I am pleased to confirm that I will be interviewed on UK cable TV by Kayode Tijani on ĎR Sportsí on Revelation TV Sky Channel 767 on Saturday, 26th November 2005.
The programme will be between 8.30 and 9.30pm.
I am pleased to confirm that I will be interviewed on UK cable TV by Kayode Tijani on ĎR Sportsí on Revelation TV Sky Channel 767 on Saturday, 26th November 2005.
The programme will be between 8.30 and 9.30pm.
Was traveling in Dallas Texas about 2 months before. I'm riding in a taxi with a Nigerian driver, we start talking about boxing & he asks me how Ike Ibeabuchi is doing. I tell him he's in a Vegas prison & is doing 5 years time. I ask him if he knows about Dick Tiger & he tells me he's never heard of Tiger. I tell him he's from Nigeria & perhaps he's the best African fighter ever. The guy was so happy about our talk he offers the ride for free, not an easy thing for a taxi driver to do.Anyway I saw Tiger a few times during the 60's, tough as nails, his fights with Fullmer, Torres, Archer, Carter,Griff & Giardello show his grit. i wish they would make a DVD of his greatest fights.
Splendid story!! Someone told me of an elderly American bloke (I think a taxi driver) asking where he came from. When he replied "Nigeria", the American goes: "The land of Dick Tiger!"
The Nigerian fellow had never even heard of Dick Tiger (or knew so little about him"
I'm working on putting together a documentary on Tiger but the guys who can release fight footage of him are ESPN.
The problem is even if this became a reality, they don't seem willing to transfer the fantastic Tiger-DePaula fight (from reels)into modern medium.
I will be interviewed on Just About Books Internet Radio Talk Show on Monday, February 13, 2006 from 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm (Eastern Standard Time) or 2am to 3am (Greenwich Mean Time) on www.harambeeradio.com
The interview will last about 65 minutes (real time) with one 4-minute commercial break midway.
I will be discussing my book Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal with Cheryl Robinson, herself an author ( A Forgotten Negro League Star: A Personal Look at Al Burrows).
I will be pesenting another Dick Tiger Seminar before the Igbo Cultural Social Network at Yeungs Restaurant, 70-74 City Road, London EC1Y 2BJ on Sunday 9th April 2006 at 6pm.
Just wanted to say that I finished reading your book on Dick Tiger recently and I really enjoyed it, a great book.
I am truly humbled by your comments KOJOE. I tend to think along the lines that his unique and tumultuous life makes for a great story -the words the author utilizes in the putting together are sometimes merely linkages.
Once again thank you sir for your kind words.
Adeyinka Makinde, author of 'Dick Tiger-The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal' interviewed by Cheryl Robinson on 'Just About Books,' Harambee Radio, 13th February 2006.
Cheryl Robinson: Hello, you are listening to Cheryl Robinson on the 'Just About Books' Talk Show, a worldwide Internet show on authors, book reviews, bookclubs and literary events for African-American book lovers. And today is our black history programme; we will talk to Ade Makinde, the author of 'Dick Tiger-The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal.' I'm so excited to have him on the show. He is calling us from London and this will prove to be a great evening. Welcome to the show.
Adeyinka Makinde: Thank you very much Cheryl.
CR: You're welcome. It's my pleasure. Now I read the book. It was a very interesting book. His name was Richard and you want to help me with his last name?
AM: It's pronounced Ee-hey-tou.
CR: Ihetu. Okay. Richard Ihetu. His nickname was Dick Tiger and he was a two-time undisputed world middleweight titlist and an undisputed light heavyweight champion. He was a migrant fighter from Liverpool and during his boxing (career) he actually came to America and when he moved to America later on in his career he boxed at New York City's Madison Square Garden.
AM: That's right.
CR: Now tell us a little bit about him because this is interesting with his life because he seemed to have a lot of ups and downs, trials and tribulations but he was very enthusiastic about his boxing career.
AM: That's right. I think the word to use about him in his life and in his career in the ring is that he was very resilient. And as you mentioned, he was a migrant fighter and the penultimate staging post was Liverpool before coming over to America but he'd obviously started in his homeland in Nigeria. There was this history of migration from parts of the commonwealth -the British commonwealth- to Britain. This was in the post-war period and a lot of that had to do with the political and other situations that evolved after the Second World War. But the interesting thing is that when he arrived in Liverpool, he lost his first four bouts and he was on the verge of packing things in and heading back home. He was in danger of losing his license, so its interesting how at various junctures in his career sometimes it looked as if he'd reached the zenith; the end, long before he was in a position to challenge for a world title.
CR: He seemed to be having a bit of trouble when he was in Liverpool at the very, very beginning but he overcame that. Was this because he was a determined fighter who did have this undisputed resilience or was it because he was just that great a fighter?
AM: I think that it was a bit of both. He grew up in an atmosphere back in Nigeria where he needed to have that tenacity to survive in the first place. He grew up in the Eastern part of what was (the British protectorate of ) Nigeria and he actually lost his father at a very early age. He lived in a rural environment and it was physically tough doing the farming etcetera and in those days they had to migrate out of the rural village areas if they were going to have any chances in life and when he got to a town -later city, called Aba, it was a situation of where he needed to survive even on a physical level. One of the interesting things about his career which he always laughed about is that you didn't have a comprehensive system of city water facilities and so people had to collect their water from a sort of a central pumping area and you know there'd be queues around and some people would become impatient etcetera, so sometimes he had to resort to his fists to insist on his rights and that was just one (instance) of how he had to develop that inner resolve and that inner steel to become the man that he was. He was also well brought up. He came from the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria and at that particular point in history, they were in the midsts of discovering themselves in the modern world because when Nigeria had been colonised by the British, the British were more impressed in terms of the forms of government and the architectural achievements of various empires they conquered like the Oyo city states or the Benin empire but not so much the Igbos because they didn't have some sort of a centralised leadership and they sort of governed themselves in terms of independent hamlets but as things turned out they were the ones who had developed this great thirst for western knowledge and education and to someone like Dick Tiger growing up, he would have seen this sort of way of life. The way people went about their work and performed their tasks and the hopes they had for the future. They had something that was called the 'Onitsha Market Literature' phenomena. Onitsha is a city in northern Igboland. What it was, was that there were these chapbooks; these little pamphlets they produced which kind of propagated this ideal of people been determined to succeed in life and that the world is your oyster and it doesn't matter what status in life you are: you can overcome and you can achieve. And so it was a mixture of traditional and christian and entrepreneural precepts. You'd have titles like 'Determination is the key for success' or 'How to become Rich' and he would have been influenced by that sort of background. Before he came to Liverpool, he was already a successful petty trader. So while in Liverpool you had these initial setbacks, it was always in his mind that he would be capable of achieving something. As for his boxing skills -that's as far as it goes so far as his personality and his determination is concerned, he came from a particular background that told him 'Don't give up,' - on the otherhand, his boxing skills by his own estimation he started off as a very crude fighter; not very refined and even before he went to Liverpool, the local press in Nigeria often referred to his crude style of fighting where it seemed that it was his determination more than anything else that saw him through. But as he worked on it he learnt alot, he observed a lot and something he would do even when he was a big star in America was that he would watch the fights at Madison Square Garden. He was always refining himself. So he had a faith that he could always become better. So it's that mixture of his background of the determined individual linked to that willingness to learn and to develop himself that actually saw him through.
CR: Well that's great. Throughout the book it seemed that he had a special type of determination and that he was positive that he would be one of the world's greatest fighters.
AM: Oh yes. There had been several benchmarks in the past. He did have something to look forward to or to measure himself against. In the 1920s, the first world champion from Africa was Battling Siki, a Senegalese fighter who'd sort of found his way to France where he became something of a war hero. And then he started boxing under French troops and then some American troops discovered him and took him back to America and he beat the French light heavyweight champion, George Carpentier. Then after Battling Siki, his fellow Nigerian, Hogan 'Kid' Bassey had won the world featherweight title and he was a good friend of Dick Tiger's. He was there to give advise to Dick Tiger as Dick Tiger's career sometimes faltered when he was in Liverpool. So he always had those benchmarks. He always knew in his mind that that if he was ever going to be the best, he had to at some point head for America. That was the place where he had to prove his worth.
CR: Now he fought his first professional bout in 1952 and he was in his early 20s at that particular time, correct?
AM: That's right. Pretty late for a boxer to start.
CR: Yes, because I thought usually they start around their teens.
AM: Oh absolutely, sometimes even as pre-teens; schoolboy boxing. In fact he started in his late teens; that is amateur boxing. That is still in a sense pretty, pretty late. He somehow gravitated to it. It might have been a little bit to do with his success as something of a streetfighter that might have enabled him to do that because his first love was football -known to you in America as soccer- but that was his first love. He was quite a good football player and somehow or another he began to be influenced by boxing and boxers. They were always in the news; American fighters like Joe Louis, Archie Moore, Henry Armstrong. You know they'd be playing them in the cinemas in Nigeria at the time he was growing up and he was very influenced by them. Probably he was a bit of an individualist by nature and football is a team sport so for that reason perhaps, that's why he decided to gravitate to boxing. There hadn't been necessarily the antecedents in his life that he had to choose boxing but for some reason or another, he just decided that this is thing that I like to do and this is the thing I want to pursue. It had its strengths and weaknesses -the fact that he started off so late. Perhaps (starting) late is one other reason why he was able to successfully prolong his career to an age well in advance of which boxers can effectively prolong their careers. I mean he was once the oldest world champion when he defeated Joey Giardello to regain his title in in 1965. He was about 36 years of age and then a couple of years later, he won the light heavyweight championship from Jose Torres. He kept on fighting effectively. You know he was 39 years old when he defeated Nino Benvenuti, the middleweight champion at Madison Square Garden for a non-title contest; so the championship wasn't at stake.
CR: When he first came to America to fight at Madison Square Garden, this was in 1959 so he was already 30 years old by that time making his American debut; generally that's a little late....
AM: Yes, to say the least. There were a lot of detractors. Even those who really wished him well in England, they could see that he was a fairly stocky looking fellow apart from the fact that he was at what you could call a fairly advanced age. It was almost as if he was starting all over again and you know, coming to America, no one was going to do him any favours at all so he was starting almost at the beginning of another career even though he was the British Empire champion that didn't mean a thing to the Americans who were more or less a little cynical of horizontal British heavyweights and other weight category fighters. He was a stocky guy and he was always having problems reducing himself to the middlweight limit and in boxing, when you fight in non-title bouts you are allowed to stray a little over the championship limit of 11 stone 6 and when he was going to have a title fight, people kind of doubted: can he make the weight? Because it really imposes a bit of a strain on you. You can be prone to dehydrate and lose vital energy resources if you have to do that. It can even be a health issue. But somehow he managed. He was a very, very discilplined man in his life and again that's were his determination saw him through. He was in an advanced age but he felt ' look, I'm keeping myself in shape, I'm not abusing my body, I have my ideals and my ideas about what I want to do and what I want to achieve fixed in me; let me go on and achieve it.'
CR: Now in '63 he lost his title to Joey Giardello in Atlantic City but then it didn't take him long to regain the title back from Joey Giardello and in October '65, that was when he was the oldest active world champion at that particular time.......
AM: Yes, that's right. Although I would disagree that it didn't take him a long time to do that. Giardello, people felt, was prevaricating a bit. There was a debate in boxing at the time because they usually used to have these contractual clauses. If the champion lost his title, they'd usually have this return clause which meant that the next bout would be a rematch. The problem with that of course is that you could potentially have these endless rematches. And Giardello did promise him that he would give him a rematch at some point and eventually that sort of dragged on for quite a long time until 1965. So it was almost two years; just short of two years before he got the chance to get his title back from Giardello. So that is what he would have considered to have been one of his more bitter experiences in America because he said that, ' I've been brought up to believe that Americans are people of their word and Joey had promised me a rematch much earlier on and he takes almost two years to finally give me one.' But yes, it would have been extremely satisfying from his perspective because Joey Giardello was a very good champion. He had a very solid chin, he knew how to move around the ring and those were the sort of people who gave Dick Tiger a lot of problems; those 'fancy dan' boxers who could step in and step out and use their jab and as I said earlier on he had a good resilient chin. But Joey kind of strung things along, probably a little longer than Tiger thought was fair. But he came back and he won it fair and square. He was pretty dominant against Giardello in that last confrontation in '65.
CR: How was his boxing career having a position on his family because during this time he was a very good family man and he had a wife and children and you know coming to America to fight, did this have any kind of strain on his family life?
AM: It's possible that it did. His first two (sic- three) children were born in America and he and his wife lived in a hotel, they called it the Colonial Hotel in upper west Manhattan and at some point after about two years or so, he felt that it was a bit of a distraction and so he sent them back to Nigeria. But I think eventually -speaking to his wife- I think she accepted it. He felt a little guilty that he would leave her to look after the children for long periods of time when he came over to America to train for his title bouts. But you know they have a sort of an extended family system back in Africa. But yes, it was something that in a sense pained him. He was a fairly sensitive man and of course (for) three months he'd be absent at a time and if he had three fights in a year, that's quite a lot of time. So there definitely were some guilt pangs in him as time went on but he felt his wife was understanding about it in the end. Obviously, later on in his life, there were many other things to contend with that interfered with his family life. Overall, he did have time to spend with his family in between his fights and be a leader in his local community as well as being the national hero that he became.
CR: Now back home, when he was doing his fighting, winning these titles, a lot of things were going on back home. He was also a Nigerian patriot, so how did that have an effect on his boxing career?
AM: Well, I think that right from the beginning when he went over to Liverpool and he won the British Empire middleweight championship for a country which was not yet independent of Britain -Nigeria did not become independent of Britain until 1960- he was a beacon of hope of what the country could become in one sphere of life which is sports -obviously there are there other areas. Following on from Hogan 'Kid' Bassey, he became a world champion and it meant a lot to the people back in Nigeria that he was winning these titles. It was somehow demonstrative that the country was coming on to the map of the world. He was like a torchbearer, a beacon of hope for other Nigerians to follow in his footsteps. He did quite a lot in terms of promoting Nigeria as being an emerging nation to the extent that he was referred to as by a San Francisco columnist as a 'pugilistic plenipotentiary' because he was always building up his country and trying to engage the journalists in conversations about the hopes of his homeland; the history of his homeland and he'd visit the United Nations and he'd have photo opportunities there. So he was definitely someone who brought glory to the country. When he defeated Gene Fullmer in 1962 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, it was a cause for national celebration; unbridled celebration. He was someone who was held up as an example of that sort of African who could achieve in the modern world. In fact, it went beyond Nigeria's borders. Even Kwame Nkrumah, the prime minister of Ghana and the symbol of Black African Pan-Africanism, sent Dick Tiger messages of congratulations. Later on in 1963, when he had a third match against Gene Fullmer, this was a national event. It was the first world championship fight in Black Africa almost ten years before the 'Rumble in the Jungle' between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman and the Nigerian government sponsored it. It was promoted by Jack Solomons, a British promoter but it was essentially backed financially by the government. The various state or regional governments in Nigeria contributed some money to it and you even had a situation where you had a truce in the Eastern Nigerian parliament among the warring -quote unquote- factions; it hadn't become literally a war at that stage. You had a truce in the parliament and you had public holidays been declared over the period leading up to the fight. He was really someone who in his heyday was an embodiment of what Nigerians felt they as a nation should be stamping their mark on a world level.
CR: So he was definitely a Nigerian hero long before his career ended.
AM: Yes. I mean you would have thought at his age that he would have hung in for a couple of more years and that would be that but as it turned out, he was in there for longer -he fought on for quite a few more years. Whether he would have fought on without the Nigerian Civil War is another matter but there was a turn of events there in the sense that his people; the Igbo people who largely dominated the eastern region of Nigeria decided to secede from the federation in 1967. The troubles had started in 1966 and arguably well before then. He renounced Nigeria and then took up the mantle of being a propagandist for the Biafran cause and fought his title bouts with the Biafran flag and the national anthem played at his fights in America and obviously that meant his status as a Nigerian icon effectively came to an end and until this day there's a bit of an uneasiness about Dick Tiger contrasting this with what I've just told you of what happened in the city of Ibadan when he defeated Gene Fullmer in a rubber match and when he'd initially won the title from Gene Fullmer and because he basically turned his back on Nigeria he was no longer the national hero and to this day his reputation has yet to be totally and comprehensively rehabilitated.
CR: Okay! Well that's a good place to take a break and so far this is going really great. We're talking to Ade Makinde the author of Dick Tiger-The Life and TImes of a Boxing Immortal. The book, paperback, is ($) 14.95 and the publisher is Word Association Publishers. The book is available online at amazon.com and through a US publisher at 1-800-827-7903. Let me repeat 1-800-827-7903. And we wlll be right back with Just About Books and continue our discussion with Ade.
CR: Welcome back to Just About Books with your host Cheryl Robinson. Today's guest is Ade Makinde, author of Dick Tiger-The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. Welcome back to the show. We want to wrap up Dick Tiger's career. We were talking a little bit about what was happening in the early 60s. So if you can tell my audience what happened later on in the 60s?
AM: Well, by 1966 when Dick Tiger was a big national hero in Nigeria, unfortunately, the tumultuous history of Nigeria was taking darker overtones. Nigeria, like many African nations, is a conglomerate society. They were artificially put together by European colonial powers, so in Nigeria you had a situation where you had the Northern region which was largely Islamic in influence and in the south; in the eastern part of the Southern Protectorate you had Dick Tiger's people; the Igbo people who were largely influenced by Christianity and Western culture. This tension which still exists today was at the root of the ensuing civil strife and civil war. There were two particularly violent mutinies in the military and the pogrom and the Igbo people came out the worst for it. By late 1966 to early 1967, there were calls that they should secede from the rest of Nigeria. They felt that their lives and property were not worth much and because quite a vast amount of Nigeria's crude oil reserves came under their jurisdiction -although not under the Igbo areas- but came under the outlines of the political borders of the Eastern region, they felt that it would be in their best interests to secede from the rest of Nigeria and so this is what brought forth the civil war which as I mentioned earlier before the break, Dick Tiger renounced his associations with Nigeria in June of 1967. He actually joined the Biafran military later on in 1967, more in terms of a ceremonial manner as a propagandist. He was also someone who kept on going in and out of Biafra to have his fights and apart from the propaganda work that he did while he was in America, he was also financially supporting the cause -not just his family but on a wider level in terms of food when the Biafrans were blockaded and eventually they were facing starvation as the 1960s drew to a close. He put his life and soul into that struggle. He eventually evacuated his immediate family and they lived for a time in Portugal -Lisbon- before heading to New York where they resided up until 1970 (sic -1971). At the beginning of 1970 Biafra capitulated and the civil war ended. When the civil war ended, Dick Tiger was rather apprenhensive of what the future held. It had been a bloody time in Nigeria's history but the ending was essentially peaceful and magnanimous. There was the saying; 'No victor, no vanquished' and an amnestywas given to those who fought on the Biafran side and who otherwise supported it and eventually the Igbos were gradually reabsorbed into Nigeria's body politic. However, Dick Tiger remained apprehensive because in a sense he did something that was rather dangerous to the Nigerians. It wasn't that he was just an ordinary person who was caught up in the conflict and was compelled or forced to put on a military uniform and fight for his side, he volunteered his prestige and the publicity that would be generated by his denunciations of the Nigerian military in papers like the New York Times and Time magazine. He felt that he would not be forgiven and in a sense he was correct. Figures in the NIgerian military never forgave him for what he did and it wasn't until later on when he developed cancer in the summer of 1971 that he felt, 'look, I have to go back now. They've declared an amnesty, I should be allowed to go back and he called upon a journalist; Larry Merchant who is famous today as an HBO correspondent and he sort of acted as a witness for Dick Tiger as a guarantor witness before a Nigerian diplomatic official who guaranteed his safety once he got back to Nigeria. Once in Nigeria he was serached, his passport was seized but he did basically live in peace until unfortunately he passed away.
CR: Now in '71 that was when he announced his retirement from the ring right?
AM: Yes, it was really a foregone conclusion. I mean he'd lost the last bout in 1970 against Emile Griffith and he couldn't get any other big fights .....
CR: His last fight was at Madison Square Garden
AM: That's right, in the middle of 1970
CR: So Dick Tiger died of cancer in December of 1971
AM: That's right
CR: Now he went back home correct?
AM: That's right. As I just mentioned, he was pretty apprehensive of going back home but he just felt that 'I'm at the end of my life and I want to die among my people. This is I suppose human nature that he would want to die not in a foreign land albeit that he attained a large measure of success over in America but he'd want to be among his people and be committed to the soil of his ancestors. He did have a big funeral but the interesting thing is there was no message of condolence from the federal government of Nigeria and there were no official representatives of the government. So in a sense he was already being shunned at this particular point in time because of the stand he took in the Biafran conflict.
CR: There are a lot of nice photos in the middle of the book; quite a few showing Dick Tiger with his family, with other fighters, with friends; you know some of these pictures are very interesting.
AM: Yes, I wish I could have put more of them there. You'll see a couple of photos from his time in Liverpool with different sparring partners and his breakthrough fight with Terry Downes. One is with Bessie Braddock who was the member of parliament for Liverpool Exchange; a very formidable woman; famous in British politics at the time before Margaret Thatcher came on to the scene. You have him there as the family man, you've got shots of him in his fights, you've even got a picture -unfortunately- of his funeral. I wish I could have put more there. One photo unfortunately that was not in existence was one of Dick Tiger and one of his great friends in America, a gentleman by the name of Ron Lipton who did a little sparring with him and who gave me so much information for the book in terms of Dick Tiger's fighting style, his motivations and his training before various fights; you know the pivotal fights against people like Giardello which we mentioned earlier on; against 'Hurricane' Rubin Carter. Unfortunately we couldn't get a picture there of Ron because those pictures apparently no longer exist.
CR: Now Ron Lipton wrote the introduction into this particular book...
AM: That's right.
CR: And he lived in New York
AM: He still lives there. I think he also has some antecedents in New Jersey. He's an ex- two (sic-three) time Golden Gloves champion from New Jersey but he's basically a New Yorker.
CR: Yes, he was a fighter then later on in his life he was a policeman.
AM: Yes, that's right. He started off as an amateur boxer (and) as I said, he won two (sic-three) Golden Gloves championships in New Jersey and for one reason or another, he gravitated to work as a county prosecutor in the police department. He did not have a professional career which is most surprising but he had his reasons for doing that he felt that he wanted to contribute to his community and that to him seemed to be a better means of contributing than pursuing a professional career. And particularly poignant for me was that he was the one person who I could find who knew of Dick Tiger when Dick Tiger had sort of retired. Well, he hadn't been retired officially but he was no longer getting any fights. He needed to keep himself busy and Dick Tiger got a job as a security guard at the Natural History Museum and Ron used to visit him occasionally and part of it was to keep his -Dick Tiger's- spirits up. In many ways some people would have seen it as a comedown. As I say in the book I don't think that he would have veiwed it that way. First of all, it wasn't that Dick Tiger had lost his fortune -although he'd lost a lot of money because of the Nigerian Civil War. But he realised that he wasn't a man with great academic qualifications and he just needed to keep himself busy because you see he'd brought his family over to America, they lived in a place somewhere in Queens and he just needed to go out and do a nine to five job to keep himself occupied.
CR: Right. And to keep his spirits up.
AM: Absolutely. And Ron Lipton performed that task very wonderfully.
CR: Also on the back of the book, there's a picture of Dick Tiger standing over Rubin Carter. Their fight was a non-title bout in '65. Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, a lot of us can remember because Denzel Washington starred in the movie 'The Hurricane'. Speaking of movies, let's talk a little bit of (whether) you have plans for a screenplay and also a documentary about Dick Tiger. Is that correct?
AM: Most definitely. I wouldn't want to malign the 'Hurricane' movie; that movie is controversial in one or two areas, particularly in the boxing world because of the depiction of the fight between Rubin Carter and Joey Giardello. But I would like to think that I can provide something that is inspirational -it's a little bittersweet at the end of the day because Dick Tiger loses his life; he succumbs to cancer but in between is that indefatigable spirit of somebody who sets his goals and sets out to achieve them and he has so many setbacks but yet, somehow he manages to overcome. And he is someone who is upright and upstanding and he has a conscience and I think that anybody can relate to that. The fact that he's a boxer is just the circumstances but if you strip away the time period, you strip away the boxing from it, it's just a great life story and I think it could be something that would be very marketable provided that it is handled properly. I think that a documentary would be a much more realistic proposition in the shorter term and I hope that I am close to making up a deal with regard to that. I have the potted outlines of how it's going to start, what sort of footage I'm going to use ; fight footage and the scenes -because Dick Tiger's life encompasses aspects of political history, social history, boxing history. I have all these ideas and laying them all out; people who should be interviewed and both of them are very, very realistic propositions. I think they would be very viewable and I'm hoping that they come to fruition sooner rather than later.
CR: Now tell us just a little bit about yourself because you're a barrister which in America we call a lawyer. So I had to make sure I'd say that for my listeners. But tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing because I thought it was interesting that you have the story and the book and you published it with an American publisher.
AM: Yes. Well, I had to try so many avenues for publication and you know a lot of them said good writing etcetera but audience a bit limited. So I found a publisher who I felt I could do business with. The book is sold in England, America, parts of Europe, Australia, South Africa, Nigeria but I still feel that America is a very,very important market and this is where a lot of the customers would actually come from. You know, a lot of the fans of Dick Tiger are now middle-aged white guys from New York, California and when they were growing up, he was their idol in America. When Dick Tiger came along, I mean he was a foreigner, he was a black African and it's really instructive of Dick Tiger's life that he could generate such almost worship from American audiences given that he'd be up against Italian-American or Puerto Rican American or Irish-American fighters. He was guaranteed equal if not more support in Madison Square Garden. Now why was that? It probably had something to do with the simplicity, the honesty of his fighting style which in effect replicated what he was like as a person and I think that's one of the more remarkable things about it. I get messages and e-mails from people who feel Dick Tiger 'he was my hero when I was growing up. Everyone else was for Hurricane Carter or his guy was for Joey Archer but Dick Tiger was my hero and I was just this young jewish kid from New York City.' It is really remarkable that he could reach out to boxing audiences and he is still well remembered because of his fighting style and his personality.
CR: Well Ade it has been a pleasure talking to you about Dick Tiger. This has been a very interesting show.
AM: Thank you very much for having me.
CR: Oh, you're welcome. My pleasure.
Copyright. Adeyinka Makinde (2006)
Adeyinka Makinde, author of 'Dick Tiger-The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal' interviewed by Umar Abdullah Johnson on 'Garvey's Children,' Harambee Radio, 25th October 2005.
Philadelphia based Pan-Africanist, Umar Abdullah Johnson converses with his guest, Adeyinka Makinde over a range of themes based around Makinde's biography of Dick Tiger covering issues of race and racism in British and American boxing as well as ethnic nationalism in post-independence era Africa, situating the compelling life story and character of Dick Tiger within these issues. The programme is dedicated to those 117 persons whose lives were lost in an aviation disaster a few days before the interview.
Umar Abdullah Johnson: Good evening brothers and sisters, this is Brother Umar Abdullah Johnson and I would like to thank everyone for tuning in for another exciting show of 'Garvey's Children,' which is a show dedicated exclusively to the proper development of African children all throughout the world. For those of you who have followed me since the beginning of my sojourn here at Harambee Radio know that from time to time we deal with subjects which are not only pertinent to the development of African children but to the development of all African people and specifically to our level of knowledge and consciousness about our history, our culture, our present condition and where we want to go in the future. As I promised you all last week, we would be having an interview this week and it is actually going to be my first interview. So Iím actually very excited because it's the first one I'm going to be doing here on Harambee and I hope that it will be the first of many more. During the weeks coming in the future, I plan on bringing in a lot of (inaudible), psychologists, psychiatrists, educators and race leaders to help us discuss and plan our way out of the troubles that face (inaudible). Tonight, I have a brother who is joining us from the United Kingdom; a brother who I have been in contact with now for a couple of weeks putting this interview together and Iím glad that we have been finally able to do that. The brother who I'm bringing on is the author of a new book called Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. And with no further ado, I would like to welcome brother Ade Makinde to our show this evening. Good evening brother.
Adeyinka Makinde: Good evening to you sir. Glad I could join you.
UAJ: I'm also glad that you were able to join me. And I'm also glad myself as well as the listening audience, will get an opportunity to learn more about you, your wonderful book and how they could come and get a copy of that. Now, to start off, I would just like to learn a little about you and have the audience get a little more familiar with who you are. So if you could take it to the next level and give us a little bit of your background and how it led you into deciding to do (a biography) of Dick Tiger.
AM: Yes. As certain people might recognise from my name, it's of Nigerian origin and to be more specific from the ethnic Yoruba group who are found in the western part of that country. My father was Nigerian. He was for many years a naval officer and then he retired and became a farmer and all-round businessman. My mother is from the African Diaspora. She was born (on) the island of Grenada in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean and both areas, Nigeria and Grenada, happen to have fallen under the influence of the British Empire and so it was that my parents met in London. I'm the fourth child of my parents and I grew up both in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. I was born in Nigeria and did most of my schooling there although I came over to the United Kingdom several times including when my father was posted there in the early 1970s. And I obviously went through the various stages of schooling; secondary, following on from primary school -secondary school is the equivalent of your High School in the United States- and from then on went to university. I took a degree in law and then I qualified as a barrister and since then I have worked as a company lawyer as well as (for) most of the time as a lecturer in law. I've always been fascinated by the written word. My father, and indeed, both of my parents always had a collection of books covering things to do with political history and biographical materials etcetera. One of the areas that has always fascinated me is history and certainly the history of Nigeria and this features a lot in my book because at the center point of the book or at a particular point of the book in its denouement, is the effects of the Nigerian Civil War during which or at the time before it happened, I happened to be born. So a lot of discussions about Nigeria and where it's heading to as a country has always centered on the civil war. Allied to that my interest in boxing figures like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, Jack Johnson...
UAJ: Sugar Ray Leonard
AM: Sugar Ray Leonard; coming up to the modern times -let's not forget them! Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Those two interests; boxing history (and) Nigerian history coalesced and found the almost perfect birth in this book.
UAJ: Okay. Excellent. Excellent. Now, I was astounded to hear the name Dick Tiger. Myself being a student of history and also a boxing fan -I was surprised to have never come across that name. For me, as an African living in America, I guess my knowledge of boxing and the influence that Africans had on the sport, sort of started with Jack Johnson and to learn about Dick Tiger actually taught me a very good lesson that I didn't know as much as I thought I did about the origins of blacks in the sport. Looking (at) Dick Tiger and framing him within the overall context of the influence that boxers of African origin have had in the sport, how major was his role in being able to get us more involved in the sport?
AM: I think he opened many doors. I do have to give a certain background to him because before you had Dick Tiger, I think the first boxer of African origin, that is, from the 'Mother Continent' -and not African descended- to win laurels at world title level was a Senegalese fighter called Battling Siki. He won the world light heavyweight championship from George Carpentier in the early 1920s. He had a fascinating life because he was just a 'poor boy' from the slums of Dakar, Senegal who was brought over to France. I think he was the servant stroke paramour of a French lady of standing and he somehow managed to become embroiled in the First World War; he joined as a soldier and won military honours. His fighting prowess, discovered by French troops was later noted by the American troops and he made his way to America. He lived in the Hells Kitchen area of New York. And then after Battling Siki, you had Hogan Bassey at featherweight, who was the first world champion to come from Nigeria, in the 1950s and in many ways Dick Tiger followed on from Hogan Bassey and surpassed his achievements.
UAJ: Okay. So would it be safe to say that he may have been the third successor in the lineage of African boxing?
AM: Yes. In between there were a few prominent figures but if you want to talk about those who absolutely reached the top, yes, I would actually put it that way. And his achievements actually surpassed those of Battling Siki and Hogan Bassey because at the time when you actually had by general consensus one world champion for each of the eight traditional divisions -not the multifarious 'alphabet soup' organisations and subdivisions of titles that you have in today's world, Dick Tiger was able to win two undisputed world titles at the middleweight division and the undisputed title at the light heavyweight division and so in that sense, if you add to that the glamour surrounding Madison Square Garden in the 1960s when it was the 'TV age' boxing was broadcast into many American homes on a weekly basis and he was a very popular figure and obviously his role in the Nigerian Civil War and his personality -a very respected figure in the boxing fraternity, you see the graduation and you can say that his personality (and) his fighting prowess opened the doors for future boxing stars like Azumah Nelson of Ghana and John Mugabi of Uganda and right up to the present day Ike Quartey and other fighters like Samuel Peter, the Nigerian heavyweight who recently lost a title fight to one of the Klitschko brothers.
UAJ: Let me ask you: do you see a connection between the progress of African boxers back home in Africa and the progress of African boxers here in America? Is there a pan-African connection?
AM: Yes and no. I think that -without deviating- that connection between Africa and America; certainly in the case of Dick Tiger and Hogan Bassey and even as I just mentioned in the case of Battling Siki, it wasn't usually a direct connection. It tended to be through Europe and Dick Tiger and Hogan Bassey were actually fighters who were part of this migration of West African fighters to Britain in the late 1940s and early 1950s who played a prominent role in boxing. It's often forgotten -even in Britain- that they kept the game alive during what was known as the Entertainment Tax era when there was a boxing recession caused by a 'double taxí on the proceeds that were obtained from open air sporting events. So that (England) was the jump off point to America. America in many ways is the citadel of boxing and so if you're going to be judged as a true champion of boxing, at some point, you must prove yourself against American opposition. Nigeria, for many reasons, has not developed and is not as influential as it should be. Nigeria became independent from Great Britain in 1960 and apart from economic and social matters, on a sporting level with two world champions in the bag in quick succession -Hogan Bassey and Dick Tiger- it was expected that Nigeria would more than hold its own and that hasn't happened -I don't know if I'm answering your question correctly- if a fighter from Africa is going to prove themselves, at some point, they must prove it on American soil; before American audiences and I suppose that still holds true. All the African fighters who are known to any degree have had to fight in America. Azumah Nelson, known as 'The Professor;' a great featherweight champion, a popular fighter in the United States in the 1980s. And you've got some up and coming fighters now of African descent; West African, East (inaudible) who will duly be recognised (inaudible)
UAJ: On to his early years and basically, his development starts in leading him into the profession of boxing. Where did he come from and how did what he experienced in life influence him to get into the sport of boxing?
AM: He was born in the Eastern Region of what was then known as the British Protectorate of Nigeria. This was in 1929. The Eastern Region was dominated by people of the ethnic Igbo group and like all colonised groups; the area of sports was brought to Nigeria by the institutions of the military, missionaries and the education system. You had a structure of youth clubs and sport as part of the curriculum. Now Dick Tiger was born in a rural area. The Igbo people were beginning to be rapidly christianised in the early twentieth century, so his parents were both Christians and although he didn't speak the English language until possibly his adolescence, he had something of an education while still working in this sort of subsistence farming environment. I suppose that the closest thing to boxing which features in his life history; his lineage, is that of traditional wrestling. A number of his ancestors were traditional wrestlers. In the Igbo society, it could form the basis of social elevation and prestige. As a child, his father died very young. His mother could not cope with the number of sons she had so they were sort of fostered out to various uncles in the developing towns and (areas) of the Eastern region. And Dick Tiger traveled to a city called Aba, a very active, teeming city full of opportunities and he made his way and he developed himself as a minor entrepreneur and gradually, he also as a young man, had to relieve certain frustrations through the area of sports and boxing was growing in popularity in Nigeria at that time and they were fascinated by the boxers of Great Britain and of course from the United States. (In the) 1930s and 1940s, you had Henry Armstrong; the only man to hold three world titles simultaneously, you had Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore (all) African-Americans, in those days called Negroes and these were the people who were the stars of boxing and that had a big influence on the aspirations of certain African Youth and for somebody like Dick Tiger who did his best to get an education, but which was somewhat limited because of the financial situation, he got into boxing and started off as an amateur; although the lines between an amateur and professional were not (always) properly delineated in those days in Nigeria but he became a fairly competent boxer. He gained a reputation in the Eastern Region, which got the attention of people in the know in Lagos, the capital city, then the capital city, in the western part of the country. So his influence was from the sports that were played around him and I suppose the most popular sport in Nigeria is football -(in Americanised accent) I believe you Americans call it soccer...
AM: That was his first love but he did boxing through a youth club and he certainly became very competent at it. He was built for it. He was a solidly built, hard working young man. He'd built his physique working in the farm and then coming to the big city; he'd involved himself in forms of manual labour. So he had the underpinnings of physical structure to be allied to the skills he learned as a boxer. So those were basically the influences that led him into boxing.
UAJ: Okay. Being as though he became a pretty big name and a legend in the sport and being involved in the sport in the late 20s, 30s, 40s; how was he able to achieve greatness in the face of the overwhelming amount of racism that I assume existed at that time?
AM: He came of age; he would have been about 20 years old in the late 1940s, now at that time, a lot of Nigerian fighters were going to the United Kingdom. This was the post-war period and there'd been a migration of workers who were actually invited to the United Kingdom to help rebuild and rehabilitate the economy and they had the right of travel to the United Kingdom so there was that hurdle; certainly in the United Kingdom in terms of race and also to an extent, in America. First of all with regard to Britain, Dick Tiger eventually got to the United Kingdom in 1955; in the mid-1950s. Now at this time of migration Britain was looked on as the 'Mother Nation' and these workers; they worked in the health service, in hotel and catering and transport they'd been brought over to Britain or invited over to Britain -you did have that sort of pervading racism. Black Africans would go there and people would ask them seemingly innocuous questions (like) "Do you people have tails?" When they got to Britain in those days, there was a kind of a famous sign -so this affected Africans who were going there as students or who were going to work there- they'd have this sign which said: NO BLACKS, NO DOGS, NO IRISH. So obviously racism extended further than just being on the basis of colour -it also extended to Irish immigrants. And so there was that aspect there. When it came to boxing, of course people of African descent had already established themselves in America. Before you had Jack Johnson, you had several other great fighters: the original Joe Walcott who originated from Barbados; you know the 'Barbados Demon' and George Dixon. So this reputation of black fighters in America perhaps, in a way, indicated to the British that those fighters from the 'Mother Continent' might become somewhat adept at this sport when they got to Britain and they were, in many regards, accepted within boxing. The problem was their progress. That proved to be difficult because it was undeniable that you would have a better opportunity if you were a white fighter of certain amount of talent to develop and nurture you, whereas a lot of West African fighters were used as substitute fighters. There was no strategic development of their careers as such. For a lot of them, it was simply a case of "There's a fight tomorrow, the opponent's pulled out, do you think you could come in and substitute?" That sort of lack of preparedness -in a sense, although a lot of them were very hardworking and kind of trained; probably trained to the point of becoming stale- was against them. It wasn't that they were facing catcalls and stuff like that -not necessarily; it was just in that sense. I also should paint the backdrop to this time in the late 1940s, early 50s when black fighters were going to the United Kingdom namely that the British Boxing Board of Control actually up until the late 40s condoned what was known as the 'colour bar.' Now in the perspective of American boxing, the 'colour bar' is something which is somewhat infamous in the era after Jack Johnson. As you probably know, Jack Johnson was a very controversial figure and a threatening figure -not just because of his race but it was intensified because of his personality, which exacerbated that threat felt by the white boxing establishment towards him. And so after Jack Johnson was champion; when Jess Willard won the (heavyweight) championship from him, a black fighter did not have the chance to fight for the world heavyweight championship in America for over fifteen years; certainly not until the time of Joe Louis. So that factor was actually mirrored in Britain. It was mirrored in the sense that you did have black and mixed race fighters in Britain. Historically, Britain had had a black population, you know, they might have come as seamen from Elizabethan times, they might have come as servants for the aristocracy but there was always that presence there and consequently intermarriage etcetera. And there were a number of very good fighters who were of mixed race. They may have had a black father and a white mother and they were born in England but they were not allowed to fight for British titles no matter how talented they were; they could not fight for the British title and the reason given by the British Boxing Board of Control which succeeded the National Sporting Council was that -well there were two reasons. One was it was felt that because the black presence in boxing as noted in America was becoming more dominant, it was felt that if you allowed any black or mixed race person to fight for a British title; in a good amount of time was always the possibility that all titles could be held by black people or black descended people. And this is the reason given by then chairman of the British Boxing Board of Control. The second reason was that it was feared that rather like what happened at the time of Jack Johnson, there was the danger that if a black fighter did win a major fight, it could lead to outbreaks of violence in the empire in Britain and its outposts in the colonised areas. And so that so-called 'colour bar' -the debarring of fighters from fighting for titles continued until the late 1940s and what actually broke the mould were a couple of very talented brothers from a fighting family; the Turpins. Randolph Turpin, who many American boxing fans will remember for his contests with the immortal Sugar Ray Robinson. Randy Turpin defeated Robinson when Robinson was somewhere at his peak in 1951 -It was either 1951 or 1952- I think 1951. Here in Britain and Sugar Ray Robinson won the title (sixty-four days later) in New York after Turpin had actually being getting the upper hand -he just pulled it out of the bag and defeated Turpin. That was Turpin after five or six years after he was not entitled to fight for the British title; the title of his birth. His mother was white; an Englishwoman. His father had come from British Guyana northern part of South America but taken to be culturally part of the black Caribbean and he was a very competent, fantastic amateur fighter. Randy Turpin and his brother, Dick Turpin when they turned professional they just couldn't continue the 'colour bar' and so they just had to abrogate that system and black fighters were then allowed to fight for the British title. And also fighters from the empire like Dick Tiger coming from Nigeria, coming from the Gold Coast; now known as Ghana they still were not allowed to fight for British titles but they needed to be able to fight for something and so this is where the so-called Empire title -now known as the Commonwealth title- came in. In the past, when it had been formed in the early twentieth century, Empire titles could only be fought for by those of Anglo-Saxon or Celtic stock from the so-called 'white' dominion nations like Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa as well as Britain itself. That was reformatted in the early1950s, so that these fighters who were now migrating from West Africa and other outposts of the empire could be able to fight for a title and so those were the hurdles that had to be faced as a black fighter in that period of history.
UAJ: Well, good information. We're going to go to a commercial break in about a minute then we'll finish the second half of this interview. And I have to tell you that I'm learning quite a lot because I didn't know as much about boxing as I thought and I knew probably next to nothing about boxing and the history of it back home in Africa and coming back from Africa where I was for the entire month of July (2005) I had a great time in Nigeria so I could kind of locate some of the places that you're speaking of when you were mentioning boxing in Nigeria and how it had developed but before we go over to a break and finish the second half of the interview, I would like for you to let the listeners know how they can purchase a copy of your book and we're actually going to have to do this again towards the end of the show but I wanted to put that information out there now to make sure that if someone wants your book, how do they get it?
AM: The most accessible manner of getting it would be at amazon.com or amazon dot Canada or the United Kingdom. It's increasingly becoming available in bookshops in Britain and I'm working on that in the United States.
UAJ: How many pages in the book? Give us a substance of......
AM: It's 312 pages.
AM: It tries to be an exhaustive volume and it's about fourteen chapters and (has) an index and full chronology of his life kind of in a nutshell fashion for the new viewer to look at and discern the main aspects of his life. It's in paperback format and there will be limited supplies of it in hardback fashion in due course.
UAJ: Did you self publish the book or did you go through an established publisher?
AM: No, it's self-published. It went to the publishing houses and they said, "Oh, very good writing but we're worried about the limitations in the market." So I said, "No. Let me go ahead. I think I know who is going to be interested in this like hardcore boxing fans, but it's not just the boxing aficionados: The Dick Tiger story covers aspects of political history, social history; so I always felt that it would have an interest on a purely biographical basis but also in terms of African interest; black diaspora interest, you know, it does cover many angles.
UAJ: Well, I'm quite sure with 312 pages, it's definitely a complete piece of work. A lot of times you see biographies; there's some that are very brief and don't give you enough and then there are some that are kind of 'middle-of-the-way' but there're still questions that you might have after finishing reading it; but with 312 pages, I'm sure you did a real good job in being able to answer most of the questions that a reader would have. I know you mentioned social and political aspects of Dick Tiger's career that would probably be of importance to all of us. I would just like you to think about that for a minute because when we come back from the commercial break I want us to get involved in the social and political aspects of his career or how his career influenced different aspects of social and political thought. Thinking, about boxing here in the United States, you had Jack Johnson with some of the comments that he would make outside of the ring and some of the practices he indulged in outside of the ring such as his traveling with white women which brought him some disdain from white society at large or I can think of Muhammad Ali when he refused to enlist in the draft for Vietnam and how that put him right in the centre of the political sphere and still recently I can look at Mike Tyson, although he himself wasn't a very political personality just by virtue of his youth or what many considered to be his immaturity, he's often used as a poster boy of why blacks in boxing isn't necessarily a good thing so that's something I would like to talk about on the other side of this break. And I just wanted to leave our listeners again with the information If you're interested and I'm quite certain many of you are and I would encourage many of those listening who are not interested in getting a copy that you definitely (should) do so, (because) it's definitely a neglected aspect of our history. For those of us here in the United States of America who need to learn more about Africa and what our people have been through over there historically and even in the present times, I think that this book would be an excellent addition to your library and again it is entitled 'Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal' and it is available at amazon.com so you can go right on the Internet, amazon.com, actually, I just ordered some books from amazon about a week or two ago and it had a very simplistic ordering style; you'll probably be there for only two to three minutes and complete your order. And still more importantly, not only will you learn about a great boxing legend, you'll also be supporting our brother, Ade Makinde because we want him to be able to go back to the publishing houses who were unwilling to publish the book to say, "Look, I'm doing quite well on my own getting this book distributed to those who want to learn more about African's in boxing." You're listening to Garvey's Children. I'm you're host brother Umar Abdullah Johnson. Joining us tonight on our show is brother Ade Makinde who is joining us from the United Kingdom who is author of a brand new book, Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. So please stay tuned; we're going to finish the second half of the interview right after these messages.
UAJ: Good evening brothers and sisters. I want to welcome everybody back who has been listening to the show thus far this evening. It's a very enlightening and educative show. This evening we're talking about Dick Tiger, a brand new book by our brother Ade Makinde who is our guest tonight on Garvey's Children and Dick Tiger is a famous African boxing legend and we're talking about him and the new book, the new biography that has been written about him by our brother Ade Makinde. Those of you who are just joining us, please tune in, please listen out because there's a lot of good information coming across the airwaves tonight and I'm learning a lot, not only about Dick Tiger but about the impact that African boxers in Africa have had on the sport. Getting right back into our topic this evening, brother Ade could you tell us what influence did Dick Tiger's life, his profession have on the political landscape of Nigeria, Africa and the United Kingdom.
AM: Dick Tiger, by virtue of his rise to prominence, was placed in a position as a lot of famous people are whereby his deeds, his attitudes you know, were sort of taken by those who were not familiar with where he came from so when it comes to social-political matters in America, for instance, he was there fighting at the time of the American Civil Rights Movement, when the civil rights movement was developing and the so-called 'colour bar' had been removed officially from American boxing. You know after Joe Louis won the title, Jackie Robinson broke through in baseball. Boxing was seen as being an almost (meritocratic) environment, one place where if you were good enough, you would succeed. And he had that mentality. When he came over to America in 1959 a lot of people, including black Americans were not familiar with Africans and so he had to endure a number of (disparaging) comments. He was a striking fellow in the sense that (inaudible) a fit looking man with tattoos etched into his body and outside of the ring, he (wore a homborg hat and) the 'Anthony Eden' coat and spoke in this quasi-Anglicized accent but a lot of the times he would encounter these sly comments, you know, they'd assume "Your name is Dick Tiger, did you fight things like Tiger's in Africa?" and he'd reply to them, "There are no Tiger's in Africa -only in Asia." You know, " I never saw a Tiger in my life until I went to Liverpool zoo." You know there'd be this banter about cannibalism and headhunting. He took it in his stride. He'd tell them, "We'll you know we used that to do that stuff but we ate up the Governor-General and he kind of made us puke." He'd kind of (parry) that sort of thing with humour but inwardly he did not like it. On the occasion when Medger Evers was assassinated, he surreptitiously referred to those 'cannibals' who "shoot you in the back." So it was on that sort of level. But he felt that it was his duty to educate journalists about Nigeria and Africa and they remember that. You know, a journalist of the time, Milton Gross, they knew that he tried to explain the geography and the economics and the language of the place he came from and the only time that he came up against a potentially racist situation in his career was sometime in the early 60s he was due to fight a fighter in New Orleans.....
UAJ: I'm sorry but how old was he at this time?
AM: He was in his early thirties; which is actually pretty late for a boxer because he didn't start boxing until his late teens. And so the fighter pulled out -a black American- and it was touted that okay he could fight a guy called Joey Giardello or somebody and of course this was New Orleans in the early 60s. There was not a tradition of black fighters fighting white fighters in a ring. This hadnít happened for over a hundred -well, not a hundred years but since the late 19th century and so it was kind of "Goodness me Tiger, how's he going to fight anyone now?" But that issue was somewhat alleviated because the guy who he was going to fight eventually did fight him so he had to contend with these social phenomena. He was the only high profile African sportsman in America in those days and he felt that it was his duty to promote Nigeria and he was always speaking (against the images of Africa Americans would) perceive from Tarzan movies and other forms of popular culture and it wasn't so much he was (inaudible) because of the amount of exposure in his life (inaudible) arrived and so from being a hero, a national hero in Nigeria; he had a big fight in the city of Ibadan in 1963 against Gene Fullmer for the world middleweight title and it was the biggest sporting event ever held there. They held it in an open air stadium and he was the embodiment of the promise of Nigeria and you had political truces in the regional parliaments between political foes, you had national holidays, you had an advert on the morning of the fight which had Dick Tiger superimposed on the African continent and so he was a means to nation building. He was that much of a hero among Nigerians and other Africans but with the coming of the civil war the Eastern (inaudible) of Nigeria there had been a military coup in 1966 in January. A lot of the officers (involved) were of Igbo ethnic origin and it was felt that they were attempting to impose some sort of hegemony over the rest of Nigeria, so there was a counter-coup (in July 1966) and there were pogroms in which soldiers of Igbo origin and civilians were massacred and Dick Tiger took the stance as the time for separation was coming that he had no alternative but to give his support to the new state of Biafra and so in one fell swoop, the man who was the embodiment and the hero of Nigerian unity and progress he was all of a sudden saddled with the reputation of being the secessionist; a champion of secession. He used his prestige in America to promote the Biafran cause. He used his money. So before his fights, you had the Biafran anthem played out on live TV. He would donate a lot of his purses towards medical supplies for Biafrans caught up in the conflict. He became a distributor of communications gadgets to the Biafran military and security services and he basically kind of promoted that cause until the end of the civil war in 1970 when the Biafrans were outnumbered, they were outgunned and eventually outmanoeuvered. And they had to surrender.
UAJ: When you think about Dick Tiger and as you worked on the biography in comparison to other boxers, what do you feel were the main points in his career that really separated him from the other boxers or just kind of made him stand out. What was it about him and his career that made him a remarkable man?
AM: I think that what made him so popular was -and so remarkable was the simplicity of his boxing style. He achieved great popularity among American fight fans and the reason was not because he was an exotic African or he was this or that, it was purely based on his fighting style and the interesting thing was that people latched onto that purporsiveness, that honesty and simplicity of his fighting style which brought the crowds to Madison Square Garden -because after you didn't have the live television fights; those were discontinued sometime in 1964 and so with the ending of the 'TV age' you needed fighters who could attract the 'missing' public back to the stalls and Dick Tiger, with the excitement he created; the sort of blue collar, honest-to-god, spit-on-your-fists kind of mentality he brought to the fight game; he was very popular among fight fans and they latched onto that because America with its own tribal heritage of Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Puerto Rican-Americans; they followed their fighters a lot and supported them a great deal (but) Dick Tiger did not have much of a constituency of Africans in New York but somehow he would dominate the cheers or at least, equal the cheers of the fans in the hall no matter how well supported the other fighter might (inaudible) or Joey Archer who was Irish-American, (or Nino Benvenuti) -Italian born but he fought before Italian(-American) audiences or Frankie DePaula a very popular competitor of Italian-American origin; he could match these guys and that tells you something about why he stands (out) because of his fighting style and when people came to know him (they found out) that he was an absolute gentleman. He wasn't the sort of man who chased women, he drank to a minimum. He had eight children but all with the same woman who he was apparently devoted to for all his life and took great pride and care with his children and this was reported in the press so the reason why he was respected transcends his virtues in the ring; it was his virtues as a man that has elevated him. But I must say that essentially he was a boxer and what he achieved -although he did not have long reigns as a world champion but that was because in the 1960s, you had a great amount of talent, you know, some of them forgotten; some of them half-remembered. You had the George Bentonís, you had Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter for a while, you had Joey Giardello, Gene Fullmer, Paul Pender, many very good fighters in the middleweight division and also the light heavyweight (division) and nevertheless, he managed to win two world title fights; undisputed two world championships at middleweight and one world title at light heavyweight -I mean not many boxers can claim that and this as said earlier on in the programme, this was at a time when you did not have the divisions or multiplication of world titles at different weights. This was a time when there was usually just one champion in one of only eight divisions. He won it twice. He was the first man to win the world light heavyweight title after having won the world middleweight title since Bob Fitzsimmons sixty-three years earlier on. This was in 1966 when he beat Jose Torres. Also, as a fighter, he had that same honesty and dedication which showed -because he was in his late thirties and he was still going strong so on that basis - what he achieved as a world championship level fighter and what he achieved given his age which is relatively old by boxing standards in his late thirties fighting opponents who were taller than him, heavier than him, had a longer reach than him and he could still win in a foreign land due to his hard work and his dedication and his persistence inspite of all the obstacles he face in his career. This is why he stands out still, today.
UAJ: For me, being a fan of the honourable Marcus Garvey. I'm very sensitive to famous African figures who were very influential often being overlooked by the society at large and even by African people in particular who should never let such personalities escape their memory. With Dick Tiger being so remarkable a fellow and being so influential and so remarkable as a boxer in his day with legacy that far surpasses the legacy of current day boxers. Why do you think that Dick Tiger and his career has been allowed to be overlooked by boxing fans today and by the sport in general? How were they able to pass such a remarkable man by?
AM: I have to say that because he fought in the 1960s, a lot of fighters whatever their origins were overshadowed by the figure of Muhammad Ali. There were many good fighters of African-American origin and other origins. You had the fighter from Brazil known as Eder Jofre, Carlos Ortiz; a Puerto Rican fighter. You had many good, good fighters of that era but I think that because of the whole personality and phenomenon surrounding Muhammad Ali; Muhammad Ali was such a colossus that even among boxing fans, there is a tendency to overlook some of these great fighters one of which is Dick Tiger. I mean his life is so fascinating but, I guess part of it is that yes, he did have this popularity in America but he was still somewhat of an exotic; came from Africa via Europe; you know, Nigeria via England and it just seemed that for whatever reason, they would just remember the good old days of Dick Tiger but just in sparse, biographical format in the occasional boxing magazine remembrance. There was never a proper biography done on him and I don't know why that is other than what I've just said about the dominating personality of Muhammad Ali overshadowing boxers of that era but probably the more galling aspect of it is not so much among American fight fans who remember him very, very well -he's been inducted into the International (Boxing) Hall of Fame; it's more his reputation in his homeland; Nigeria where after the civil war there was a remarkable peace inaugurated. The Nigerian Civil War started off in a terrible fashion, like all wars do, with pogrom and it certainly did not put in a good light the aspirations of African progress especially Nigeria being the hope of Africa to descend into such chaos and violence but, nevertheless, when the Biafrans were defeated, the Head of State at the time, General Gowon, popularised the phrase "No Victor, No Vanquished." So for all the mayhem that had been caused, the Igbo ethnic group was reabsorbed into the body politic of Nigeria. They were allowed back into the military, into the civil service although at the ranks or stations they had been before the war began and even the Western press had to acknowledge that never had such a peace been brought upon in that sense. The war was violent, it was terrible but it ended -which is not to say that there werenít random acts of violence afterwards but essentially it was a peace. But the problem was that (while) a lot of his people were rehabilitated and reabsorbed into the Nigerian body politic but somehow Dick Tiger, his memory was not because he died soon after the civil war. He was stricken with cancer and died at a very early age at 42 years of age and because of his vehement support for the Barren cause -remember he was playing the Biafran anthem, he was announced by MCs as "Dick Tiger of Biafra," he talked about the massacres and war crimes he claimed were committed by the Nigerian military against Biafran citizens, he gave up his MBE medal awarded by the Queen in 1963; he handed it back to the British embassy in (Washington D.C.) in 1969 just as the Biafran regime was collapsing- the Nigerian government never forgot his deeds and in many ways because he volunteered; he voluntarily became this passionate apostle of Biafran secession; in many ways, that was seen as being unforgivable because it would have been easy to have forgiven somebody who was a 'normal,' ordinary Igbo individual (who was) caught up in the war. He fought on the Biafran side. The war's now ended, it's been decreed there's peace: "No Victor, No Vanquished;" it wouldn't have been a problem but because he had used his prominence that was seen as a dangerous thing. He spoke to the New York Times; he joined the Biafran military and became a captain in the Propaganda Corp of the Biafran Army. He spoke to American journalists; Western journalists -that was seen as a dangerous thing because he was doing this from the 'outside' so Nigeria was always terrified that America would support the Biafran cause because there had been signs that people like Richard Nixon that when he came to power in 1968, that maybe he might be favourable to their cause. Britain supported the Federal Nigerians and because Dick Tiger did that and in such a vehement fashion, he was never really forgiven and for that reason his legacy is shrouded in a lot of mist. You can't help but notice the stark contrast between when he was there winning the world title; being the national hero against Gene Fullmer in Nigeria in the earlier part of the 1960s and he was getting laudatory messages from Kwame Nkrumah, the great Pan-Africanist and then you take that to the 70s when he's just died and the Nigerian government did not have the courtesy to send his family any messages of condolence. You see the stark contrast that even in Nigeria today, he is not a remembered figure and I could detect that as a child. I didn't know exactly until later on but as a child, I remember Hogan 'Kid' Bassey, who was Nigeria's first world champion; he coached Nigeria's amateur boxers, always on the television; in the media. But Africans are supposed lionize their dead people like most people do, you know, their great heroes and I did know of Dick Tiger as a boy but why did we not know more about him as should have been befitting given that he brought so much glory to Nigeria? And the reason is obviously lies in his role in the Nigerian Civil War. You know, fifteen years after he died, one of his daughters wanted the National Sports Commission in Nigeria to rename a stand in the National Stadium in his honour and the figure she went to basically told her: "I'm quite sympathetic to you but a lot of people still remember his role at the height of the civil war and I'm afraid we can't do that." That was coming in Nigeria so I would say the 'forgotten aspect is compounded when you look at how he is remembered among his countrymen today. That's what's stark It's not so surprising when you look further afield, say in America where he is fondly remembered to a certain degree but we can sort of say that the figure of Muhammad Ali kind of dominated that era to a point but a lot of boxers are not as well remembered as probably they should be although perhaps none of them took a significant stance in the way Dick Tiger did and had an extraordinary life over three continents. He should have been better remembered. Yeah.
UAJ: Well, as we wind down this interview, I just want to thank you for joining us brother Ade; joining us this evening and be willing to share all of this wonderful information about an oft neglected hero of ours that we should all know. I for myself am very interested in getting my hands on a copy of one of the books because I'd like to read more about it myself to learn more about Dick Tiger. I'm a boxing fan although I'm probably a novice in this field. I just tend to have my heroes but Dick Tiger is now an addition to my list of boxing heroes and I look forward to learning more about him. To all of our brothers and sisters listening to the show across the world if you are interested in and I'm quite certainly sure that you are interested in getting a copy of brother Ade Makinde's biography entitled Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing (Immortal) please, please go to amazon.com so you can order a copy of your book. Do you know how much the biography will cost in US dollars, brother Ade?
AM: Yes, it costs fourteen dollars ninety-five.
UAJ: Which is a very good price for a three hundred-plus-page-book.
AM: That's right. It's that price just for a couple of months. It will go up to eighteen dollars ninety-five. That's a discounted price.
UAJ: So you'll need to get your hands on it right away. As someone who buys books quite regularly, I can't remember the last time I've seen a three hundred-plus-page book for less than about thirty dollars. Once you get up to that three hundred page level, you have to dig into your pockets a little deeper, so as he said brothers and sisters the book is now fourteen dollars ninety-five I believe and it's going to go up shortly, so tomorrow first thing in he morning or if it is already morning for you need to or if you're not going straight to bed right after this radio show, then you need to go click up amazon.com and go ahead and order a copy of your book; Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing (Immortal). If there are any listeners who desire to get in contact with you, is there an e-mail address or website that they could visit if they wanted to send you some messages or questions?
AM: Oh yes. If you type in my name into google you will get my details and I also have some WebPages on Dick Tiger, it's a bit lengthy but it does go by the title of the book Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and my email address is there: firstname.lastname@example.org. I know that might be a bit of a mouthful for some of us but just type in Dick Tiger and my name will come up somewhere along the line. If I can spell it for people, it's M-A-K-I-N-D-E. So type that in with Dick Tiger and my details and my e-mail address will come up. And I do write about boxing on the Internet so my name is featured with boxing articles on fight figures as well as fight reports from ringside.
UAJ: Perfect. Very, very good information. So as you've all heard brother Ade just tell you, you can do a google put his name in there and even if you do a general search on Dick Tiger or if you specifically put the title of the book in do a search in Dick: The Life and Times of Boxing (Immortal), you will certainly come upon his name and some of the web pages he has posted up but please make sure that you go to amazon.com and order you a copy of the book. Probably in the near future brother Ade, I'll have you come back on; maybe we'll talk a little more about the book but in addition to that, now that I know that you are a barrister-at-law, I'd probably want to have a show with you where we can talk about the legal ramifications or should I say the legal-political situation under which blacks in both Nigeria and in the United Kingdom live and how they can probably come together in unity and do something on the legal level to improve this situation. Myself; being a student of Political Science, I think that a show deals with the legal circumstances under which Africans in both Nigeria and the United Kingdom live would probably give us a lot of good information that our listeners can use, so that's something that I would probably like for you to think about.
AM: Absolutely. It would be my pleasure. I think that the advancement of civil rights includes social and economic strategies, but also legal strategies. In America you have Brown versus Board of Education, Plessey versus Ferguson. These are cases of great political ramifications and the law itself does play something of a part Britain in terms of race relations law; protecting the rights of individuals. It's not the be all and end all -progress has to come from the hearts and minds of people in general and in particular the progress that black people should make economically. It's vital; you just can't place your hopes in just political action. They must be able to back it up with economic freedom.
UAJ: Totally agree. I totally agree. And as we close, there is something that I just wanted to mention. And I don't mention it in a morbid sense because I'm quite certain that these brothers and sisters of ours who have passed on, are now with the ancestors and being watched over by the most high creator but on Monday, yesterday, when it was posted, but it actually happened about two or three days ago unfortunately there was a plane crash in Nigeria and one hundred and seventeen people who were aboard this commercial liner died shortly after it had taken off. The flight was on its way from Lagos and it was going to be a fifty minute flight and I think it was headed to Abuja and I think it was on the Bell Air flight, anyhow, from what I could understand, the pilot as soon as he got up in the air could tell that something wasn't right with the flight and so he then made plans to land but he wasnít able to do as quickly as he would have liked and so as a result of that, the jet liner crashed killing one hundred and seventeen people so as we talk about Nigeria, Dick Tiger brother Ade and myself who just a few months ago I visited Nigeria where I was received in very high esteem and it's a segment of my African tour that I will always cherish -as I will cherish the entire tour- but loads of individuals that I met there in Nigeria in Port Harcourt, in Lagos and Enugu who will just forever change the way I see my life and the way I view myself as an African and in fact I'm planning a return trip back to Nigeria and in fact, I have even had have had an e-mail conversation today with some of brothers there. But anyhow, I would just ask all of the Africans who are listening to the show tonight to offer a prayer, a libation, some sort of meditation on behalf of these passengers who passed away on that flight from Lagos to Abuja. Every time you get up in the air, I always say that you are in God's hands; God takes you up and only God can bring you safely back down and myself having traveled on Bell Air and having went from Lagos to also Abuja or Ibadan, I feel near and dear to this particular tragedy because it could have been me just a couple of months ago. I was on the same plane, same route, same company and I don't say that to scare you away from traveling because the chances of you dying in a car wreck are a whole lot higher than in a plane crash because rarely do planes crash and even in Africa believe it or not, their rate of plane loss is a lot lower than it is for most of the so-called industrialized nations. I believe that this plane crash in Nigeria was the first one in about ten long years so they are definitely excellent aviators over on the Mother Continent and I would urge every one to take a trip to Nigeria, which is Africa's most populous nation. I'm actually in the process of trying to buy some land in Nigeria with the group I'm working with and Iím going to try to get a lot of things started but Nigeria looks to be the land of promise for Africans as we look back home towards Africa to re-settle ourselves and establish a truly pan-African network through out the world and in closing, I would just like to ask brother Ade to give a final statement of what he would like our listeners to take from tonight's interview.
AM: I would just like people, to albeit they may not all be boxing fans, to understand that the ideals of determination, of persistence, of striving for your goals as difficult as it may seem to be, (and) also to be able to make hard decisions in your life and to stand by your conscience no matter what the costs are these are the themes I've explored in my book and they've been explored not through the figure of a politician or a General or a social activist it's been explored through the life of a boxer and that's just what I just want to say. It may be that boxing is a somewhat specialised and almost marginalized area but you can find these central themes and threads that all human beings can relate to and you can find that in the life of Dick Tiger.
UAJ: Thank you very, very much brother Ade again. I can't tell you how happy I am and delighted that you were able to join us tonight. We will definitely do it again good brother. Please order the brothers book. Please visit the web page as designed for all of us to take a look. I hope that tonight's show has touched the minds and lives of all of you listening as much as it has my own. So again I would like to thank everyone for tuning in for another exciting edition of Garvey's Children. Please join us next week, as we will focus on the third part of our black male-female relationship series and we hope that you all tune in next Tuesday and every Tuesday from eleven p.m. to midnight as we deal with issues that are critical to our development as a people. I would like to thank brother Ade for coming on. I want to thank Harambee Radio, I'd like to thank all the listeners out there from around the world. Please have a good night always, always strive to do your best, always do something to help the condition of African people around the world. As my cousin, the late Frederick Douglas would always say," If there's no struggle, there is no progress." Peace and until next week. God bless.
Umar Abdullah Johnson, M.S., Ed.S., is by profession an Educational Psychologist. He is the President of the International Movement for the Independence and Protection of African People (I.M.I.P.A.P.)
Adeyinka Makinde is a barrister by training and a Lecturer in Law. A student of boxing, his columns and articles on the sport have appeared on the World Wide Web. He has also contributed to the journal, African Renaissance.
Copyright. Adeyinka Makinde (2006)
Forty years have passed since Nigerian boxer Dick Tiger pulled off one of the greatest feats in African sporting history.
The 37-year-old veteran shocked the boxing world when he became the first-ever world middleweight boxing champion to rise in weight and win the world light heavyweight title. The year was 1966.
For many Nigerians, he was more than just a fighter, but for nearly two decades Dick Tiger was largely forgotten.
Gavin Evans in this week's African Perspective explores how such an illustrious boxing career became overshadowed by the turmoil of Nigeria's politics.
Jose Torres (Former World Light Heavyweight Champion)
Ron Lipton (World Championship Referee & Tiger's sparring partner)
Richard Ihetu Jnr ( Dick Tiger's eldest son)
Adeyinka Makinde (Biographer of Dick Tiger)
To Listen to this programme go to the following link:
Then click on to the audio to launch a stand alone player:
Note: The programme is available to listen to until 19:06hrs on Saturday, August 5th 2006.
Thanks for the link I enjoyed listening to the documentary.
My pleasure KOJOE. I also quite enjoyed it! I hadn't (and still haven't yet) recieved a CD/ Tape so the narrative and and other interviews were new to me.
Gavin Evans (author of books on Lennox and Naseem among others) arranged and presented the whole thing with consumate professionalism. I thought that there were some poignant comments from Tiger's son regarding the loss of a father figure so early in one's life.
Now for the film documentary....
Narrator: Forty years have passed since Nigerian boxer Dick Tiger pulled off one of the greatest feats in African sporting history
Fight Commentator (archival): Going into the fifteenth and final round, it's all Tiger now. Dick is taking complete control.
The 37-year old African veteran shocked the boxing world when he became the first ever world middleweight boxing champion to rise in weight and win the world light heavyweight title. The year was 1966. Nigerian-born barrister Ade Makinde has written the first biography of Dick Tiger...
Adeyinka Makinde: He was a beacon of hope for Nigeria, he was a torchbearer, he was a symbol.
Narrator: But the glory days didn't last...
Adeyinka Makinde: Fast forward it to the Biafran War where he renounces Nigeria and says ''Well, my people have been subjected to pogroms, our leaders have been brutally murdered in the army; they've been taken out of the political framework,'' and he just basically felt that he had no choice but to go with Biafra.
Narrator: The controversy around Dick Tiger's political stand meant that for many years he was a forgotten hero; especially in Nigeria. In this African Perspective from the BBC World Service, join me Gavin Evans as I explore the life and times of one of the greatest boxing heroes Africa has ever produced.
Highlife music excerpt
Narrator: Tiger was born on August the 14th 1929 in what was then the British Protectorate of Nigeria. He was the third child of Ubuagwu and Rebecca Ihetu. His parents gave him the name Richard Ihetu. Tiger spent most of his early years working on the family farm. His first job there was to draw water and fetch firewood from a nearby forest. He also attended the local missionary school where he was known as a bright, hardworking student. Biographer Ade Makinde says Tiger's early years shaped him as a fighter.
Adeyinka Makinde: He grew up in a city called Aba, in Nigeria. Aba is a place in Igboland, among the Igbo people, and at the time he was growing up, he would have been greatly influenced by the spirit of optimism and can-doism that was reflected in so many facets of their life. You had these digests known as 'chapbooks' with titles like 'How to become Rich,' 'Determination is the Key of Success' and so their lifestyle, the Igbos, they were aspirational. It was based on entrepreneural and christian precepts that if you maintained a level of sobriety and determination; you would succeed in life. So that is what helped him along in his life.
Narrator: Tiger's father was a trader and amateur wrestler. He died suddenly when Tiger was only 13-years-old. His mother continued to mind the farm, but money was scarce, and Tiger and his older brothers had to leave school and move to town. There he worked as a delivery boy, walking bare foot along the unpaved roads; pushing a cart full of goods destined for local businesses. Sometimes, he would join his older brothers on expeditions to the delta town of Ogoni. They'd buy monkeys, parrots and cats, which they would train and sell at local markets. Along the way, Tiger developed a reputation as a teenager who could take care of himself in street fights. He was fairly short, but had powerful, broad shoulders. After reading stories about the great American boxing champions Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson, Tiger decided to try his luck at boxing. Biographer Ade Makinde says that he soon acquired his nickname...
Adeyinka Makinde: He was fighting, very crudely, in Nigeria; I think he was still an amateur, and he was being observed by this Englishman. I don't know if he had a few bits of scotch in his system at the time, but he was very enthused by this aggressive man who -he was short and stocky- was jumping up to hit his opponent, and he kind of said the words: "A Tiger! That's what he is! A Tiger!" And so being a Richard, they shortened that to 'Dick Tiger.'
Narrator: Dick tiger turned professional at 23. He left Nigeria 3 years later.
Sound of ship's horn
Narrator: Tiger docked at the coastal city of Liverpool, north England in October 1955. He was dressed only in T-shirt and cotton trousers and shivered in the cold English air.
Sounds of variety music
Narrator: Liverpool was a cosmopolitan city. As Britain's second biggest port, it was a magnet for immigrants from all over the commonwealth, including West Africa. By moving to England, Tiger followed the path made by several other leading Nigerian boxers among them Hogan 'Kid' Bassey, who went on to win the world featherweight title. Nigerian fighters were welcomed in Britain because they were prepared to accept less money from the promoters than local boxers. Tiger was warmly received by the Liverpool crowds, and was particularly popular with dockers who loved his brawling style. Ade Makinde...
Adeyinka Makinde: He was a big star in Liverpool. They considered him one of their own.
Narrator: Despite his popularity, the old school British boxing officials didn't like what they saw. They favoured 'jab-and-move' boxers and controversially declared Tiger the points loser in each of his first four British fights. Tiger's first British trainer, Maurice Foran, was interviewed about his boxer in 1962. Foran describes Tiger as a 'diamond-in-the-rough'.....
Maurice Foran (archival): He didn't punch correctly. He didn't move very well, but the strength was there, the material was there of a great fighter.
Narrator: Yet, life was tough for Tiger. He trained every day in a damp gym and never got used to the British weather, or to British food. He wasn't earning enough from boxing to survive, nor from the occasional odd job that he could find. Here's Foran again...
Maurice Foran (archival): When I got to know him, it was why I started to help him because he was very discouraged at this point and I remember saying to him quite well that if he could organise himself more, he would do well in boxing. But at that point, he was very disheartened because he'd lost a few fights and living conditions were very hard, he had a very hard job and he didn't seem to be getting anywhere. And I think he was thinking of going back to Nigeria.
Narrator: He did return home briefly to marry Abigail Ogbuji, a 23-year-old kindergarten teacher. She would bear him eight children. Dick Tiger's oldest son and namesake, Richard Ihetu Junior remembers his father as a fiercely determined man who could be strict but also loving.
Richard Ihetu Junior: Very liberal, very generous, very funny. You (needed) to be around him. He was a very funny man and we children liked him a lot. He might just look at you and pretend that he wants to come and bite (you) or something like that (and) you'd run away and laugh. You know, he (liked) creating a scene, making people laugh, especially with the children.
Narrator: Although he was a family man, Tiger continued to learn the ropes in the British ring, still occasionally losing dubious decisions, but usually winning. In 1958, he pulled off an upset by knocking out Pat McAteer to lift the commonwealth middleweight title.
You're listening to BBC African Perspective with me Gavin Evans. Today we remember the great Nigerian boxer, Dick Tiger.
Sound of a boxing ring bell
Narrator: In 1959, Tiger relocated to New York City to relearn the art of self defence in some of America's toughest gyms. Over the next three years, he worked his way towards a world title shot by beating a string of top contenders. Madison Square Garden was the 'Mecca of boxing' and soon Tiger caught the eye of the top boss there, Harry Markson...
Harry Markson (archival): Dick Tiger, because of the many qualities he has; he's an excellent puncher, he has great stamina, he has a wonderful determination and will to win, I think that he would rate among the leading men of our day in his class. I also would regard him as being a fine gentleman. I think that he is a credit to his country, and certainly a great asset to the business of boxing.
Narrator: Dick Tiger finally got his big break. At the age of 33, he travelled to San Francisco to challenge the formidably powerful Gene Fullmer for the world middleweight title in (October) 1962.
Ring Announcer (archival): The number one contender, from Nigeria Dick Tiger
Roar of crowd
Ring Announcer (Archival): And his opponent, the middleweight champion of the world, Gene Fullmer.
Narrator: At the end of 15 rounds, Tiger had outmuscled the strongman, and outboxed him too, winning a wide, unanimous decision.
Boxing Commentator (Archival): And there's the bell ending the fight. The decision goes to Dick Tiger, and Dick becomes the new world middleweight champion. Tiger's fans are elated as Dick waves to the crowd.
Narrator: Here's what Tiger told the American press immediately after the fight.
Dick Tiger (archival): In some rounds I may think to myself that I'm a bit slow, and some rounds I think I'm ahead.
Reporter (archival): Did you seem to let him set the pace? If he wanted to slow it up, you were willing to slow it up. Is there any reason for that?
Dick Tiger (archival): No reason, it just happened that way. Excuse me, I hope you understand my English...
Reporter (archival): Whoa! Don't stop now! (laughter) You haven't run out have you....
Narrator: In the return match Fullmer was considered fortunate to be granted a draw. The pair fought for a third time in Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, Nigeria on August the 10th 1963. This was the first ever world title fight in Africa outside of apartheid South Africa. This time Tiger beat Fullmer to a standstill. He forced the American to retire to his corner at the end of the seventh round. After the fight, Tiger was hailed as a Nigerian sporting hero, says Ade Makinde...
Adeyinka Makinde: His fight with Gene Fullmer was a national event. He was lionised and on the day of the fight, one of the newspapers had his image superimposed on the African continent. He even got messages of congratulations from Kwame Nkrumah, the purveyor of black pan-Africanism.
Narrator: But the African hero controversially lost his title to America's Joey Giardello. Two years later, he got his revenge when he became world champion again. But Tiger's world was changing. It was becoming a darker and more dangerous place.
School children singing a patriotic Biafran song
Narrator: Civil war had broken out in Nigeria. It pitted Tiger's Igbo people in the Eastern Region of Biafra against the Federal government. It was one of post-independent Africa's first and most bloody civil wars.
School children singing a patriotic Biafran song
Narrator: The conflict began in 1966 when a group of middle ranking Igbo military officers tried to overthrow the Federal government of Nigeria. The coup attempt failed and thousands of Igbo people were persecuted and killed. As a result, the Igbo leadership declared Biafra an independent state. The Nigerian federal government reacted by mounting an all out military offensive to secure a unified nation. In a BBC interview at the time, the Biafran leader Colonel Ojukwu, justified the war.
Colonel Ojukwu (archival): We came into this war; rather, this war was forced on to us by the fact that Nigeria attacked us. Our aim is to prevent Nigeria overrunning us.
Narrator: Farmland was destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people from the region were forced to flee their homes. By August 1968, the International Red Cross estimated that 60,000 people were dying each day as a result of the war or food shortages it created. Suspicions ran high and the leader of Nigeria's federal government, General Gowon, was reluctant to allow aid flights into Biafra.
General Gowon (archival): Really I do not trust any aircraft going into rebel held areas now, because otherwise what Ojukwu would do is that he would use the opportunity to fly in also his aircraft carrying arms and ammunition.
Narrator:Tiger was quick to take a public stand. He was commissioned as an officer in the Biafran Army. He popped back and forth between Biafra and America competing in major fights, and speaking up for the fledgling Biafran state. Biographer Makinde, again...
Adeyinka Makinde: He made the decision, ''I want to support this cause,'' and he made the announcement and in his fights in America, he'd play the Biafran anthem, he'd wear it proudly, he'd speak up in Time magazine and Newsweek magazine against what he referred to as the war crimes of the Nigerian military against the people of Biafra; I mean, he actually even handed in his MBE medal; returned it to the British state because of his perception they supported the Nigerian federal forces. Now firstly, the Nigerians, what they did is they tried to ignore this. So during his fights, they would actually make announcements about 'Dick Tiger of Nigeria'; the thing is that they didn't publicise it in the Nigerian press that meanwhile over in New York in a hotel room, he's telling Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times that "What do they mean 'Dick Tiger,' 'Nigeria'? Yet, they would kill me. They're killing my people in Nigeria at the moment. So at that time, he had to take physical risks. First of all evading Nigerian forces going through the borders of Cameroon and later on airlifts.
Narrator: Tiger's son, Richard Ihetu junior, remembers that difficult time...
Richard Ihetu junior: He (didn't) speak much, epecially to us children, about the war. Most fathers don't tell their children serious things, you know, they just allow the thing to flow. War was a very serious business and a father wouldn't like to tell his children (about) the war although we experienced some before we left.
Narrator: Tiger tried to protect his family from what was happening. He smuggled them out of Nigeria. They settled first in Portugal and then in the United States. Tiger's American sparring partner, Ron Lipton, remembers the effect the civil war had on the man he knew.
Ron Lipton: You know he had a heavy load to carry with what was going on in Nigeria and how passionately he felt about it. And his one tremendous asset was his focus so I'm sure that from what I saw, he didn't allow these terrible thoughts and pressures to affect his focus in the spartan atmosphere that we lived in and trained in New York City. But the sad part is it weighed heavily upon him. I know he loved his wife Abigail very much and his family. When the war went badly, I think that it affected him very deeply.
Narrator: The impact of Biafra on his boxing career soon became obvious. Tiger lost his title against the reigning world welterweight champion, Emile Griffith. Once again, it was a controversial decision. 17 of the 22 ringside reporters gave the fight to Tiger. Most felt his time was up, but not Dick Tiger. Instead of retiring, he decided to move up in weight. In December 1966, he successfully challenged the highflying Jose Torres for the world light heavyweight title. Torres was a slick, hard hitting Puerto Rican with just one loss in forty-one fights. He was even tipped as a possible opponent for Muhammad Ali. Torres was nine centimetres taller than Tiger, four kilograms heavier and seven years younger. No one gave Tiger a chance including Torres himself.
Jose Torres: I remember that he was a tough fight. In the first and second round, I understood that Tiger was a very smart fighter and I began to try to match him with my head; trying to think more deeper because I knew that he was a smart fighter. And it was a close fight, but when they gave him the decision, I did not complain. (Laughs.) What makes the difference between winning and losing is in the brain. Not in the fist, and Dick Tiger was a proof of that.
Narrator: Six months later, they fought a return. This time Tiger won an even closer bout that ended in a riot...
Commentator (archival): (Loud noises of disturbance in the background) And supporters of Jose Torres are throwing bottles into the arena. They're smashing all over the place. They're hitting people. People are holding their chairs above them to protect themselves from falling bottles that are crashing down from about fifty feet up in the air.
Narrator: Once the trouble died down, Tiger reflected on his win over Torres...
Dick Tiger (archival): I think from the beginning of the fight, he was fighting my fight. This time, instead of him standing up, he was low, because he knew last time I fought him, I was punching him down but I still got him downstairs.
Commentator (archival): Did you think that he made any basic mistakes as far as the fight was concerned?
Dick Tiger (archival): Sometimes, not always. Sometimes he made a mistake and sometimes myself, I made a mistake.
Commentator (archival): What did you think of the reaction in the audience; the sort of tremendous applause that he had and then at the end of the fight, the throwing bottles.
Dick Tiger (archival): This is not new. It's not knew to me and it's not new to Madison Square Garden; it's happened before.
Commentator (archival): Would this happen in Nigeria?
Dick Tiger (archival): No
Commentator (archival): Any plans as to who you'll be fighting next?
Dick Tiger (archival): My plan now is just to go back to Nigeria and leave all the plans to my manager.
Commentator (archival): How long would you like it to be before you have another fight?
Dick Tiger (archival): I've no other job, tomorrow, I'm ready. (Laughs)
Narrator: But Tiger was not ready for what was to come next. Eighteen months later when he was nearing forty, the ageing boxer agreed to defend his title against America's Bob Foster. Foster is known as the hardest hitting light heavyweight in boxing history.
Ring announcer (archival): Introducing from Washington D.C., the challenger Bob Foster. His opponent, from Biafra wearing blue trunks, he weighs one-sixty eight, the light heavyweight king, Dick Tiger.
Narrator: In round four, Foster struck with his left hook and for the first and only time in his career, Tiger took the full count. Despite this crushing defeat, Tiger pressed on. He went on to beat several top boxers. Finally, aged 41, he retired. To keep busy, he now took a job as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York. One day at work, Tiger felt an intense spasm of pain on the right side of his abdomen. He was rushed to hospital where he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. By this time, Biafra had lost its bid to become a separate state. With the war over, Dick was given permission to return home. It was the first time he'd set foot in Nigeria in three years. His son, Richard Ihetu was then twelve years old. Dick junior still has vivid memories of those last months with his beloved father.
Richard Ihetu junior: It was very shocking. It took us some time before we got used to being alone by ourselves. The man was very protective of us, he took care of us, (then) all of a sudden BAM! From nowhere the man is dead. You know that it affects a child. I miss his fatherly touch, his fatherly advice. At times we miss his voice, you know like shouting ''Hey! What are you doing!'' You know, something like that. If you had a dad that died young, at a very early age, you are on your own. You have to start moving. I still believe that if the man was alive, that maybe I could have gone further than this. Yes, we really missed him.
Narrator: Dick Tiger quickly faded from view. His controversial involvement in the Biafran campaign, a devisive period in Nigeria's past, meant that Dick Tiger was airbrushed out of his country's history. Ade Makinde again...
Adeyinka Makinde: When his career ends, that's when we begin to see the beginnings of the obfuscation and the marginalisation of Dick Tiger in Nigerian memory. They don't send anybody at the time of his demise; to his funeral, no honours are bestowed upon him posthumously. So no question about it, it had a big effect during his career and after his career.
Narrator: Thirty-five years have now passed since Dick Tiger's death. Forty years since his greatest triumph. But the last decade has seen Tiger's fortunes rise again. He was the first African boxer to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. His greatest fights have recently being shown on international television networks. Biographer Ade Makinde says it is high time that this boxer gets the prominent place in African history that he deserves.
Adeyinka Makinde: Dick Tiger was modest, hardworking, he was a gentleman, but ultimately a supreme athlete, and that kind of fighter, I think, needs to be remembered.
Narrator: Such glowing praise is fitting says Richard Ihetu, Dick Tiger's first born son.
Richard Ihetu junior: He's the best. That's it. They can't take it away from him. Nobody can. He's the best that ever came out from this continent.
Narrator: I'm Gavin Evans. You've been listening to African Perspective from the BBC World Service.
Last edited by Adeyinka; 08-05-2006 at 09:14 PM.
Ade's book, entitled Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal was published last year to instant acclaim. The book has received excellent reviews from boxing trade magazines around the world. The review in 'The Ring' magazine, which is known as the 'Bible of Boxing,' commended Ade for his "exhaustive research." This was reiterated by the English weekly 'Boxing News' which described the level of his research as "impressive" and the book as been an "inspiring read." Part of the review in the premier Italian boxing website, MondoBoxe.com simply referred to the book as "una straordinaria biografia." The book has also been favourably reviewed in an Australian magazine known as 'The Fist.'
Dick Tiger was a Nigerian world boxing champion at two weight divisions in the 1960s who tragically died in 1971. He was for many years a popular attraction at New York City's Madison Square Garden. He was a national hero in his native country but his later years were somewhat clouded by his involvement in the secessionist movement of Biafra which tried to break away from Nigeria. A major part of Ade's aim in writing this book was to restore Dick Tiger's reputation in his native Nigeria, as well as to provide a fitting remembrance for a great boxer.
Adeyinka Makinde is a Nigerian-born and British based writer. He trained as a barrister-at-law and works as a law lecturer in England. He writes about boxing for a number of internet sites such as the highly esteemed cyberboxingzone.com, and eastsideboxing.com. His writings have appeared in African Renaissance, a quarterly published socio-political journal ,and Black Star News, a New York based investigative weekly. He grew up in both England and Nigeria and developed a great interest in boxing and writing.
Ade is interviewed by Global Talk Radio's Kevin Dawson.
You can listen to it on-demand 24/7 at
http://www.GlobalTalkRadio.com/shows/astorytotell. It will also play on Global Talk Radio's Listen Live stream Monday, 21st August, at 11am EDT / 8am PDT / 4pm London.
The direct url for the media player is:
Last edited by Adeyinka; 08-17-2006 at 09:38 AM.
Adeyinka Makinde, author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal, interviewed by Kevin Dawson on GlobalTalkRadio.com. August 2006
Kevin Dawson: Hello and thanks for tuning in to another edition of 'A Story to Tell' here at GlobalTalkRadio.com. We've got a great show ahead for you today. If you're a boxing fan, or well actually, if you're a sports fan at all, you're going to enjoy today's exclusive interview with Ade Makinde. He's the author of Dick Tiger - The Life and times of a Boxing Immortal. We're going to find out all about one of boxing finest legends when we come back in just a moment. Stay tuned.
Station and programme themes
Kevin Dawson: And welcome back to 'A Story to Tell' here at GlobalTalkRadio.com. Our next guest is Ade Makinde. He's the author of Dick Tiger - The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. Now he is Nigerian-born and a British based writer. He trained as a barrister-at-law and works as a law lecturer in England. He writes about boxing for a number of internet sites such as the highly esteemed cyberboxingzone.com, and eastsideboxing.com. His writings have appeared in African Renaissance, a quarterly published socio-political journal, and Black Star News, a New York based investigative weekly. He grew up in both England and Nigeria and developed a great interest in boxing and writing. Ade's book, Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal was published just last year and received instant acclaim. The book has received excellent reviews already from boxing trade magazines around the world. The review, for example, in 'The Ring' magazine, which is known as the 'Bible of Boxing,' commended Ade for his "exhaustive research." This was reiterated by the English weekly 'Boxing News,' which described the level of his research as both "impressive" and the book as been an "inspiring read." Well, let me give you a little bit of background. Dick Tiger was a Nigerian world boxing champion at two weight divisions in the 1960s, and then he tragically died at a young age in 1971. He was for many years a popular attraction at New York City's Madison Square Garden. He was a national hero in his native country, but his later years were somewhat clouded by his involvement in the secessionist movement of Biafra which tried to break away from Nigeria. A major part of Ade's aim in writing this book was to restore Dick Tiger's reputation in his native Nigeria, as well as to provide a fitting remembrance for a great boxer. Well, let's get right to it. Ade, welcome to the programme.
Adeyinka Makinde: Thank you very much Kevin. Glad to be on your show.
Kevin Dawson: It is wonderful to have you with us and you are actually calling us all the way from England.
Adeyinka Makinde: That's right. London, England.
Kevin Dawson: London, England; that's an honour right there! Now it's evening time there, and morning time here so isn't it amazing what technology can do for us.
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh, absolutely, wonders will never cease.
Kevin Dawson: (Laughs). Well, let's jump right in. Give us a little bit of background on yourself first. Now you were born in Nigeria, is that right?
Adeyinka Makinde: Yes hat's right, my father (was) Nigerian; my mother (is) from the Caribbean and I've lived and been educated in both Nigeria and the United Kingdom. As you mentioned in the introduction, I turned to the law, became a barrister and mainly function as a law lecturer these days. But I've also got into writing; developed an interest in writing mainly in the field of boxing although I don't intend it to be delimited just to boxing.
Kevin Dawson: Is boxing a premier sport in Nigeria?
Adeyinka Makinde: It used to be; I don't think it is these days. If you ask me what is the premier sport, I would say it always has been, and even to a greater extent in today's world, it's football; what you call soccer over there.
Kevin Dawson: Right. What interested you? I'm gathering that even as a child you were interested in boxing.
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh yes, oh yes. Even as a child, and as I said living both England and Nigeria, I remember as a youngster, an eight year old, in Nigeria hearing about the 'Rumble in the Jungle' between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, and all the great fights between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. I got the boxing magazines and although I didn't see his fights, I was quite aware of Roberto Duran; 'Hands of Stone.' And I was pretty much interested in Nigerian boxers of the time. They had a few international bouts that were staged in Nigeria. I remember they had a local hero, his name was Dele Jonathan and he beat a Scottish fighter called Jim Watt for the Commonwealth title in 1976. So I would say I've always been a boxing fan for all of my life. It just developed in the sense that when I got older, I could afford to buy books on boxing, so I developed an interest in the figures in boxing history like Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Kevin Dawson: Well I suppose it's only natural then that you would develop an interest in your native Dick Tiger. But what led you to actually write a book about him?
Adeyinka Makinde: Well, I was fascinated about Dick Tiger because I'd always known of his name, but didn't know very much about him. One thing that sparked my interest was later on in the mid-1980s, I saw this picture of him; a colour picture of him in a Nigerian newsmagazine, and it had Dick Tiger there posing in a military uniform of a rebel republic named Biafra, which tried to break away from Nigeria in the 1960s. And I noted how much his accomplishments were; you know he was a two-time world champion at the middleweight division and he was once the light heavyweight champion. And for some reason I felt, how come I don't know much more about this guy? And I think that picture told a story as to why I didn't know about him as much as I felt I and others needed to know. I think from that moment I was determined that at some point I would like to collect as much information about this man, and then later on it developed into the idea of actually writing a book about him.
Kevin Dawson: And here we are today. So, if I may, let me get some more information for our listeners about Dick Tiger from you. Let's start early on in his life. Can you tell us a little about where he came from? Now he was Nigerian-born and what was his life like and how did he get started in boxing? I understand he actually put the gloves on as a teenager.
Adeyinka Makinde: That's right. He was born in the Eastern Region of what was then the protectorate of Nigeria in 1929; the British protectorate, Nigeria was a British colony and boxing like (other) sports were brought to Nigeria through missionaries, through the military, through the education system. He grew up in a rural environment at first, which involved tilling the field and growing food crops; it was virtually a subsistence kind of living. Then his father died earlier on in his life when he was barely a teenager, he was still an adolescent, and he and his elder brothers were fostered out to uncles by his widowed mother and that's when he went to the city known as Aba in Nigeria, in the Eastern Region. He did work as a delivery boy, taking goods and letters to the different businesses in the area. He travelled by pushing a cart. He also developed some business instincts with his older brothers, they would go on shopping expeditions to a Delta town known as Ogoni (where) they would buy animals like parrots, cats and they would train them and sell them in their local market. It was while he was engaged in all of this that he also developed a reputation as a street fighter and that sort of led him into boxing. His first love was football but it was boxing that captured his imagination. It was very popular in Nigeria and all the newspapers were (running stories) about these great fighters like Joe Louis, Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson. And I think that opportunity -you had a coalescing of these particular matters. He had a very strong, robustly developed body, and that sort of allied to his tenacity and his aggression. And the overall interest that the community was showing in boxing, I think that's what basically led him into that field.
Kevin Dawson: Did he become a successful prize-fighter at the beginning, or did it take sometime for him to get there?
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh no, it took quite a lot of time for him to get there. He started off really as a very crude fighter. He lacked a lot of finesse and he sort of made up with his tenacity and determination. He had many, many setbacks. Even in Nigeria, at no point was he actually officially recognised as the champion in his weight division. Contrary to a record which was disseminated continuously until I published my book, it was said that he won the Nigerian middleweight championship from a man called Tommy West, but that wasn't true at all. He met Tommy West three times, and Tommy West defeated him on all three occasions. But somehow, he managed to build a reputation, and the same thing in England, he encountered many difficulties there, and also when he went to America and he always managed to overcome.
Kevin Dawson: What do you think it might be about his past, or about himself that I guess kept him so resilient about those challenges and led him to be successful?
Adeyinka Makinde: Well, I think those assets of resourcefulness and determination were products of the culture he came from. Among the Igbo people, the ethnic group he was born into, they prized the development of self. When the era of colonisation came through the British, they went hook, line and sinker for getting an education and becoming business people. They're very business minded people and he would have been influenced greatly by that pervading atmosphere of bettering one's self, of this optimism of expanding one's horizons. For instance, you would find these so-called chapbooks which were these little pamphlets which instructed people on how to get rich, and how to become a success in life. They were really based on these traditional modes mixed up with entrepreneurial and Christian ethic of if you retained a sober life and you allied that to determination and resilience, you would achieve a lot in life, no matter what the obstacles are. I think that mentality was his anchor throughout his life. So later on, when you had his career going not in the right direction with poor decisions, champions not wanting to fight him, other fighters avoiding him, I think that played a large part in ensuring that he did not unravel and that he kept his focus on his eventual goals intact.
Kevin Dawson: Now you mentioned that later he did move to England and he had a career there, and I believe that he was one of many fighters from West Africa who emigrated there. Were there any factors that caused so many of them to emigrate to England?
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh yes. The post-war period, that is (after) World War Two was a time for reconstruction in Britain. They passed an Act of Parliament, the British Nationality Act of 1948, which gave rights of residency to colonial subjects. So they were encouraged to come over to Britain and settle here to aid in the reconstruction of the war ravaged British economy. You had these expeditions they would undertake to the Caribbean to encourage people from the Caribbean to come and work in the hotel industry, in the National Health Service which had been newly instituted, and in transport. So it was under those circumstances; the ease of travel amongst other things that made these fighters, and eventually Dick Tiger, come over, and the place he went to was Liverpool which is a port city. It had a pre-existing black population since Elizabethan times. From the boxing perspective, there was a 'golden age' in boxing just after the world war, from about 1945 to 1951, and after that, the boxing industry went into recession because they had what was termed the 'entertainment tax law' which doubled the amount of taxes on outdoor sporting events, and it led to the recession in the boxing industry and so West African fighters were able to come over here and keep the game alive because they were accepting purses which were much smaller than other boxers would usually accept.
Kevin Dawson: And how did they fare in the ring alongside the other boxers?
Adeyinka Makinde: As I just mentioned, they came over here and a lot of them fared fairly okay. They could earn a living, but with the supervening circumstances of the boxing recession, a lot of them were compelled to hold down day jobs as well as being prizefighters, and a lot of them, their careers were not strategically developed as an indigenous white fighter's career -with talent that is- would have been developed. So it was tough going on the one hand, but on the other hand they were to a great measure accepted; not just the big ones like Hogan Bassey, who became Nigeria's first world champion, and later Dick Tiger, but even the run-of-the-mill, average fighters, they became very, very popular attractions at these sporting halls were they staged boxing matches all over England.
Kevin Dawson: This is a very fascinating story. Interesting piece of history that I'm just learning about here for the first time today so I'm looking forward to speaking to you more, and we're going to take a short break, but when we come back I want to ask you more about Dick Tiger's career in England, and then what he did later in his life, so we're going to take a short break and we'll be right back.
Station and programme themes
Kevin Dawson: And welcome back to 'A Story to Tell' here on GlobalTalkRadio.com. We are in the midst of an exclusive interview with Ade Makinde. He is the author of Dick Tiger -The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal. Well, Ade, we were talking about Dick Tiger's career in England before the break. Tell us now after he got established there, how did his career progress?
Adeyinka Makinde: Before he got established it was quite a lot that had gone on. The first thing to mention is that it was quite a culture shock. Of course, Nigerians would have been aware of British traditions being a British colony, but when they got over there, they had to deal with the climate, and particularly in the northern part of England, Liverpool was pretty damp, dreary and rainy -and cold. He never got used to that cold weather. Even when he later became a star in America, people would notice him in what were apparently summer months in his coat and hat. There was also the issue of food. They couldn't get accustomed to the food and he had problems adjusting to the food, so it was perhaps no surprise that he lost a number of his first bouts, in fact he lost his first four bouts in Liverpool and he was in danger of losing his license. So it was not the most auspicious of starts to his (English) career, but he remained resilient. It wasn't just the culture shock of everyday life but also adapting to British standards of boxing. He had to make adjustments to his fighting style. As I mentioned earlier on in Nigeria he was considered a crude fighter and he re-attuned his strengths and he was soon on the right path. There was one other large obstacle that he faced which was that his manager, a man by the name of Peter Banasko; he had been managing Hogan 'Kid' Bassey who at the time was not yet, but he was well on the way to becoming a world champion and Hogan Bassey left this gentleman Banasko, who was also Tiger's manager, and Banasko never got over that. In his disappointment he dropped a number of his fighters including Dick Tiger, and Dick Tiger on hearing the news burst into tears. But he collected himself, he got a new manager and he got a breakthrough fight against a gentleman by the name of Terry Downes who he beat handily, and from then on he progressed and eventually won what was then termed the British Empire title, now known as the Commonwealth title at the middleweight division. He beat a gentleman by the name of Patrick McAteer. And so at that point in 1958, when he won that title, he essentially became established.
Kevin Dawson: So that had actually been pretty much an uphill struggle for many years...
Adeyinka Makinde: Absolutely.
Kevin Dawson: And then it was only a year later, I'm guessing in 1959 he would have been about 30 years old when he relocated to America. Tell us about that. Why did he move?
Adeyinka Makinde: Well, America is the citadel of boxing. You know that's where the money is. That's where the titles are. That's where boxers had to go to, and to a large measure even today, still have to go to prove their mettle. And I think Dick Tiger knew that he had gone as far as he could in England. He knew that if he wanted to be recognised as a good fighter, to win titles, and the prestige that comes with it, he had to journey across the Atlantic Ocean to America. He'd seen the precedent of his fellow Nigerian, Hogan Bassey who won the world featherweight championship in 1957. That was in Paris, but Bassey did relocate to America, and he came under the braintrust of a guy called Wilfred 'Jersey' Jones; a perennial figure in boxing circles for many decades in New York, and he was trained by a guy called Jimmy August, and there was a guy at Madison Square Garden known as Lew Burston; quite an impressario, he also handled Bassey's career, and Bassey convinced Dick Tiger that what they had done for him -that is for Bassey, they could also do for Dick Tiger. So it was for those reasons that he had to go over to America.
Kevin Dawson: Well how did things go for him, both as far as establishing himself as a professional boxer in America, and was he well received in general by the public?
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh absolutely. Again, he didn't have the most auspicious of starts; of debuts. He had a draw in his first fight, and he also lost the return bout. Both were pretty controversial. But he (did) quickly establish himself as being a very formidable opponent, and we have to remember that this was the 'TV age' in boxing, by that I mean boxing received quite a lot of coverage on the American TV networks like hadn't been the case before -of course TV was a new medium, and has not been the same since. You had television fights beamed into your living room if you were American several days of the week throughout the 1950s. By the time Dick Tiger arrived in 1959, CBS and ABC were no longer running fights and there was a company called DuMont that went out of business, but NBC had the 'Friday Night at the Fights' programme and Dick Tiger became a regular...
Kevin Dawson: So he was becoming like a household name then...
Adeyinka Makinde: Absolutely. That's what really made him to be a household name. Of course there was his fighting style: he had a strong resilience, he had a strong 'chin,' he had a very good defence about him. He was attack-minded, and he had this simple but effective style of combating his opponents which alot of the audiences could connect to. So he was extremely well received in America. That was the beginning of his legend among American fight aficionados.
Kevin Dawson: Two, three years later, he won his first world title. Can you tell us about that?
Adeyinka Makinde: That's right. He won that title, again through a lot of persistence. The champions of the day, there was a guy called Paul Pender and Gene Fullmer, they were the two middleweight champions. That didn't happen alot in those days; this fragmentation of world titles, but it did at that particular moment in time. Both Pender and Fullmer basically avoided him, and so Dick Tiger had to beat all the top contenders. This was an amazing time in boxing history; the formidability of these contenders with names like Henry Hank, Florentino Fernandez, Billy Pickett, Gene 'Ace' Armstrong. He beat them all. He had to go through literally all the contenders to get that title shot. So when the stage was set to face Fullmer for the world title in San Francisco, this was supposed to be the denouement of his life's ambition. But even the build up presented a few obstacles here and there. The date of the fight was delayed I think at least on three occasions. The climate was going haywire in California at the time (with) mudslides, landslides, a few deaths here and there. You had the (Baseball) World Series that was going on at Candlestick Park and they forgot to give a bit of a respite in time so that you could have the Tiger-Fullmer fight to be staged there. And even on the eve of the bout, you had the Cuban missile crises when President Kennedy went on American television, and most people felt that armageddon was around the corner. So all of these things were happening in the background and he just managed to keep his focus and after 15 rounds, he beat Gene Fullmer who was a very tough contender; Mormon from Utah, he was known as the 'Utah Bully,' but Tiger proved himself to be the stronger man physically, as well as the better boxer. And he won that in October 1962.
Kevin Dawson: And that was just the beginning, he went on to win several additional world titles...
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh absolutely. He regained the title some years later, at the middleweight division, and then he went up in weight to the light heavyweight division. Those were very significant wins I must say because when he regained the middleweight title having been messed around for almost two years by Joey Giardello who had won it from him on points, when he won that title, he became at the time the oldest world champion -he was thirty-six years of age at the time, and in addition to that, at that time in history when it was very difficult to win these undisputed titles because it was one title, it was only three people before him, legends like Tony Zale, Stanley Ketchel and Sugar Ray Robinson who had been able to regain the middleweight title. Again, when he won the light heavyweight title from Jose Torres, the Puerto Rican fighter in 1966, again his age was impressive in the sense that Torres outweighed him, had a longer reach but yet, Dick Tiger overcame. He was only the second fighter in history at that time to do it other than Bob Fitzsimmons from earlier on in the 20th Century. So his further achievements in winning world titles were no mean feats.
Kevin Dawson: As he was making boxing history here in the United States, how was he being viewed back home in Nigeria?
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh well he was viewed as a hero, I mean he was the torchbearer leading the light not just in regard to sporting endeavours but in relation to other fields as well. You have to remember that Nigeria had become independent. This was the era of the great wave of independence (of) the British and French colonies in Africa and it was all about building the nation, and about proving the mettle of Africans who'd been subjugated or colonised by Europeans, so he got lauded by politicians. Prior to his third fight with Gene Fullmer, which was the first (world championship) fight to be held in what would be termed 'Black Africa,' at that time -this was eleven years before 'The Rumble in the Jungle,' Foreman and Ali, that was a spectacle of immense implications, because the Nigerian government sponsored that fight. The Federal government and the regional governments put the resources to have that bout take place. It was something in which when he retained his title, you had the (Prime Minister) of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, who is an illustrious figure in African history as the purveyor of Pan-Africanism, he sent Dick Tiger congratulatory messages after he defeated Gene Fullmer. So he was viewed as nothing less than a hero in his nativeland.
Kevin Dawson: Now how about Dick Tiger as a private person. Did he have a family? Was he a family man?
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh very much so, indeed he had a grand total of eight children.
Kevin Dawson: Oh you're kidding...
Adeyinka Makinde: By one wife, I may add...
Kevin Dawson: And very busy nonetheless...
Adeyinka Makinde: Nonetheless, yes. He came from those cultural underpinnings which stressed a lot of family values. At first he lived with his wife and the first set of children in New York. That was when he came in 1959 and for two or three years afterwards but then he sent them back to Nigeria. In the mean time, virtually all his fights were in America, so he had to go over to train in New York and be away for quite a lot of time because if you think about the preparation being about six weeks to a fight, he might spend three months in America and the build up to one fight if he fought three times in a year, that would be nine months away. Nevertheless, he did manage to cultivate his family life and being a man of the community in his country. He was obviously quite devoted to his wife, took care of his children, and not just his children, his extended family paying for their school fees and sending them to university and in his local area putting money towards building a school and local post office -that sort of thing. So he was a family orientated, community orientated person.
Kevin Dawson: Now your book I believe explains that he was also something of an entrepreneur. Was he creative with how he invested the money from the purse strings?
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh yes. In Nigeria, the group he comes from, the Igbo people, they were known as the 'Jews of Africa' and that was a particularly pronounced issue when the civil war started and they were seen as a persecuted people. They are renowned for their entrepreneurial endeavours. As I mentioned earlier on, as a youngster, he and his brothers were trading people, and so when he started earning these large sums of money, he invested a lot in properties. So he built houses and he bought one or two blocks which housed large governmental institutions in the (then) capital city Lagos. And so, absolutely, he was an entrepreneur to the core. He had being before he became a boxer.
Kevin Dawson: We have to take another break, but when we come back, I want to hear more about the latter part of Dick Tiger's career, and also he got involved politically in what was going on in Nigeria. We're going to take a quick break and then we'll be back with Ade Makinde in just a moment.
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Kevin Dawson: And welcome back to 'A Story to Tell' here at GlobalTalkRadio.com. We are speaking today with Ade Makinde. He is the author of Dick Tiger -The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal, and we've been having a wonderful chat. I've been learning so much about Dick Tiger both as a person, and as a world famous boxer. Something Ade you had brought up to me before the interview, I guess Madison Square Garden plays an important role because he fought a lot of his bouts there. What was the connection between this venue and boxing, and what was significant about his appearances there?
Adeyinka Makinde: Madison Square Garden from probably the 1930s to the 1960s was the premier boxing venue in America. You know it had associations with Tex Rickard, who was a promoter extraordinaire; aficionados remember his involvement with the fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jefferies, and a number of Jack Dempsey's fights. And in the 1930s you had the illustrious reign of Joe Louis; he fought a number of his important bouts at the Garden, and also Henry (Armstrong), the first man to hold three world titles at the same time. And then through the 1950s particularly with the age of 'TV boxing', you had lots of fights from there with figures like Kid Gavilan and Johnny Saxton, and Carmen Basilio and Sugar Ray Robinson. So in those days the Garden was the place for boxing short and simple. It was particularly significant that he fought there because it basically underlined the fact that he had 'made it.' The fact that he was a headliner at the time when a lot of it was beamed into homes from these TV series,' and even afterwards, in the 1960s, when they stopped live TV coverage for the most part after the tragedy with Emile Griffith and Benny 'Kid' Paret, he was still a headliner there because they knew he was guaranteed to bring people into the Garden (including) those who had been left in their armchairs during the era of television saturation. So it is a particularly interesting focal point of his career that he was linked with this most illustrious of venues.
Kevin Dawson: In your opinion, were there any opponents that stood out to you as giving him or, giving us especially memorable bouts at the Garden?
Adeyinka Makinde: Oh absolutely. I think what stands out; one bout was a fight he had with Henry Hank . As I said, this was a time of the most formidable of middleweights in boxing history, so there was no easy fight at all. That was a ten round fight which Tiger actually, from the scorecards you would imagine he won a lopsided decision, but it was actually a closely fought bout. These guys knew their trade. They knew how to block punches, they knew how to slip them, they knew how to throw left hooks, they had endurance and that is a pretty exciting bout for the discerning aficionado. Another fight from (1965) he had with Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter whose obviously well known outside of boxing because of the murder convictions that he received in New Jersey and then later on he got out of jail. Carter was a fearsome opponent and Dick Tiger handled him very well. He knocked Carter down three times and totally put Carter in the shade. Carter actually said after the bout that it was the worst beating he had received "inside or outside the ring." And then if I could mention one more fight, it was the fight Tiger had in the twilight of his career in 1968 against a light heavyweight Italian-American, Frankie DePaula and both men were on the canvas on two occasions, and Dick Tiger was particularly hurt with the first knockdown, but somehow within him, he dug deep into his resources and he came back and again beat an opponent who was much younger than him, who was heavier than him and won a ten round decision. I think Ring magazine made that their fight of the year for 1968. So those were his great moments at the Garden.
Kevin Dawson: Yes, those sound like very exciting moments for anyone interested in boxing. Now let's talk about Biafra. Your book details his efforts on behalf of the cause of that state. That state I believe wanted to secede from Nigeria. Can you give the listeners a background into the troubles of Nigeria, and Biafra in particular and how did Dick Tiger get embroiled in them?
Adeyinka Makinde: Nigeria is a conglomerate state, in otherwords, it's an artificially constituted state put together by colonial powers. Those of us reminded of our history know about the Berlin Conference when Africa was divided up and it paid no heed to religious and ethnic differences and that created the basis for a lot of the troubles which still resonate today. Dick Tiger's people, the Igbo people were largely Christian and fairly progressive in terms of education, that was in contrast to the northern part of Nigeria which was largely Islamic influenced and almost feudal in its social situation. And so in 1966, you had a concatenation of violence. You had two military mutinies, you had pogroms visited upon the Igbo people because it was felt that their military leaders had tried to supplant the Nigerian government and establish some measure of Igbo hegemony over the rest of Nigeria. And so as a result of the pogroms and the murders that happened in the military, the surviving Biafran military figures and the political elite there decided to secede from Nigeria; they wanted to go alone. Their region was also blessed with oil resources and they felt they would make a good go out of it. The rest of Nigeria did not want that to happen. And so you had the Nigerian Civil War which was fought between 1967 (and) 1970. Dick Tiger had worn the mantle of the 'Nigerian hero' for many years, was nevertheless at the heart of the matter from the Igbo ethnic group and there were people who warned him not to get involved in the way he did get involved, but he made an announcement that he wanted to side with Biafra and that he wanted to represent the new nation of Biafra. So it was on that basic level that he felt that his people had been slaughtered and they'd been chased out of the federation and he felt that he had no choice but to give his weight and prestige to the new republic.
Kevin Dawson: Did he have an effect on the political situation there?
Adeyinka Makinde: It was a bit of a blow for Nigeria to have this torchbearer of Nigeria all of a sudden begin to castigate Nigeria; to play this new (Biafran) national anthem at his fights at Madison Square Garden, to distribute leaflets to the Garden crowds alleging war crimes and atrocities by the Nigerian military. He would give interviews to the New York Times, Time magazine and Newsweek magazine. He joined the Biafran military as a member of the morale corps. It made him an enemy of the Nigerian state and that would have consequences which I suppose exist even to this day.
Kevin Dawson: Well tell us about the twilight years of Dick Tiger's career here in the United States. How did it end? Did it end on a high note, or like many boxing careers did it seem to end long after the boxer had already reached his peak?
Adeyinka Makinde: Boxing is replete with athletes who continue well in advance of what their bodies should be capable of sustaining. In Dick Tiger's case, I would say it was on a high because he was able to win world titles. I mean the one he won in 1966 from Jose Torres at light heavyweight, he was thirty-seven, so even though he was (boxing) at an advanced age, because he had started at a late stage in his life, because he didn't abuse himself, he was dedicated to his craft and he lived a clean life, I think he managed to prolong his career rather successfully. He lost devastatingly to Bob Foster in 1968. He lost his title. Bob Foster was the hardest hitting light heavyweight of all time no disgrace as such, and he did beat top contenders until he lost his final bout in 1970 to Emile Griffith, and I think that it was at that Griffith fight that you finally saw that he had aged and really no longer belonged in a boxing ring. So to an extent, to a little extent, he probably fought more bouts than he absolutely needed to fight, on the other hand when the fights were no longer coming his way, he took a job as a security guard at a New York Museum and a lot of people have taken that to have been sort of representative of the downward spiralling of his fortunes but whilst he had expended a lot of his money and resources on the Biafran cause, he was by no means broke, but he wasn't a man with formal academic qualifications and he wanted to keep busy. He had a family, I think he kept them at a secret location in the Queens district of New York, and when he wasn't getting the fights, he wouldn't want to stay at home with this large family around, so he did it really just to keep busy. Nevertheless, there is a tinge of sadness about that because he couldn't go back to Nigeria at that time, where he could have developed his businesses without the Nigerian troubles. He could have been in a more prestigious environment. It was a bittersweet end to his career in that regard, and to his life.
Kevin Dawson: Well he actually died very shortly thereafter at a very early age for anyone. How did that happen?
Adeyinka Makinde: He was diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the liver, that was a terminal illness and that was told to him that he was going to die. How did he get it? I think he was infected with hepatitis B, he had a chronic infection. It might have also had something to do with the fact that he worked in a paint factory in Liverpool in the 1950s, and it could also have had a dietary element to it. I think there are parts of Africa and the Far East Asia; China and Japan where people, due their diet, may be susceptible to this sort of predicament.
Kevin Dawson: Was this unexpected for him?
Adeyinka Makinde: Most definitely; it just came right out of the blue. It was a culmination of a few bad happenings. His career had ground to a halt and the Biafran secessionist cause was eventually defeated in 1970. That was something he'd put his whole heart and soul into and so it just came like a bolt of lightening. When he did get the news, although in Nigeria, the military leader had brought upon this theme of 'No victor, no vanquished', and a reabsorption of the old rebels into Nigeria; and that was largely successful, nevertheless people like Dick Tiger who had played a prominent role on the outside; trying to make the cause succeed, I think in no uncertain terms he knew that he wasn't welcome in Nigeria. nevertheless, he decided it was time to go back home. He was rather suspicious about it and there's an interesting tale about him getting Larry Merchant who a number of people might recognise as being a prominent boxing telecaster on HBO; he got Larry Merchant, then a journalist for the New York Post to bear witness that the Nigerian government would not harm him if he returned to Nigeria. He was satisfied with that and he went back unmolested, and he lived for six more months before his life expired in December of 1971.
Kevin Dawson: Well we're almost out of time but let me ask you, thirty-five years past his death, what is his legacy, both among boxing fans and among Nigerian's?
Adeyinka Makinde: Well I think in Nigeria his great achievements have been forgotten. That's largely due to his involvement in the Biafran cause. Among boxing fans, he is well remembered in general. They remember him as a legend who brought many great moments and set many records in the sport. And indeed, he was elected in 1991 to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota New York . So he's well remembered among boxing aficionados. The task now is that now this time has elapsed, that his memory is rehabilitated in the eyes of his countrymen who have suffered from a bit of amnesia which all goes back to the time when he was shunned at the time of his death; the military regime did not even send a note of condolence. So overall, I think his memory is on the up at the moment, and hopefully this book will play a large part in doing that.
Kevin Dawson: Well Ade what's next for you? Will you continue working to get the word out about Dick Tiger's legacy?
Adeyinka Makinde: Absolutely, I've been doing a number of radio interviews. I also did a documentary recently; a radio documentary with the BBC World Service, and so my next goal will be to get a film documentary commissioned on Dick Tiger.
Kevin Dawson: Well that would be wonderful. I hope that goes well. I hope you get that.
Adeyinka Makinde: Thank you very much. And let's hope even beyond that we can even do a film because I think it has all the elements of a great story: determination, overcoming obstacles in your life and remaining true to yourself; being principled. I mean, I think if you remove the facet of him being a boxer, these issues can be related to any work of life and I think it could be a story that could transcend him merely been merely been the life story of a boxer.
Kevin Dawson: I totally agree. Ade, I have so enjoyed our chat today. I really appreciate you taking the time to visit with us, tell us about the story and I think again that this is something that a lot of us could have interest in perhaps more than just boxing fans anyone like you said who likes to see someone overcome struggles, obstacles and succeed to their fullest potential. Can you tell us where we can find you on the internet?
Adeyinka Makinde: You could do a search for me. Do a search for the name Dick Tiger and you'll have my webpages come up. It's not a straightforward 'Dick Tiger dot com' thing. Do a search for Dick Tiger and you can buy the book at amazon.com, or you can find and read more about him in my articles which have appeared on the internet. So 'google' it; and you'll find him.
Kevin Dawson: Thank you. We've been speaking to Ade Makinde. He's the author of Dick Tiger -The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal, and Ade thanks a lot for being part of our programme.
Adeyinka Makinde: Thank you very much for having me Kevin.
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