From author's collection of Liverpool autographs

TIGER, Dick  (Richard Ihetu)   [1929-1971]

My eldest brother, Frank, worked at the Goodlass Wall paint factory and in the mid-1950’s he reported that the company had added one Richard Ihetu to its workforce. Recently arrived from his native Nigeria, Ihetu was following in the footsteps of his hero, Hogan Bassey, hoping to scale  the heights of the boxing world. Fighting under the name Dick Tiger, he was to do just that. However, his association with Goodlass Wall was brief as he found the noxious fumes at the plant were unhelpful to his athletic development.

He was one of a number of Nigerian boxers who made their home in Liverpool, and like Bassey he placed his future in the hands of Peter Banasko, an ex-boxer turned manager who had developed close ties with the Nigerian boxing fraternity.

Born on 14th August 1929 he was a natural all-round sportsman who settled on boxing as his main interest much against his mother’s wishes. It is said that the nickname ‘Tiger’ was conferred on him by British servicemen who saw him fight at the British Army barracks, reflecting his somewhat unorthodox, ‘wild’ style. He arrived in Liverpool in 1955 and his early days in the city were not particularly happy. He found it difficult to cope with the winter weather and so disliked the food on offer that he had to arrange for his brother to send him supplies of Nigerian fare. He felt that the weather and diet had a detrimental effect on his fitness which contributed to poor form in the boxing ring.

Having lost his first four fights he had to convince the boxing board that his licence should not be suspended. He managed his first victory with a 74 second knock-out against Dennis Rowley. A turning point in his career came about rather fortuitously when he secured a bout against the upcoming young star Terry Downes. Downes’ management were looking for an opponent who would not be too testing for him as they manoeuvred him towards a title fight and from his record to date Dick Tiger seemed to fit the bill perfectly. In fact he gave Downes a torrid time and won the fight on points. Such was Downes’ admiration for Tiger that when a newsman asked him who he wanted to fight next he replied “the bastard that suggested Dick Tiger!”.

Soon after he joined Liverpool promoter Tony Vairo and secured the British Empire Middleweight title. Moving to the USA he went from strength to strength securing the WBA world middleweight title in October 1962 when he defeated Gene Fullmer. He defended the title twice against Fullmer, one of the bouts being the first title fight to be staged in Africa.   He lost and regained the middleweight title a number of times before moving up to light-heavyweight in 1966 and winning the world title from Jose Torres.

In 1967 when the breakaway eastern region of Nigeria declared itself the Republic of Biafra Dick Tiger swore allegiance to the new country and donated most of his wealth to its cause. He was a very public champion of the cause, having the Biafran national anthem played before his fights and returning his MBE in protest at the British government’s support for Nigeria. He was banned from returning to Nigeria and fought his last fight, a defeat to Emile Griffith, on 15 July 1970. Left destitute by his support for Biafra he ended up working as a security guard at the New York National History Museum. Sadly in 1971 he was diagnosed with liver cancer and, having been allowed to return to Nigeria, died there on 14th December 1971.

67 Beaconsfield Street L8

Dick Tiger's Liverpool address in 1957.


The best source on Dick Tiger is the biography Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal (Adeyinka Makinde 2004). His daughter Justina published  a book about him in 2012 entitled In Africa's Honour. The Wikipedia entry gives full details of all his fights. There are plenty of clips from his fights available on YouTube.