IHETU, Richard (aka) Dick Tiger




Dick Tiger
An Uncommon Fighter by(Goodluck Ebelo). If Nigeria ever had a boxer with uncommon re silience - the ability to move from punishing defeats to major title victories - that boxer un doubtedly was Dick Ihetu. The story ofhow he came to be nicknamed Tiger, an animal that does not existanywhere in his native Africa, has notreally been told, but his abilities matched those ofthe uncommon Felidae. Dick Tiger was an uncommon fighter. Dick Tiger fitthe slum-to-the-ring model ofgreat fighters, but much unlike many ofthem, Dick Tiger imposed order with his biceps and abilities not may hem. Aba, the gritty town that played a crucial role in his formative years, hada reputation for being tough, Veteran sportscaster, Sebasf .;•, dorum. aptly cap tured Aba when he said, "to win respect, you must be strong, or carry your cutlass and use it when you must!" In place ofa machete, Dick Tiger carried his biceps and an unflagging will to throw offthe fetters of poverty. Aba, the town he migrated to in 1946, tooknotice ofhim. His father, with the prophetic name Nmajuogu (the knife that fears no war) was lostearly to death. His mother Rebecca Ihetu sent him to Holy Trinity(CMS)School,Amaigbo,Orlu.Afterhisstand ard six. with a capital which was equivalent to less than 1.25, and perhaps the hopes and prayers ofhis mother, he took up the job of scavenging for empty bottles and vending them to the warehouses in Aba. In those days, Aba taps had a reputation for remainingdry during theday andtrickling lateinthe night. This often resulted in short tempers and rowdiness. Rather than bulldoze his way to the taps, Dick Tigerimposedorder byforcingeveryone intoa queue. DickTiger had begun exercising his boxingskills in Abaandhis famespreadandshoutsof"Tiger Power" followed him wherever he went. Years later, he be came a professional boxer. Dick Tiger had some success in the ring in the Collister Belt Tournaments. In 1952. seven years before he landed in Liverpool, he defeated Tommy West in a split decision. In a rematch in January 1953, he lost to Tommy West on points. Four times he fought for the belt but never won it. So in Lagos, he hadn't the kind of following he had taken for granted in Aba but with help from men like Jack Farns worth, he took his trade to Britain.He married Abigail Ogbuji in 1958 and set sail for the United Kingdom in February of the same year. Britain was not exactly a fertile ground for any pugilist. Ittook time for Dick Tiger to acclimatize and he lost his first four fights. Just when he started win ning, Allan Dean, who was not exactly a top ofthe range prize fighter, beat him. As it turned out, it was the last interruption Dick Tiger would tolerate. His next fight againstTerry Downes at Shoreditch, England on the night of 14 May 1967 came with all the razzmatazz of profes sional boxing. Bookmakers gave Dick Tiger a 1-3 chance. After the opening rounds, the odds had evened out. Downes had no answers to Dick Tiger's powerful hooks. Tiger had hardly broken out in a sweat when the fight ended. Terry Downes himself acknowledged Tiger's superiority ina post-match chat: "that Tiger looks big for a middle weight. He does, when you're on the bleeding floor looking up at him." Beforethat time, Tiger had won some garlands. Thrice, in 1962, 1963 and 1964, he won the Norwich Union Trophy for "Sportsman ofthe Year" in Nigeria. He also received honorable mention at the 1960 Nigerian Awards. In 1958,he won the British Empire Middle Weight Boxing title by flooring Pat McAteer in Liverpool in the 9th round. He lost the same title, however, to Wilf Greaves in Canada on points, but regained the title in a re match, this time TKO-ingGreaves. Tiger by now had shown his inclination to win laurels at the centre stage of boxing in America; "it is the legitimate ambition of a fighter to fight for titles," was how he put it. There were two versions of the particular title that Dick Tiger desired; one held by Gene Fullmer, recognized in North America; and the other,a European title held by Paul Pender. Dick Tiger had to wait a frustrating two years to get the chance to fight for the American title,because of boxing politics. WhenGene Fullmerfinallyagreed to meethim, the fight hadto be postponedtwice. Meanwhile, age wascatching upwithTiger; he was33years old. The champion saidof Tiger:"I paytributeto Dick's left hooks; but I believe I have fought other guys with goodhooksbefore." Dicksimply retorted. "I am not worried. Ijust want the title." At Candlestick Park, where the fight took place, Gene stretched Tiger to the last round but inthe end, Tiger won on points. He was now a world champion. In his corner to celebrate that evening were Chief J.M Johnson, federal minister for Labourand Nigeria's ambassadorto America, J.M Udochi. The following year, 1963, he battled his foe, Fullmer to a draw in Las Vegas, Nevada. That same year, Ibadan, Nigeria hosted the laststage oftheTi ger/Fullmer contests. Itwasgoing to bethe first big fight inthe country. Tiger's American manager,Jer seyJones arrived tojoin a phalanx of promotersand agentsto publicizethefight. Ina showofsolidarity, each ofthe three regions donated £15,000 towards thefightandthecentralgovernment gave £20,000. Before a frenzied crowd of25,000 ofhis coun trymen,Tiger stopped Fullmerinthe 7th round. He thenhadto contendwith JoeyGiardello,ahardpunch ingBrooklyn,NewYork-born pugilistwhoseshifty style rattled Tiger. On 7 December 1963, Joey beat Tiger ina title fight. This drew out the indomitable spirit in Dick Tiger. In 1965,at 35,and aftera frustratingdelay,he metJoeyagain leavingthechampion's face a maskof blood. That year, ahead of great boxers like Muhammed Ali, Dick Tiger was made fighter of the year by the authoritative Ring magazine."It isa re ward for his standing as a citizen of the world ... his faultless ranking as a sportsman and his high contributions to the morals and techniques of the sport." With his mark made, he moved to the light heavyweight category, and in Puerto Rico in December 1966, he defeated Jose Torress to win the World Light Heavy Weight Championship. Hedefended it thrice and lostthe title to Bob Foster in Madison Square Garden, New York, USA in 1968. He didn't quit yet. He slammed Frankie Depaula, (judged the fight of the year) Nino, Benvenutiand Andy Kendall before being defeated by EmileGriffith inJuly 1970. Though he didn't know it then, it was the last fightforthe warrior. The war raging across his coun tryhadtakenaheavytollonhim.Somereportshadit thathedonatedmuchofhis purseto his Biafranhome land. Thereafter, he moved back to Nigeria to find a cure for what was a strange illness - cancer. On 17 December 1972, Dickson Ihetu died of cancer ofthe liver in Aba- a city whose gritty ways he had taken with him to the ring. Condolences in the superlative followed. Ian Gibb of The Sun wrote, "Tiger was one of the rarest men ever to step into the boxing ring," and The Daily Mail,quoting his former manager, Tony Vario, wrote, "Dick Tiger will be remembered as one who was rated as one of boxing's all-time greats." Nigeria, sti 11 nursing the wounds of war, stopped to mourn the passing ofa great son. The writer is greatly indebted to Sebastine Oforum, Dick Tiger: World Boxing Champion at two weights, who 'knew what it was to be hungry.'
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