Courtesy of myboxingfans.com
“One, Two, Three… Ten”, the referee cried, as the bell went off, signaling the end of the bout. It was the tenth round. And this boxing match had lingered an age in Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s mind. He had been felled three times by this African from Nigeria in front of a home crowd at Madison Square Garden, New York. His aggressor, Richard Ihetu also known as “Dick Tiger” was one of the greatest boxers ever to come out of Black Africa. Capturing both the World Middleweight and World Light-Heavyweight titles during his career, Ihetu won 60 out of 82 fights with 27 of them, via knock-out. 19 of his fights ended in losses and 3 in a draw.
Born in Ubahu Village, Amaigbo, Imo State on August 14, 1929, Richard Ihetu grew up in Aba, Eastern Nigeria where he picked up interest in boxing. He emigrated to Liverpool, England in 1955 following in the footsteps of countryman and fellow boxer, Hogan Kid Bassey in search of greener pastures for his boxing career, working on the side as a lunch pail workman. 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 on the March 27, 1958. After four years in Britain, Dick Tiger relocated to New York and it was there that he learnt the salient points of the game. He suffered several setbacks, including controversial 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 ironman from Utah, driving him around the ring, slipping his punches, carving up his face and punching him out to claim the title. In the return bout, a more cautious Fullmer forced a draw but in their third fight, in Ibadan, Nigeria, the ferocious Tiger forced Fullmer’s retirement after seven pummeling rounds. His third defense 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 – an arduous time in his career that saw him picking up four wins and a highly faulted split points loss to Joey Archer. One of his victims in this period was Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, who was dropped three times and badly brutalized, 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. Emile Alphonse Griffith proved to be the albatross of Tiger’s career taking the WBC and WBA World Middleweight titles in a unanimous decision on April 25 1966.
Dick Tiger returned to unstoppable form, powering passed Puerto Rican, Jose Torres, fellow countryman, Abraham Tomica and American, 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 Emile Griffith. Dick Tiger was very vocal about the Nigerian Civil War, himself serving as an officer in the Biafran Army. He was noted for returning his Commander of British Empire (CBE) insignia in protest to the heavy support given to the Nigerian Government by Whitehall. He returned home following the defeat of the Biafran secession and on December 15, 1971 he died of liver cancer. For a while Dick was forgotten but over the last 20 years there has been fair mention of his accomplishments.
In 1991 Tiger became the ever first African boxer to be elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Films of some of his fights have been aired on ESPN from time to time. In these final thoughts, the word, “commitment” rings loud in the mind. We should remember when we sang our National Anthem every morning at school assembly time, we committed to that song to make sure that “the Labours of Our Heroes Past Shall Never Be in Vain…”
In the end, Richard Ihetu epitomized that Nigerian commitment to fight, win and stand for what he believed in. And I think his labour should never have to go in vain. He was indeed Nigeria’s greatest.
About the Author: Nehi Igbinijesu is a Nigerian trained economist. He has worked at several banks in several positions. In addition to banking, Nehi has been a contributor to Connect Nigeria, anchoring the Discover Nigeria Series, a history project to depict positive elements about being Nigerian. He recently authored a soon-to-be-published book for mothers titled, The Code: A Story About Raising Great Women. He lives with his family in Lagos, Nigeria. You can connect with him on Twitter at; @NehiWrites