Not many people will recognize the name Richard Ihetu but boxing aficionados will recall that Dick Tiger defeated world champion Gene Fullmer in a 1963 match in the first boxing championship match to be held in Africa. Ihetu and Tiger were the same person.
His daughter, Justina Ihetu, tells his story for the first time in a new book, In Africa’s Honor.
Set during the American Civil Rights Movement, Ihetu’s book captures the tone of Africa’s most populous nation three years after Nigeria celebrated its emancipation from colonial rule.
In Africa’s Honor chronicles the groundbreaking fight between Tiger and Fullmer while narrating specific details of Tiger’s life inside and outside of the boxing ring.
Tiger was generally recognized as one of the greatest African boxers. He twice won the world middleweight crown. He knocked down Rubin “Hurricane” Carter three times and secured a unanimous 10-round decision in that fight, besides taking a split decision against Fullmer.
Tiger, a member of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria, emigrated to Britain and then to the U.S. Besides being a top boxer, he was also involved in the movement to establish Biafra a breakaway country from Nigeria, for this he was banned from going back home.
He worked as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when he was diagnosed with liver cancer. He died in 1971 at age 42.
“I was inspired to document this piece of African history to thwart the endless, negative stereotype that Africa is devoid of any sense of stability, glory or honor,” Ihetu says in a publicity statement about her book. “I hope my father’s story can jump start a healthy conversation about African pride.”
Ihetu is a reading specialist who has worked in the New York school system for more than two decades. She also oversees the Dick Tiger Foundation Inc., a charitable organization that promotes Dick Tiger’s legacy.
The full name of the 181-page paperback book is In Africa’s Honor: Dick Tiger vs. Gene Fullmer III; A Blast from Nigeria’s Glorious Past. It sells for $15.95 and is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iUniverse.
Photo: Justina Ihetu