The year was 1963. Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, Nigeria. …the crowd roared with excitement as two great boxers battled it out in the ring for the World Middleweight Championship Title for the third time. The anticipation was intense. Who would be left standing when it was all over, Gene Fullmer the challenger, or Dick Tiger, the defending champion? After a grueling 7 rounds, Gene Fullmer surrendered, his career ended and Dick Tiger was declared the winner, retaining the World Middleweight Championship Title. The Nigerian people were proud that such a high profile match took place in Nigeria, and due credit was given to Dick Tiger for making that happen.
Dick Tiger was known for his significant contribution to boxing in the 1950s and 60s. Many described him as “humble”, “a prowess in the ring”, “a gentleman”, “a patriot”, and “the greatest boxer from Africa”. Born Richard Ihetu on August 14th, 1929 in Imo State, Nigeria, he was one of four children. Though he came from humble beginnings, it did not stop him from leaving his mark on the world in a rather spectacular manner. Dick’s professional boxing career started at the age of 23. After building a reputation for himself in the boxing arena in Nigeria, Dick moved to Britain in 1955. While in Britain, he was trained by a British army officer called Peter Benencky. A transition like that could not have been easy for Dick as he had to adapt to a new lifestyle in Britain, and possibly a new fighting style.
He had a couple of tough losses at first, but with his training and determination, he went on to win 17 out of 19 matches, with one being a draw.
Dick Tiger’s Career was on the rise as he faced contenders like Joey Giardello, Emile Griffith, Jose Torres, and Bob Foster to name a few. In 1958, he won the British Middleweight Championship, and in 1962, he won the World Middleweight Championship in San Francisco, California. Dick’s career flourished due to his determination to succeed and the fact that he faced every situation with courage and confidence. He never gave up despite tough losses, criticism, and a traumatic war -in Nigeria- that would have persuaded any individual with his resources to relocate to a safe environment. His courageous character, as well as his attitude towards personal and professional challenges made him a champion. By the end of his boxing career, he had a record of 61-17-3, 26 KOs. He would later be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
Involvement with the Biafra War & his Death:
Interestingly, Dick Tiger fought two different battles; in the ring against great boxers, and out of the ring, he fought for his political beliefs with the Biafra War in Nigeria. The war took place between 1967-1970 and began with the aspirations of the Igbo people to secede from independent of Nigerian rule. Dick Tiger served as a public relations officer in the Biafra army and devoted time to assist with the wounded. The war was so heavy on his mind that he spoke of it constantly to raise awareness to the issue and even used his resources to support the Biafra army. In 1968, Dick Tiger was quoted saying, “Without Biafra, the championship title is no good to me. Without Biafra, my title is nothing. The United States is a very good country, a very nice country, but Biafra is my home. I was born in Biafra. I will die in Biafra.”
The Nigerian government considered his involvement in the war as a being a traitor. His boxing manager urged him to relocate to the United States with his family, however Dick believed he was fighting a battle that the western world could not possibly understand. His determination was admired and his accomplishments are recognized both in and out of the ring. Sadly, Dick Tiger passed away on December 14, 1971 at the age of 42 due to cancer.