World champion boxer Richard Ihetu, better known as Dick Tiger, used to sell empty bottles on a market stall in Nigeria before he made Liverpool his home.
Like his countryman Hogan Bassey, he moved to Merseyside in the 1950s after exhausting all the opportunities for competitive bouts in West Africa.
Tiger arrived in Liverpool in 1955 with a reputation for being a hard-punching middleweight with serious speed and strength – a powerful combination.
He fought many of his bouts at the Liverpool Stadium boxing venue in St Paul’s Square, winning the Commonwealth middleweight title there on March 27th 1958.
His opponent that day was Birkenhead boxer Pat McAteer, the uncle of footballer Jason McAteer who played for Bolton, Liverpool and Blackburn. McAteer was knocked out in the ninth round.
Tiger went on to win the world middleweight crown in San Francisco in 1962 and the world light-heavyweight title in New York in 1966.
Born in the town of Amaigbo in August 1929, Tiger took up boxing at the age of 19 after working on his father’s farm and selling bottles on a market stall.
British military officers taught him how to box and he quickly won the Nigerian middleweight championship. He earned his new name after one memorable bout when he leapt through the air like a tiger to punch his opponent on the chin.
Tiger was not the only Nigerian boxer to adopt an alias. His opponents included Mighty Joe, Easy Dynamite, Koko Kid and Lion Ring.
Moving to Liverpool was not a smooth transition for Tiger. He didn’t like the food and lost his first four bouts – all on points’ decisions.
His first win came in May 1956 when he knocked out Welsh boxer Dennis Rowley in the first round at Liverpool Stadium. A week later he beat Alan Dean on points at the same venue.
Tiger’s big breakthrough occurred in May 1957 when he defeated British favourite Terry Downes by a technical knockout in Shoreditch Town Hall. He wasn’t expected to win.
A new management team then developed his technique to help make him a title contender in his own right. A month later he beat French opponent Marius Dori at the Harringay Arena, again by technical knockout.
After becoming British middleweight champion, Tiger started to fight serious American opponents in 1958. Unfortunately his first bout against Ellsworth Webb at Earls Court in London ended in a points’ defeat after 10 rounds.
Tiger picked himself up in October to defeat Yolande Pompey on points at the Empire Pool, Wembley, before returning to Liverpool Stadium to fight American middleweight Randolph Sandy in March 1959.
This time it was Tiger’s turn to lose on points, but he won a rematch at the Empire Pool in May. It was to be his last bout in the UK.
Tiger left Liverpool in 1959 to fight out of New York under manager Jersey Jones. He became World Boxing Association middleweight champion in October 1962 by defeating Gene Fullmer in Candlestick Park, San Francisco.
Fullmer fought Tiger on three occasions, lastly in the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, Nigeria. He remembers being so soundly outboxed over 15 rounds that even his mother and father wouldn’t have scored the fight to him!
The American fighter described Tiger as ‘a rough guy who beat me bad.’
Tiger lost his crown to US fighter Joey Giardello in December 1963, but won it back in a rematch in 1965. He lost it again to Emile Griffith less than a year later in a controversial points’ decision.
Tiger then moved up to the light-heavyweight division, winning the world title against Puerto Rican boxer Jose Torres in Madison Square Garden, New York, in December 1966.
After two successful defences, Tiger lost the light-heavyweight crown to Bob Foster in New York in May 1968. He retired from boxing altogether after losing to Emile Griffith of the Virgin Islands in July 1970.
Griffith had a big man on his team – British heavyweight champion Joe Bugner.
Tiger than worked as a guard at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art before being diagnosed with liver cancer.
Although he’d been banned from Nigeria due to his involvement with the Biafran movement, Tiger was allowed to return once the government heard about his condition.
Richard Ihetu – Dick Tiger – died in Aba, Nigeria, in December 1971 at the age of 42.
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