|. . . THE CBZ JOURNAL||
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From the soon to be published book
'Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal
by Adeyinka Makinde
TWELVE: OLD MAN OF BIAFRA
Tiger stayed in Portugal settling his family and licking his wounds. He arranged for the older children to attend a nearby English speaking, privately owned Catholic School. His son Richard recalls his father's outward calm despite all the upheavals. Tiger was always relaxed and applied himself at a moderate pace. Most felt that he could not return to the ring from such a devastating loss and expected him to announce his retirement. Bobby Diamond, in England, felt concerned enough to airmail him a message of advice; Tiger, the missive went, had brought glory to himself and his (former) country but as he now approached his thirty-ninth birthday he was 'too old to start again.' Diamond received no reply.
Many considered the fight to be the biggest mistake of his career. "His managers were braver than my managers," remarks Joey Giardello. "He shouldn't have fought Bob Foster. Guys like Henry Hank were tough but Foster was too good a puncher and much taller -too big. I didn't think Dick should have done that." "Bob Foster was a freak of nature," asserts Ron Lipton. "If I had been Tiger, I would never have taken that fight. I just think that as a chess move -to retain your immortality- it would have been advisable for someone to say, 'Dick, lets keep the title with a couple more easy shots and then retire and keep your record in tact. It was a devastating knockout. It would have been prudent at Dick's age, after all the war's he'd been in and the debilitating anguish he was suffering because of events back home, to have taken some less arduous fights. But he was so confident. He was still brimming with that champions belief in himself." To quit or not to quit is the eternally recurring dilemma that fixates many a career. The diminishing powers of speed and reflex were not enough to stop Muhammad Ali and Ray Leonard from embarking on their ego-fuelled but deluded decisions to try to recapture past glories. Neither did it stop Joe Louis, bedevilled by tax demands, or Ezzard Charles, bankrupted by poor business instincts from clambering up the ring steps to play out the sad closing chapters of their respective careers.
A few years back, a reporter had asked Tiger when he expected to be retired and he responded: "My money will tell me what to do." Money was the key to supporting his family and his cause and so for him, the question was not whether he should resume his career but when. Boxing was the only medium through which he could make substantial quantities, in his words, "the only way I can make a good living." He admitted that he could not "go on forever", but believed that he had retained enough of his skills to continue. He convinced himself that the loss to Foster had more to do with poor strategy than with "old age"; Foster, he joked, had caught him with a "lucky punch." An article, which Jones had written three years earlier when the careers of over-forties Willie Pep and Sugar Ray Robinson were garnering a lot of attention could have served as a justification of sorts for him to continue his career: 'Arguably', Jones wrote, 'a fighter of forty may lack the speed, ruggedness or endurance that he knew at say, twenty. His vision usually dims, coordination of mind and muscle have suffered from a long, strenuous career and the legs have lost their one time resiliency. Yet, what he may be missing in equipment, is often balanced by experience, a valuable asset in an ringsters equipment.'
Starting over was something that Tiger was adept at: after the losses to Tommy West, all those years back in Nigeria and after dropping the decisions in those first contests in Liverpool and not least, after losing his middleweight title to Emile Griffith, he resurfaced to win the light heavyweight championship.
The Garden got in touch at the end of August; his next fight would be against a light heavyweight contender named Frankie De Paula, a rough and tumble fighter who carried enormous power in his fists. Born on American Independence Day in 1939, DePaula made his professional debut six years earlier, taking bouts for about a year before taking a three-year hiatus. This reason for this absence remains something of a mystery, as indeed are other facets of his life and early death. He resumed his career in 1966.
. . .
"Frankie did most of his training in the shithouse," recalled Al Braverman, his manager. "He was supposed to run around the park, but he'd duck into the men's room and throw water all over himself from the fountain. Then he'd comeback and say, 'Look Al, I'm sweating like a bull.' I'd say, 'Okay, how come this sweat is cold?' Then he'd holler, ' Who told you? Who ratted me out?'
De Paula also saddled himself with an entourage: " A cast of characters," as Tommy Kenville recalls. One called Wimpy 'The Shadow' Vicente, was hired by Braverman to trail his frequently errant charge. Another was his mascot, Mario the Midget, whom Kenville remembers needed to be lifted up to enable him to "piss in the urinals." Braverman's relationship with De Paula was critical because it appeared to many that Braverman was one of only a few people who could motivate him to fight, employing a blustering style that had him frequently berating his charge with the foulest language. "I had to give him a slap in the face every now and then, pull his hair or punch him on the inside of the thigh to get what I wanted out of him," said Braverman, "He feared what I would do to him in the corner more than the fight itself." Crude he may have been, and perennially out of condition even for his bigger fights, De Paula nonetheless won on more occasions than he lost and in the process bagged a large group of supporters who followed his fights around Jersey City. His supporters later fell into the welcoming arms of the Garden.
"Duke Sarleno (of the Garden's publicity department) and I were almost responsible for Frankie De Paula," recalls Kenville. "We used to work small clubs in Jersey to earn a little extra bucks. We got him some good fights and Frankie had the most fantastic fight you could ever see in your life in the old Garden against Charlie 'The Devil' Green. Finally, the devil, who could punch like a mule -and Frankie, could also punch like a mule- stops him. So the next morning, Dukes and I were sitting in Dukes office figuring out what we're going to do with Frankie, where we can move him, bring him back after the loss, and Harry Markson, just like a message from heaven, walked in and said, 'I'd like to see more of that De Paula.' And then he walked out. So we manoeuvred him into the fight with Tiger."
But De Paula needed to be coming off a win before he could face Tiger. So Kenville scoured a copy of the Ring Record Book for 'safe opposition', eventually settling for 'Irish' Jimmy McDermott, an Oregon based butcher. De Paula's knock out smoothened the way for the contest with Tiger. Tiger took the bout on the understanding that a win would bring about the desired rematch with Bob Foster. According to Kenville, he did not appear to view De Paula as much of a danger. "Tiger walks in with the Goddamn hat, the overcoat on and asks, 'Who is this Frankie De Paula?' And I say, 'Tough. Tough kid. Jersey City. Murderous puncher.' Tiger replies; 'Ooooh….puncher.' I say, 'Yes champ, dynamite puncher.' And he goes, 'Huh'. Like 'I'm Dick Tiger, I've been a professional for fifteen years and I've got to worry about some guy this publicity man tells me is a dynamite puncher.'"
Tiger had to adjust once more to the position of negotiating as an ex-champion -he would not be receiving a guarantee. Teddy Brenner preferred it that way since, he reasoned, fighters would be more inclined to help the Gardens publicity department and participate in promotions when they knew that the value of their purses rode on the number of fans who turned up. The terms of contract gave Tiger and De Paula twenty-five per cent of the gate receipts, this parity a concession no doubt to the Italian-Americans pulling power. Tiger was always a part of the pre-fight bartering. "He participated in the negotiations with Jersey Jones," says Kenville. "He would be in the office listening to what they were offering him. Oh, for sure he wasn't going to let Jones come back and say, 'Well they're going to offer you such and such an amount.' Once the negotiations were done, he'd spend most of his time in the gym."
In the gym, as on the negotiating table, adjustments had to be made. He found it hard to obtain good sparring partners at reasonable rates and saw fit to change his long held preference for afternoon sessions to evenings. His chief spar, Freddie Williams, now worked as a docker and Tiger waited for his shifts to finish. A strongly built light heavyweight, Williams was useful, having fought De Paula twice, winning one and losing the other.
When Robert Lipsyte visited him in the gym, he waxed philosophical about the painful changes in his life: "If I had been a flashy fellow with fancy clothes and many women and big cars and night clubs every night, I would be in trouble. But I have never been a flashy fellow; I eat what there is to eat. I am a very happily married man. I had apartment buildings in Lagos and Port Harcourt and a movie (theatre) and now with all the shelling, I guess it is all gone. Everything I have saved. But I am not sorry. If I had bee a flashy fellow when I hat lots of money, what would I do with myself now."
He spent a lot of time at the Biafran Mission, monitoring the inflow and outflow of information. The Federals had taken Aba at the beginning of September and were in control of the majority of the cities of the old Eastern Region -a fact duly reported by American newspapers but which he stubbornly sought to debunk.
"In every city they are still fighting" he told Lipsyte. "The Biafran fights to the end, the Nigerian kills him anyway." His body appeared wracked with emotion as he continued on the theme of genocide. "Their plan is to kill every Biafran over two years old. Then all the children will pray to the sun and moon instead of God, and never know who their fathers were. That is why we fight to survive."
On October 25th the new Madison Square Garden recorded it's highest attendance figure's, 14,201, about half of whom were De Paula followers. Tiger was favoured at eight to five. De Paula was younger and outweighed him considerable. Although his official weight was one hundred and seventy-four one half pounds, Ron Lipton insists that De Paula appeared closer to one hundred and eighty-five. The fight started tentatively with both men sizing each other up but loosened up considerably towards the end of the first. Tiger semi-crouched, sidestepping and feinting coolly observed his bulkier opponent who studied him through gloves held high up in front of his face. DePaula swayed from side to side, in urgent, almost jerky motions, waiting always to throw his left -a chopping jab, and to follow this with the movement that brought him his knock outs: a sudden in step followed by a dip and then an Ingemar Johanssen style chopping right. Tiger broke through first piercing De Paula's guard and stunning him with solid two-handed combinations. But De Paula quickly regained his composure and soon began retaliating with windmill-like flurries. Tiger appeared to be in trouble before the bell sounded.
In the second round there was no question that he was in trouble. As Ron Lipton recounts: "Dick stalked him and ran into a left and a very short right to the jaw and when he went down, his legs went out and he landed very hard on the seat of his pants. In point of fact, he actually went through the air -his entire body, feet, back and arms were completely lifted off the canvas and he landed on his shoulder blades and then on his ass. I was right on the ring apron and they actually had to grab me, I was screaming 'GET UP IHETU! GET UP!' His great warriors heart brought him to his feet but his legs and thigh muscles -the quadriceps, were trembling. I saw them undulating and trembling." There was, also according to Lipton, something quite profound in the aftermath of De Paula's assault: "I saw Frankie knock him down and this is one of the strangest things I've ever seen in my life in the ring. It was almost like the picture of Dorian Gray ageing before your eyes. I have never in my life seen a physical phenomenon like this. The only thing akin to this experience was when Sonny Liston literally aged before the sportswriters at the hands of Cassius Clay. I saw him arise and I actually saw -I thought it was Vaseline, but it was grey in his temples. It was almost as if his hair had changed on the side of his head"
Tiger struggled with his composure as referee Arthur Mercante administered the mandatory eight count. His head had thudded on to the ring canvas and for a moment his neck had gone limp. It is possible that he had been knocked out cold up to the point when his head bounced off the canvas and snapped him back into consciousness. DePaula had caught him in the middle of the face with his patented left chopping jab and right cross chop. Had the blows landed lower, in the vicinity of his jaw, he may not have had the resources to get up. When Mercante waved to both men to continue the action, De Paula crowded him, swirling his arms in a bid to end it all. One blow penetrated Tigers upraised hands and knocked him on to the lower strand of the ring ropes where he sat for the briefest of moments before propelling himself upright. Mercante did not rule this a knockdown.
The sound of the bell came as a relief to Tiger who appeared worn out. 'He walked slowly to his corner,' wrote the Ring's George Girsch. 'He was very tired and very old. He appeared to be at the end of the trail, a beaten ex-champion who had gone to the well once too often.'
The verve and the drama of the contest generated large roars of approval from audience in the Garden. And it got better. In the third, Tiger unleashed a furious barrage of punches, constantly pressuring and finally connecting to De Paula's jaw with a sweeping left and powerful right. De Paula slumped to the ground. He got up; legs unsteady and a vacant look on his face. When Mercante waved him on, Tiger sprang forward and unmercifully attacked De Paula: Jabbing to set up the hook that opened the way to his smashing right hand. Again, DePaula crumpled to the canvas. He got up eyes glazed and legs wobbling. When Mercante signalled the end of the eight count De Paula still had not recovered. Tiger now thrashed him around the ring hitting him at will, if DePaula went down again, Mercante would have been compelled to stop the bout on account of the three knockdown rule. A full minute of the beating elapsed with De Paula, eyes still glazed and virtually immobile, recoiling helplessly on the ropes. Voices now began to come from ringside, pleading for Mercante to stop the bout. He ignored them. "Frankie De Paula was a very, very tough guy and I know that he could withstand taking punishment" he recalls, "That's why I let it go on. (Besides), he had the whole house in his favour -everybody from Jersey City was there!" Tiger made his way back to his corner, clearly fatigued from his efforts. De Paula had survived his best efforts. The punch-drunk duel took another twist the next round; Tiger stumbled to the ring canvas after De Paula caught him at the side of the head. Tiger got up and again received the mandatory eight count before he resumed the bout. The best moments of the bout had now passed and the pace of the fight slowed down considerably. De Paula claimed that he damaged a knuckle in the flurry that led to Tigers second knockdown. At the end of the eighth, he turned to his corner men and informed them that he did not stand a chance fighting Tiger one-handed. They ignored him and sent him out for the ninth.
. . .
The fight, quite simply, had been exhilarating, an unforgettable piece of gladiatorial theatre for those who witnessed it. Tiger himself regarded the fight so highly, that he hung four large framed photographs in his living room, each capturing the knockdowns in the fight. Ring magazine selected it as 1968's 'Fight of the Year.'
"It was a sensational fight. Unbelievable" enthuses Tommy Kenville. "He wins the fight and I'm sitting ringside trying to make sure that everybody is getting their story in because the electricity department were trying to pull the plugs out, and Tiger comes out of his dressing room and comes down the stairs with Chickie Ferrara behind him and he stops and says to me, 'You were right (about his punching power), he knocked me down.' And I said, ' He knocked you down TWICE.' And all he said was 'Ooooh'."
Tiger was the victor, he had overcome the problems De Paula had set him and won fairly convincingly. Yet to several observers, his performance had borne the hallmarks of a fighter matured well beyond his peak fighting capabilities. One of his best attributes had been his ability to absorb the effects of the hardest punches. Within the last two years, however, he had been floored by Emile Griffith, a welterweight not known for his punching power, knocked out by Bob Foster and twice knocked down by De Paula, in the estimation of many, little more than a glorified barroom brawler. To writers such as Girsch, the Dick Tiger of old was simply gone: 'His spirit is willing, but the flesh is getting weaker. He's just plain vulnerable, spelled O-L-D. It would be a terrible thing if he fought once too often and got himself badly hurt.'
With De Paula out of the way, Tiger next reminded the Garden powers that be about the rematch with Foster, implicitly promised since the match had proceeded under the assumption that it was an unofficial elimination contest for light heavyweight championship. But all that Teddy Brenner would offer him was a rematch with De Paula, to take place at the beginning of 1969. The Garden brain trust shared Brenner's opinion that another Tiger-Foster match would fail to draw on account of Tigers devastating loss.
Tiger was disgusted and refused outright. It all harked back to the days when Brenner promised him a crack at the middleweight title, only to be greeted with a post-match "Sorry Dick, but…" line. As Larry Merchant puts it, "The fight theoretically was to be an elimination fight, the winner to fight Bob Foster for the light heavyweight title. What they didn't tell us was that the winner would get eliminated." To add salt into his wounds, the Garden, anticipating the financial rewards of attracting De Paula's merry band of supporters, soon announced that they would match Tigers vanquished foe with Foster. The fight took place in January and Foster made short work of De Paula, stopping him in the first round. Brenner would later admit that it was a fight that he regretted making.
The Biafran war, meanwhile, was fulfilling Nnamdi Azikiwe's prophesy that the "experience of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be Childs play, if ever, it comes our turn to play such a tragic role." Its whole territory had been encircled since the time Tiger had evacuated his family to Portugal. Each incursion made by the Federals was followed by large retreats by civilians, gripped by fear of being massacred. The ensuing overpopulation of its decreasing polity as well as the destruction of farmland enabled conditions to spiral to new depths. In August 1968, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that sixty-one thousand people were dying each day. Biafra was now a sorrowful and terrifying montage of fleshed stripped and swollen bellied toddlers suffering the effects of kwashiorkor, the protein deficiency disease. The war was long lost and many neutral observers questioned the rationale of prolonging it. The starving herds, it appeared, were being held hostage to a hopeless cause. Yet, if Tiger harboured any doubts about the direction of the Biafran leadership in its apparent strategy of exploiting its sick and starving multitudes in a chess game of political survival, he kept them firmly to himself and continued to act steadfastly in the service of the cause. During his stays in New York, he remained a regular visitor to the Biafran Mission and, on occasion, donned his native attire when attending fundraising gatherings in aid of Biafra Relief. His efforts did not go unnoticed. Sam Toperoff, who still worked as a University professor recalls discussions about the genocide he had with Tiger. This information he imparted his students who then went on to raise "a small amount of money for the aid campaign."
"He was instrumental in a way," says Larry Merchant "in informing journalists like myself and ordinary people about the fight of the Biafrans. About the division in the Nigerian society. They were like the Jews; hardworking and intellectual -a sort of ruling class, as I understood it. People in America identified with the Biafrans. A lot of people would not have known the difference between what these kind of wars were about, Tiger did, and was able to communicate that."
Jack Solomons got in touch with Tiger soon after the De Paula fight and informed him of his willingness to stage an over-the-weight contest with Nino Benvenuti, the middleweight champion. Benvenuti had emerged victorious from a three match series with Emile Griffith and had been bemoaning the lack of money spinning fights in the division. He hoped to meet Bob Foster in a marketable interdivisional clash of world champions. But first, he needed to 'test the waters' with a light heavyweight performer. Tiger appeared to fit the bill and Solomons envisaged that the bout would take place either in London or be co-promoted in Italy.
A match with Benvenuti appealed to Tiger, but he informed Solomons that he felt obligated to the Madison Square Garden organisation. The bout was then co-opted on to the Garden roster and scheduled for May 26 1969. Nino Benvenuti was a tall and classy fighter who had come away from the Rome Olympics with a gold medal. A panel of experts had in fact chosen him over the young Cassius Clay as having been the best boxer of the games. Born in Trieste, the son of a well to do fisherman who plied his trade on the blue waters of the Adriatic, off the Dalmatian coast, Benvenuti grew into a precocious, hyperactive little boy. Always self assured and supremely confident, he was eleven when he announced matter-of-a-fact to his ex-pugilist father his preferred profession. "Papa," he said, 'I want to be a fighter."
His amateur career was outstanding culminating in Olympian achievement. He immediately turned professional, winning the world light middleweight title from Sandro Mazzinghi in 1965. After losing it the following year to Ki-Soo Kim, he moved up to the middleweights and won the title from Emile Griffith in April 1967. Although he lost the return bout, he regained the championship in the rubber match.
He trained at Grossingers, an environment that was no match for his Italian training patch, which was situated in a building on Bologna's 'Street of Poets.' There he sweated under chapel type ceilings, in rooms with walls covered by Monet's and Utrillo's and elegantly stained windows that combined with chanti coloured drapes.
Boxing pundits wondered about the effect of Benvenuti's activities outside the game were having on his career. At home he was politically active, sitting as an elected counsellor on the Trieste City Council. He also dabbled in the insurance industry. But it was his new found passion for movie making that raised eyebrows, especially when his bout with Tiger had to be pushed back because of shooting commitments on the set of a cowboy movie. When in America, few noticed him making the fighter's obligatory six-mile daily jog around the nearby Catskill Mountain roads.
Then there was the matter of Tiger's whereabouts. Jerry Izenburg, a sports columnist would later write a charming piece on the uncertainties of the comings and goings of Tiger during this period: The fight contracts would be signed by mail or by telegram, after which Chickie Ferrera would begin, constantly, to drop by at Tommy Kenvilles office, opening the lower draw of Kenvilles filling cabinet only to find it empty. Both men would chat for a while and then Ferrera would leave. Then the day would come; Ferrara would slide open the drawer to reveal a large, dirty shopping bag stuffed with gym shoes, a protective cup and worn out trunks and would step back to exclaim: "He's here!" The real story was a tad mundane. When Tiger arrived to train for the Benvenuti fight, he discovered that his usual training den, the New Garden Gymnasium, "a real schlock place" according to Kenville, had been closed. He went up to Kenvilles office armed with a large shopping bag containing his training gear and asked Kenville to keep it for him. Kenville accepted and put the bag in an empty draw but wasted little time in summoning Chickie Ferrera, who moved the intruding articles to Gleason's Gym.
Situated on Westchester Avenue in New York's Bronx Borough, on the second floor of a building adjoining a post office, Gleason's was already one of the immortal names of New York City gyms. Tiger was one of the few patrons to have a room to himself. Al Vialiardi, who had a long association with the gym, remembers Tiger as being a "very quiet guy" who would come up to do his work, take his shower and then leave. There was, however, one noisy incident Tommy Kenville remembered:
"One time, Bobby O'Brien couldn't fight the fifth or sixth round of a sparring session at Gleason's Gym. Bobby got pounded for four rounds. He's just a young big, tall white kid and Paddy Flood, who managed him, said: 'That's it!' and called it off. But Dick didn't want to pay him for the day. (But) Chickie Ferrera said, 'you can't do that!" Tiger trained as the betting underdog but he pushed himself hard. When he entered the ring for what was a sixteenth appearance at the Garden, few failed to notice the contours of the hard and sinewy physique, which he had 'trained to perfection. Trained to the very edge of overdoing.' There were, of course those, who expected this to be his last hoorah, the San Francisco Chronicle's correspondent reporting that the Italian fighter was expected to win and so 'send the sturdy Biafran a step nearer retirement.'
Fourteen thousand three hundred and five spectators produced receipts of $147,431 at the Garden box office. For Benvenuti, Tiger professed to have no fight plan, except, that is, to get beneath the Italians long jab and throw punches to the body. There was, however, a certain method behind the way he stooped low and stayed out of reach from Benvenuti's pole-straight left jab, before rushing forward to land combination punches to the Italians body. Benvenuti was constantly off-balanced, before the end of the inaugural round, he threw an overhand right, which glanced off the top of Tiger's head. He grimaced as he pulled it back; the big knuckle on his index finger had being broken. From this point, Benvenuti appeared to lose heart. While Tiger dug crevasses into the sides of his abdomen, he began, increasingly, to turn to the referee, Tony Peres to complain that Tigers shots were straying below his trunk belt. Peres ignored him and by the seventh, the shouts of 'NEENO, NEENO,' dominant in the early rounds began to be swallowed by chants of 'TIGER, TIGER.'
Tiger was awarded a unanimous decision, inflicting on Benvenuti only the third loss of his career. Benvenuti left the ring, shaking his head, as he held up his bare right hand to indicate that he was injured, but it did not impress his supporters, many of who cast him wary glances. Others muttered 'Scuses, 'scuses.' They hailed Tiger when he left the ring. He, by comparison, seemed so unspoilt, so down-to-earth and so giving to the fans. Wrote Dave Anderson in the next mornings New York Times, 'Tiger isn't a movie actor. He doesn't sip wine. He isn't particularly handsome. But at the age of 39, he is a gladiator, perhaps the purest remaining and despite Benvenuti's injury, he was too tough, too strong and too willing for Benvenuti.'
Tiger made the next mornings papers for something else. As he made his way back to his dressing room, a man blocked his path and thrust a document into his hand. It was a marshal from the District Attorneys office who then informed him that his presence was required the following morning before a New York City Grand Jury.
The man behind it all was Frank Hogan. Manhattans District Attorney had for the past two months being conducting a secret investigation into underworld connections to the boxing industry. This was the latest of several enquiries which Hogan, an avowed opponent of organised crimes infiltration of the sport, had carried out since the late fifties. He had in the past declaimed Frankie Carbo and Frank 'Blinky' Parlemo, the latter whom he referred to as being the 'leader' of boxing's mobsters, as the schemers behind the scams, fight rigs and all round corrupting of the game. Hogan's work is seen as hugely influential vital in setting up of the Kefauver Senate Hearings into boxing's criminal links. The gaoling of Parlemo and Carbo however did not figure to Hogan to have solved the problem. Boxing people were nevertheless perplexed about his latest adventure. Especially since he and his assistant, Alfred J. Smith, who headed the Rackets Bureau, responded vaguely to the initial entreaties of the press. What however became deducible was the Tiger-Benvenuti bout was ostensibly under suspicion because of the reports that bookmakers had stopped taking bets after odds, which favoured Benvenuti by seven to five had subsequently shot up to twelve to five. But this in itself did not make anyone the wiser because little money had being staked on Tiger, the upset winner.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 28th, Tiger, dressed in a dark suit and tie arrived walked up the steps leading to the New York Criminal Courts Building to wait his turn to take the stand. He, like the also subpoenaed Benvenuti, had already spent part of the morning at Hogan's office, being peppered with questions. The Italian arrived with his arm in a sling and had his right brow padded. "Funny," Tiger noted to reporters, "I didn't notice that last night." At about two O' Clock, he was ushered into the courtroom. He held up a copy of the bible as he solemnly swore to 'tell the truth and nothing but the truth' then took a seat. His eyes searched around the room before the questions, numerous and fairly innocuous, began: 'How old are you?', 'How long have you being fighting?' and the like. It was all rather cordial and he shot back his replies with equal brevity. The inevitable question of whether he had ever being approached and propositioned about fixing the outcome of any bout was met with the inevitable reply: "No."
He emerged an hour later to be greeted by the phalanx of press laying in wait. "They asked me questions, and I answered them" he stated blandly, "they were nice people." When a reporter asked him point blank, whether the fight had been fixed, Tiger shot back: "Ask Nino. All I know is I fought as fight as I could. I am a fighter."
He was not resummond. A few days later, Hogan admitted what most already believed, that the fight was not under suspicion. The general feeling among most observers was that he had acted overzealously and needlessly by involving both Tiger and Benvenuti. Writing in the Ring, Nat Loubet asked 'What was all the shooting about when the District Attorneys Office served subpoena's on Tiger and Benvenuti and gave boxing some bad publicity in a matter that did not concern Dick or Nino in the slightest degree?'
Such was his reputation for integrity and trustworthiness that another sportswriter felt compelled to comment that Hogan's decision to summon a reputable character like Tiger had made a mockery of the proceedings. It was his reputation for integrity, which had dampened reports of a pre-planned fight against Bob Foster. "The image that he had in the public was that he was a good man as well as a good fighter," recalls Larry Merchant. "And this was even before the war. There was a very positive image. Of course, there was interest in him early because he had tribal markings, etcetera; but the image of him was as a good man."
The image of his erstwhile foe, Frankie De Paula, was not nearly as pristine. De Paula had, along with Tiger and Benvenuti, been subpoenaed by Hogan. He had been scheduled to fight Don Fullmer on the under bill, but was suspended by the N.Y.S.A.C. only a few days before the bout after his arrest by F.B.I. agents investigating the theft of $80,000 worth of electrolyte copper in New Jersey. Although he was acquitted along with his manager Gary Garafola at the subsequent trial, tragedy followed. DePaula had been having an affair with a woman who also happened to be the mistress of a local gangster. Stubborn as ever, he ignored several warnings to 'lay off' her. It was a warm summers evening in Jersey City when DePaula arrived at the woman's apartment. A note was stuck on the front door informing him that the doorbell was broken and instructing him to use the back entrance. In order to do this, DePaula needed to pass through a back alley. It was in this alley that a figure approached him from behind and when at close range shot him twice in the back with a .45 calibre gun. Instinctively, De Paula twisted round and grabbed his assailant. In the ensuing struggle, he managed somehow to break the attackers jaw, before crumpling to the ground. Gravely injured, he was taken to the Jersey City Medical where he lay immobilized by the onset of paralysis. An account of his stay in hospital relates a pitiful tale of a patient covered in bedsores, the result of neglect, his once Adonis-like physique reduced to an emaciated one hundred and twenty pounds. DePaula's end came from pneumonia, the result of an attending nurse forgetting to shut a window at night. He died on September 14 1970, four months after the shooting.
The Garden now offered Tiger the opportunity to challenge Benvenuti for the middleweight title, "If", Teddy Brenner stressed to a crowd of reporters, "he wants to make the weight." He had weighed in at one hundred and sixty-six pounds and Brenner felt that he was capable of shedding a further six pounds to make the middleweight limit. This Tiger felt he could not do; he turned down the offer and announced that he was no longer interested in fighting for that title. The fight with Benvenuti, like his bout with Frankie De Paula, had been billed as a light heavyweight 'elimination bout.' But again, victory did not bring the desired rematch with Foster. Fosters backers had fallen short of their breakeven point by $21,000 and while he was willing to grant Tiger a match, he set his terms: "I had to guarantee $100,000 to induce Dick to fight me" he explained to Ring magazine. "Now, I am in the commanding position. If Tiger wants the chance to regain his title, he will have to make sure that I get $100,000 for my end. That would only be fair."
Offers did come his way, like the one wired from a California manager guaranteeing him $25,000 to face a fighter called Jimmy Lester. In London, Bobby Diamond had begun to negotiate a Commonwealth light heavyweight title bout with Bobby Dunlop, the Australian holder and also contemplating a European tour that would take place later in 1969. All, however, he gave short shrift.
These were pretty testing times for him. But if people were expecting him to fade away, they were wrong. As his fortieth birthday loomed, he candidly explained to the Rings Billy Williams why he was intent on prolonging his career. "The war between Nigeria and my native Biafra has been very costly to me. Most of my investments there have been wiped out, and I still have a large family to take care of -a mother, sister, wife and seven Tiger 'cubs'- and I need every cent that I can get my hands on. It's also a very big expense when I fight in New York. The Garden pays for my transportation, but it costs me plenty to bring the family out of Biafra and park them in an apartment in Lisbon while I'm in America. I'll continue to fight as a light heavyweight and hope and trust that I'll be able to keep going until the Nigerian-Biafran mess is cleared up and I can salvage something out of the wreckage of my investments there." He felt driven and motivated by a hunger, not of the sort that had compelled him to persevere with in his early years of struggle, but one nevertheless with its own brand of force and energy. The impulse of youthful enthusiasm were no longer there -once he could never refrain from fighting his shadow or mirrored image, yet, he had a purpose and a focus which his experience and dedicated sense of professionalism would, he believed, see him through.
The perils of fighting into what in boxing terms is a rather advanced age were not lost on him. But he felt reassured by the temperate lifestyle, which he had always followed; never smoking and rarely touching alcohol. He drew inspiration from the methusahlaen career of his hero, Archie Moore who retired when only just short of his fiftieth birthday as well as from old timers like Harry Grebb and Jack Dillon, who he read had 'specialised' in overcoming heavier opposition. Tiger had always struck most Americans who knew him, as being a shy introvert who's living circumstances conveyed a certain monkish asceticism. Certainly the strains caused by the ongoing war did not make him any more amenable to conducting lengthy social intercourse with boxing people.
"He was a very private person," recalls Tommy Kenville. "I think that probably sums him up. He lived in a hotel room all by himself. No entourage. No women around -or that we knew of! He was away from his family, he was losing all the things he'd probably bled for in the ring, especially in Liverpool and places like that, and I guess that this kind of constricted his outward personality -if he ever had one."
'He was not much of a talker,' remembered Les Matthews of the New York Amsterdam News, (but) he was a good listener. Once in a while, he would talk seriously about his country and the world in general and his desire to return to his family.'
Emile Griffith recalls, "He was a quiet person, didn't tell me anything. He would tell you that his wife and family were okay when he last saw them." Of the war that still raged, Griffith surmises: "sometimes he seemed glad to be away from it all."
Quiet and diffident, Tiger was keen to live an anonymous existence, a quest that he was not always able to accomplish, as Tommy Kenville relates:
"One time he was cooking something in his room. I don't know what it was, perhaps some kind of native dish or vegetables. But somebody later said that it smelt like burning socks. Somebody called the manager of the hotel and he called John Condon. He said, 'Mr. Condon. We're getting complaints here and people are going to call the board of health because they think that some kind of ritual is going on in there.' And Condon says, 'That god dammed, fucking Tiger."
Dick Tiger record
Joey Giardello record
Emile Griffith record
Nino Benvenuti record Bob Foster record
Jose Torres record
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