to his people. Unlike so many boxers

of his time and ours, he was a virtual teetotaller



Adeyinka Makinde, Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal, Word Association Publishers, $18.95 (312 pages)

Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal

A Biography by Adeyinka Makinde

Reviewed by Gavin Evans

When it comes to rating the greatest African boxer of all-time it is impossible to sidestep Dick Tiger. A strong case can be made for Azumah Nelson’s devastating power, refined skills and superlative record but it was the man known to his parents as Richard Ihetu who laid the path for the likes of Nelson, Ike Quartey and, today, Sam Peter, in their bids to win over the hard-to-please American fight fans. Forty years have passed since Tiger became the first-ever African boxer to win world titles in two weight divisions. The weight-drained Biafran-Nigerian controversially lost his world middleweight title to Emile Griffith (with 17 of the 22 ringside reporters giving the fight to the champion) and then shocked the boxing world by giving away 8 lb., 4 inches and seven years to batter the 39-1-1 Jose Torres around the ring to lift the world light heavyweight title. But 1966 was also a year of great sadness. The pogroms directed against the Igbo people unleashed a series of events that forced Tiger into exile and clouded his remaining six years. He became a vocal international voice for the fledgling Biafran state, renouncing all association with Nigeria and returning his MBE to Britain in protest against its support for the Nigerian regime. He was commissioned as an officer in the Biafran army, after which he smuggled his wife and eight children out of the country, while popping back and forth between Biafra and America, competing in major fights – a remarkable spell in a truly remarkable life. He returned home following the defeat of the Biafran independence campaign, and on December 15 1971 died of liver cancer. For a while he was virtually forgotten but over the last 15 years there has been a revival in his posthumous fortunes. In 1991 Tiger became the first African boxer to be elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and since then films of his fights shown on ESPN and a steady stream of magazine articles have helped to revive his reputation. Adeyinka Makinde, a Nigerian-born, London-based barrister and law lecturer, has added considerably to this legacy with a fascinating first biography. He mixes the story of Tiger’s early life in Aba, Eastern Nigeria, with a social history of the Igbo people, before getting his teeth into the long tale of the man’s boxing career, which he tells with understated flare, never stinting from criticism of his subject when due. Makinde’s research is impressive. For instance, contrary to published records, which have Tiger winning one and losing one against Tommy West, Makinde shows he had three bouts with West, losing them all. Following his countryman, Hogan Kid Bassey, he arrived in Liverpool in 1955 and began the British leg of his career with four defeats (two disputed). At that stage British boxing was reeling from the doubling of the taxes on gross promotional receipts (from 15 to 30 percent). African boxers, prepared to accept lower purses, helped to keep it alive, even if they were regarded as expendable. Tiger was a slow learner, but one who eventually absorbed his lessons well. His breakthrough came in 1957 when he was pitted with one of the young stars in the Mickey Duff and Harry Levene stable, Terry Downes, stopping him in six rounds. Later that year he drew with the British champion Pat McAteer and in four months stopped him in four rounds to win the Commonwealth title. After four years in Britain he relocated to New York and it was there that he learnt the fine points of the game. He suffered several setbacks, including questionable losses to Rory Calhoun, Joey Giardello and Wilf Greaves, but a series of impressive wins over leading contenders earned him a shot at Gene Fullmer’s middleweight title. He proved to be significantly stronger than the Utah ironman, driving him around the ring, slipping his punches, carving up his face and outboxing him to lift the title. In the return, a more cautious Fullmer earned a draw but in their third fight, in Ibadan, Nigeria, the rampant Tiger forced Fullmer’s retirement after seven emphatic rounds. His third defence came against his old rival, Joey Giardello, who jabbed and ran, to lift the title. It took Tiger two years to force Giardello into a return – a frustrating period that saw him picking up four wins and a highly dubious split points loss to Joey Archer. One of his victims in this period was Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, who was dropped three times and badly beaten up, afterwards describing it as the worst beating he had taken “inside or outside of the ring.” In his next fight a 36-year-old Tiger had no trouble regaining the world title, with his second win over Giardello and followed that with a knockout over Germany’s Peter Mueller, that controversial points loss to Griffiths (for example, Ring editor Nat Fleisher gave it to Tiger by ten rounds to five), and that shock light heavyweight title victory over Torres. Over the next 18 months he picked up a return win over Torres and a 12th round stoppage over mandatory contender Roger Rouse. His career seemed over when he was knocked out in four rounds by Bob Foster and yet he returned to outpoint Frankie De Paula in The Ring’s 1968 Fight of the Year, and followed this with wins over middleweight champion Nino Benvenuti and light heavyweight contender Andy Kendall. He retired at 41 after losing a return with Griffith. Films show Tiger as an aggressive boxer-puncher. His defence was tight, his head movement excellent. He was immensely strong, always superbly conditioned and he had one of the firmest chins in middleweight history. While not a one punch blastout artist, he was heavy-handed – a solid, draining puncher who was particularly adept at working the body. His record shows 17 or 18 losses (depending on whose version you accept) but at least 11 were legitimately disputed. He struggled with quick moving, defensive boxers, although he beat several of them. Victories over fellow world champions Downes, Giardello, Fullmer, Torres and Benvenuti and top contenders like Florentino Fernandez, Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and Henry Hank place him comfortably within the top 20 middleweights of all time, and perhaps even the top ten. Makinde’s book also reveals him as a fine human being – intelligent, and resourceful, with a deep self-pride and a profound commitment to his people. Unlike so many boxers of his time and ours, he was a virtual teetotaller who always trained hard, never cut corners and avoided trouble outside the ring, except when it came to his battle against the Nigerian military regime in the late 1960s. Dick Tiger is a compelling and inspiring read, that will certainly appeal to anyone with an interest in boxing history, African history, or both. Source: Gavin Evans (The Fist boxing magazine, July 2006. Australia)   /  See also: Tribute to a boxing legend

posted 17 July 2006

Adeyinka Makinde is Nigerian by birth and British by nationality. He was born August 1966 at Yaba Military Hospital, the fourth child of Lt. Emmanuel Oladipo Makinde and Grace Makinde. He was named ‘Adeyinka’ (Ade yi mi ka) which means “crowns surround me.”

As a child he was always surrounded by books and have always held a fascination for the written word. His main interests were in biographies of historical figures and histories of nations. He has been a student of boxing for a long time and the story of the boxer Richard Ihetu, better known by his ring cognomen Dick Tiger.

He relocated to England in 1980 were he completed ‘O’ Levels and ‘A’ Levels. In between these, he obtained a National Diploma in Business Finance. He read Law at the Polytechnic of North London graduating, with honours, in 1989. In the autumn of that year, he enrolled on to the inaugural Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court School of Law. He was subsequently called to the Bar at the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.

Since then he has worked as a Law Lecturer at a number of colleges and universities in the United Kingdom and as a Company In-House Counsel. He is the Managing Director of his company, the Law Academy Ltd. Along the way he married and has two beautiful daughters. In many ways, he feels that he is about to ‘take-off’ and fulfill his manifest destiny: To secure the future of his children and to contribute in a meaningful manner to the development of his country of origin and indeed to any community within which he lives.

A student of boxing, Adeyinka has written many articles and match reports for a number of boxing sites on the World Wide including He has also contributed to the journal, African Renaissance.

Other links: / / adeyinkamakinde/page2l

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