DICK TIGER: Photo Essay|
By PHILIP EMEAGWALI
I was two years old when Hogan "Kid" Bassey (born Okon Bassey Asuquo) became the first Nigerian to win a world boxing (featherweight) championship. Kid Bassey became a world champion in June 1957 by stopping the Algerian Cherif Hamia in the 10th-round. He immediately became a national sports hero. In 1958, my playmate Bassey (also from Calabar area) will engage in mock fights in which we each pretend to be Hogan Bassey. The "Kid" was born on June 3, 1932 in Calabar, Nigeria and passed away on January, 26, 1998.
But the greatest boxer Africa has produced is Dick Tiger, born
Richard Ihetu, in Amaigbo (Imo State, Nigeria). Tiger was my childhood hero, a true warrior.
In 1962, Dick Tiger won the world middle weight boxing
Tiger inspired lots of Nigerians to go into boxing. Even at the eight and while living in Uromi (mid-western Nigeria), I remember honing my boxing skills with my friends John Nnajide (from Awka) and Michael Ezeigbo.
In 1963, my family moved to Agbor (mid-western Nigeria) and I loved
to watch favourite local boxer, "Wonder Boy," practice with his trainees
at his backyard. The most memorable live boxing match I ever watched was in 1964 in Agbor
between Wonder Boy and local super man Kill Jo Ko a.k.a. "The Lion of Mid-West."
The match was declared a draw, although I thought Wonder Boy won.
Dick Tiger was an honorary Biafran army officer and tried to rally US support for Biafra. Fought until he was almost 50 years old, retired broke and became a security guard at a New York city museum.
I am also looking for photos and information on the following sports heroes that inspired me. Being a child of the 1960s (when garri was 12 cups a shilling), most of my sports heroes are from that era.
Where is Power Mike, our master wrestler? Where is Nduka (Duke) Odizor, giant killer, that pulled several upsets in Wimbledon tennis tournaments? Where is superman Killi-Wee Nwachukwu, the strongest man in Nigeria? Where is Albert Onyeanwuna? Where is the one and only "Thunder" Balogun? My childhood playmate told me that Thunder Balogun's shots were so powerful that it killed a goalkeeper. Is that tall tales?
Who in your opinion is the greatest goalkeeper Nigerian has ever produced? Emmanuel Okala or Inua Rigogo? Please share your information on my public bulletin board.
Dick Tiger flexes
Grimaces Dick Tiger Punches
PERSPECTIVE: DICK TIGER WAS A CHAMPION IN BOTH THE RING AND HIS AFRICAN HOMELAND (Sports Illustrated) At some stage of their lives, most American males idolize a sports figure. Boxing champions lend themselves particularly well to this form of worship. Fighters like James Corbett, Jack Dempsey, Benny Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali not only were heroes of their times but also put their unique, mythic stamps on very different generations of male American consciousness. I, too, got caught up in the aura and sweep of the great champions of my lifetime. But the one fighter I identified with -- my fighter, in other words -- was not in the same league with Leonard or Robinson or Louis or Ali. A knowledgeable boxing critic might rank him a cut above ''hell of a fighter.'' However, if you judged the entire man, boxer and human being, few could match Richard Ihetu, the African who fought under the nom de guerre Dick Tiger. As with many professional boxers, the last part of Dick Tiger's life was tragic. The difference in Tiger's case is that it wasn't boxing that took the heart out of him; it was the dream that he tried to support with the purses he earned after he had reclaimed the middleweight title and then won the light heavyweight championship. Years from now, when a bunch of guys in a bar are grumbling about a mismatch on TV and start talking about good, maybe great, light heavyweights, Dick Tiger will not be the name they settle on; it could be Archie Moore, Bob Foster or Philadelphia Jack O'Brien. But if they know their boxing, Tiger's name will at least be mentioned. Helped by a notation scrawled in a spiral notebook, I recall the day and hour I met Dick Tiger: ''Noon -- March 10.'' The year wasn't recorded, but it was 1965. Tiger was meeting the press that day in his dressing room at Madison Square Garden. It was two days before he would fight Rocky Rivero, a tough middleweight from Argentina known for his knockout punch. It didn't figure to be an easy evening for Tiger. He was 35, and 15 months earlier he had lost his middleweight championship in Atlantic City to Joey Giardello on what was conceded to have been, by everyone but Giardello people, a warped hometown decision. Only four or five reporters had shown up, and we waited outside the door to a 50th Street dressing room while the tap and slide of a jump rope sounded from inside. Chickie Ferrara, Tiger's able trainer, opened the door, and we filed in. I had seen Tiger a couple of times on TV; I remembered one appearance in particular, a vicious 15-round draw with Gene Fullmer. I would never have recognized Tiger in the flesh. He was the darkest man I had ever seen. But that doesn't entirely describe it: There was a dusky, deep plum color to his skin, and even where he glistened with perspiration there were gray patches that looked dry, very much like the skin of the fruit. I stared at the knotty, heavily muscled body. I was almost oblivious to the questions being asked and to his answers, but not quite. Our eyes met momentarily, and I self- consciously scribbled some words in my notebook that make only partial sense as I read them now: ''Giardello ducking me. Jersey isn't quitting.'' The reason for the intimate press conference quickly became apparent as Tiger gave only the briefest answers to questions about the match with Rivero. His special quality of voice and intelligence hit me when, in a clipped colonial British accent braided with a tribal African lilt, he said, ''The present champion refuses to meet me again. He has defended only one time in 15 months and again it was in his home city. I put it that this is not a courageous posture for a so-called champion.'' Courageous posture? My god, who was this man? ''Why,'' a reporter asked, ''did you agree to fight Giardello in Atlantic City, knowing that it was his backyard? Especially since you were the champ?'' ''To a certain extent, it was because of his problem in New York,'' said Tiger. The euphemistic ''problem'' was well understood. Giardello hadn't had a license to box in New York since 1957. It had been revoked because of what the athletic commission called his ''undesirable connections.'' Word was out that Giardello's management was mob controlled, or at least mob connected. ''But that is not the entire story,'' Tiger explained patiently. ''They offered me more money if I would fight him in Atlantic City. I do not wish to seem the mercenary, gentlemen, but this is my livelihood. I am not utterly disappointed -- with my purse I bought a beauty shop for my sister and a bookstore in Lagos. Yes, these are tribal scars.'' His last statement didn't make any sense. I didn't realize he was speaking directly to me. I had been staring at his chest. His thick finger moved over a band of thin, vertical scars, each about two inches long, that formed a horizontal stripe almost from armpit to armpit. ''Tribal scars,'' he repeated for my benefit. ''All Ibo boys receive them when they have proved their courage.'' I was surprised by his easy assumption that we would know what an Ibo was. I guessed correctly that it was the name of his tribe, his people. Much of the world would come to know that name soon enough -- shamefully and tragically. ''A bookstore?'' I asked. ''Why would you want to buy a bookstore?'' He flashed a smile that revealed a gold tooth. ''Because I like to read books. Har, har. Why else?'' Dick Tiger had not called his press conference to discuss books or book- stores. Instead, he continued to impress upon the other reporters his arguments about why he should get a rematch with Giardello and why it should be soon. His best and most practical point was that the only decent payday available for Giardello was to fight the true champion, Dick Tiger. If Giardello did not offer him a rematch, Tiger said that he would step up to fight light heavyweights. The winner of the Willie Pastrano-Jose Torres fight for that title in a few weeks would be a real possibility, said Tiger. He also vowed that once he stepped up in class, he would never come back down. And, thus, Giardello could kiss goodbye a profitable return match. When Tiger had finished his statement, a reporter asked, ''You own a fur coat?'' The fighter's brow furrowed, and he shook his head. The reporter went on, ''You should have one, because Giardello will give you another shot just about the day after hell freezes over.'' There were some perfunctory questions about Rivero; then someone asked if there was anything Tiger would like to say directly to Giardello. ''I respect any man who is a champion,'' Tiger said. ''Truly. I do not blame him as much as the people who are behind him. But now he must finally act like a champion and defend against the challenger who has the strongest claim.'' ''Isn't he just waiting until you're too old, until you lose your edge?'' ''He is as old as I!'' Tiger suddenly jumped into a ferocious boxing % position; his face contorted into a sneer, and a snarl rolled from a curled lip. He growled ominously, ''A Tiger never loses his hunger.'' And, just as suddenly, he transformed himself back into the affable, relaxed man who had charmed us. There was nothing left to say. I waited until the other reporters had left. Tiger asked me for whom I worked. ''I'm only a stringer for UPI. Actually, I'm an English teacher,'' I said. ''Have you read Animal Farm?'' ''Orwell?'' ''Of course, Orwell.'' We spent the afternoon together, talking a bit about Orwell but more about the implications of Animal Farm and the terrible pitfalls of revolutionary politics. He seemed to have a personal interest. He showered and dressed. His brown suit was on the shabby side, the jacket a shade lighter than the pants; his black shoes had gray scuffs. We walked briskly down Eighth Avenue. He was carrying a heavily twined package that he wanted to go out in the afternoon mail. It was destined for Aba, Nigeria. I couldn't believe that, less than an hour after I had met him, I was walking in Manhattan with the former middleweight champion of the world. I assumed passersby recognized the celebrity and, by strong association, me, too. In truth, almost no one noticed us. Those who did happen to glance our way might have assumed that we were a middle-aged black delivery man and a winded white intellectual. The Ibo tribal scars on his chest, Tiger told me as we wove through the crowds, were made by a very sharp, very hot knife when he was 10, unusually young for the initiation. No, they didn't hurt particularly. Then he corrected himself: An Ibo boy did not allow them to hurt. When we were finally forced to stop for traffic, Tiger looked at me carefully and said, ''The politics of my country are a cause of great concern to me. There could soon be civil insurrection. The situation is classically Orwellian.'' All the way to the post office and then back uptown he explained the volatile situation in his homeland. ''Although we are not the majority,'' he said, ''my people have held leadership in Nigeria since the British left. In recent years, military elements have taken control. We Ibo are not basically a militaristic people, but we will not permit ourselves to be shunted aside. Without the Ibo, my country would be a disaster.'' Then he said something that all these years later I recall with clarity even though I hadn't written it down, perhaps because events have since conspired to underline its bitter irony. ''Our opponents call the Ibo the Jews of Africa. It is meant as an insult. I interpret it as a high compliment.'' A few blocks farther north -- we were now on Tenth Avenue -- Tiger stopped in front of a tailor's shop. He went inside, and I followed. He pulled off his suit jacket and showed the man behind the counter a long tear in the satin lining. The owner persuaded Tiger that it would be better to select a secondhand jacket from the racks in the rear than to have his own jacket repaired. Tiger and the tailor disappeared. When they returned, Tiger was wearing another brown jacket, a shade darker than the pants this time. The man wanted $5. They settled on $2.50, his old jacket and a ticket to the Rivero fight. That bout proved remarkably easy for Tiger. Rivero was paunchy and moved as though he were fighting underwater. Every punch he attempted was of the KO variety. Tiger was hit cleanly just twice in 5 1/2 rounds. The referee stopped the fight in the sixth after Rivero had been knocked down for the first time in 54 professional fights. Tiger must have known that Rivero was just showing up for a payday. He stayed busy after Rivero with a big win against rugged ''Hurricane'' Carter. If Giardello's people were waiting for age to catch up with Tiger, it didn't seem to be happening. It is true, however -- and all experienced fight people know it -- that a fighter usually becomes old overnight. One fight, he has it all; the next, nothing. Call it the Dorian Gray syndrome. Sometimes that change takes place during a fight. Sometimes a fighter can lose it in a single round. Maybe some sign of deterioration was what Giardello's people were looking for. Maybe Tiger was foolish for not showing it to them by fighting a little below his top level, but he was, after all, an Ibo and proud. On the boxing beat, word was that if it were up to Giardello alone, he would have fought Tiger a year ago, that he wasn't really such a bad guy. The problem was his management. They weren't going to risk this championship with a tiger like Tiger. They knew Tiger was already having trouble making the weight: he had come in five pounds over the limit for Rivero. The thing that must have really thrown them was that the Nigerian, for all his threats, still refused to take on legitimate light heavyweights. The scuttlebutt also had it that when they felt Giardello had one good fight in him, and if Tiger was still available, they would shoot for that last, nice payday and, who knows, maybe even go out a winner. The consensus among experts was that Giardello, although not a big hitter, could still do a good deal of cumulative damage to a fighter as stationary as Tiger. Then Giardello got rid of his manager and was given a license to box in New York. A title match with Tiger in October 1965 was made for Madison Square Garden. Giardello, as champion, dictated the terms: $50,000 or 40% of the gate (live and home TV) while Tiger would get $15,000 or 20%. I asked Tiger about the split, and he said, ''He takes the lion's share, but I will take the Tiger's.'' His wit might have caused him to smile in self-appreciation, but it didn't. He was frowning. There was trouble at home, he told me. He had been sending every penny there to help the Ibo cause, but he was worried about his family, his property, and particularly about his ability to concentrate on this crucial boxing match, 5,000 miles from the place and people that mattered most in his life. ''The world is never without its ironies,'' said the man with tribal scars. ''Orwell understood that.'' During the week before the fight there was heavy betting. The early money liked Giardello at 6 to 5. Then Tiger support came in, and it was ''pick 'em.'' Then it was Tiger at 6 to 5; then, two days before the bout, 8 to 5 Tiger. By fight time the odds were down to 7 to 5 Tiger. More than 17,000 fans showed up at the Garden and paid more than $160,000, so both fighters were sure of earning a lot more than their guarantees. Frank Sinatra was supposed to be there. Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra had already been seen. I spotted Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Graziano. There were more men in evening jackets and women wearing furs than I had ever seen before at ringside. And certainly more Africans than I had seen anywhere before. They paraded through the crowd, some of them in tribal robes whose colors had such a dark intensity about them that they made the garments seem not only exotic but vaguely dangerous. Most of the men wore flat hats with golden tassels. Tiger came out first from the 50th Street side, and with his appearance a large West African drum began to thunder rhythmically from the darkness at one end of the arena. Its beat was alien but compelling to the huge crowd of New Yorkers. They clapped and stamped out a march beat, but the drum dominated the arena, as foreboding as the drums in The Emperor Jones. The fighters both weighed the precise limit of 160 pounds, but Tiger was two inches shorter. Above his white trunks, Tiger's body was massive. Giardello seemed pink and soft by comparison; his dark trunks made his body seem even paler. At the bell, Tiger rushed across the ring and met the champ before he was two steps out of his corner. Tiger threw punches that backed Giardello against the ropes. A surprise tactic. Tiger had always been a very cautious starter, especially in a 15-round fight. Giardello couldn't get off the ropes and was taking solid body shots. Significantly, each time Giardello smothered Tiger's attack and appeared to hook the dark arms, referee Johnny LoBianco quickly stepped in and had them fighting again. That favored Tiger. His fists worked Giardello's softening body. The great tribal drum thundered. Before the first round was over, Joey Giardello had become an old fighter. To his credit, Giardello didn't let it become a rout. No, it wasn't a great fight, but it went 15 rounds and it was very interesting. The decision was unanimous. I scored it nine rounds to six. Dick Tiger was champion again. Africans in green- and-purple robes leaped into the ring carrying a banner that read BIAFRA MUST LIVE. Few in the Garden understood its meaning. After that fight Tiger had an increasingly difficult time making the middleweight limit. Also, he had developed a pain in his lower back and right side, a result of the Giardello fight. Eventually, the presence of blood in his urine became commonplace. Nevertheless, Tiger defended his middleweight title against Emile Griffith in 1966. Weakened by pain and by the debilitating need to lose weight to meet the limit, he lost a split decision. Then, eight months later, on Dec. l6, he made good at last on his threat to move up into the light heavyweight class. He won the championship easily by a decision over Jose Torres. He didn't stay long in the U.S. to enjoy it. There was great trouble at home. The Ibo of eastern Nigeria had seceded from the central government. They called their new country Biafra. The civil war that followed became a rout. The Biafrans appealed for arms, for aid. None was forthcoming: The Nigerian central government controlled the army -- and the oil -- in black Africa's richest petroleum-producing country. Tiger returned to Biafra to fight another African in an exhibition match at Port Harcourt, a few miles from his home in Aba. It was a glorious day for the Ibo, and Tiger donated his purse to the Biafran rebels. Later he would donate even more when, as a 38-year-old father of seven, he volunteered in the army of Biafra. As a second lieutenant, he trained soldiers in physical exercises. After his exhibition bout in Biafra, he returned to New York and gave Torres a rematch at the Garden. Like their first fight, it drew a pretty good crowd, and Tiger, giving away about 10 pounds, again won by a decision. But this was the only touch of triumph in Dick Tiger's life then. The ''Jews of Africa'' were being slaughtered. He could get no word about the fate of his family. (As he later learned that they were either dead or imprisoned.) He could not go home. His properties in Lagos had been confiscated -- his apartments, his service station in Aba, the beauty parlor and cosmetics shop, the bookstore, the Mercedes, the tens of thousands of dollars saved by the man in secondhand suits -- all were gone. Biafra, the dream, was gone, too. And soon -- too soon -- his title was also gone. In May 1968, Tiger was knocked out two minutes into the fourth round by Bob Foster. It was the only time Tiger had ever been knocked out. Perhaps he should have quit then. The painful spasms in his lower back came more frequently, but he couldn't quit. He was a political exile in New York. He had no other salable skill. Tiger fought four more bouts in New York, winning three and losing one, a 10-round decision to Griffith. The fights gave him just enough money to live on. After retiring in 1971 he worked as a porter at the American Museum of Natural History, commuting by subway from a furnished room in the Bedford- Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. In October 1971 he was stricken at work by stabbing pains in his back, right side and abdomen. It was an attack so severe that he fell to his knees. He was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village for observation. No treatment was possible. He had cancer of the liver, acute and advanced. He told me, ''The United States is a very good country, a very nice country, but Biafra is my home. I will die in Biafra.'' Technically speaking, in 1971 no such place existed. But the Nigerian government permitted Tiger to return to Aba, to his Ibo home. For days after his return, thousands of visitors -- mourners, really -- from miles around walked the hot, dusty roads to Aba. When they found Dick Tiger's house, they saw a muscular but pain-withered boxer sitting in front, in the shade of a solitary acacia tree. He died on Dec. 14, 1971. END Copyright 1986 Time Inc. SAM TOPEROFF Sam Toperoff's ''Sugar Ray Leonard and, PERSPECTIVE: DICK TIGER WAS A CHAMPION IN BOTH THE RING AND HIS AFRICAN HOMELAND. , Sports Illustrated, 10-13-1986, pp 10. BOXED INTO A CORNER (Africa News Service) Boxed Into A Corner Lagos (Tempo, November 12, 1998) - Once the pride sport in Nigeria, Boxing in the past two decades has declined steadily. Dieing with the sport are its heroes most of whom now live in abject poverty and neglect. Jacob Ajom met one of the relics of Nigeria's boxing glory Kabiru Akindele in the throes of hunger and desperation Hagard-looking, stern-faced with blood-shot eyes, he gallops in the roped square, punching his tight fists in the air like one of the new era spiritual soldiers of the pentecostal church. His fading track suit, originally light blue with single deep-blue side stripes, now wears a dark, muddy, brownish colour. His hair is bushy and his once white training canvas are completely caked in dust. Suddenly, on sighting this reporter, the man stopped his shadow-boxing and moved towards his 'predator' to get a closer view. He wore an unkempt hair. Casting a direct, determined look at the intruder and through his sweat-dripping lips, he demanded, "Yes, oga, what can I do for you?" Not getting an immediate response from the awe-striken reporter, he sighed and turned away to a remote corner of the National Stadium boxing gym, and sat on a desk. Sitting there, he looked tough and determined, yet forlorn. Kabiru Akindele, a former national and West African featherweight champion and number one contender for the African and Commonwealth titles exuded anger, bitterness and frustration. His lot has been that of rejection and abandonment by a country he has spent the better part of his productive years for. Professionally, he looks finished, but at 45, Kabiru believes strongly in his ability. The former champ, who lost his title, due to inactivity in 1995, looks forward to rediscovering his form to become a champion again. The sad story of Kabiru Akindele is a reflection of the fate of Nigerian boxers. Once the pride of Nigerian sports administrators and numerous fans who thronged the sports hall to watch his fights, the present situation of the boxer gives no idea of the past glorious days. He's now hungry, jobless and on the verge of being ejected from his place of abode. His fortune is a sharp contrast to the opulence, comfort and millions of dollars that his American counterparts can boast of. While the American pugilist makes millions of dollar out of his talent and name, coming in and out of retirement, this cannot be said of the Nigerian boxer. Battered, underfed with little medicare during the heady days of stardom, the boxer rarely has much left after a few years in the limelight. The brain is grodgy and the body is meak. But he must continue if he must survive. "I have lost my job," Akindele, wipping his drenched forehead with the back of his palm, said. Continuing with rehearsed deliberation, Kabiru, who, for decades fought in the colours of the P & T Boxing Club (Now Nipost), said, since he lost his job, he has been living in penury." I have not been paid my gratuity and nobody says anything about it again." Simply put, Kabiru has been reduced to the lowest dreg of the society. While he awaits the payment of his gratuity from the Communications Ministry, he has to make ends meet. Thus he works as an agbero (tout) at the motor-park. He is paid a commission of between N5 and N20 for his efforts, an amount that hardly can keep body and soul together. Kabiru's ordeal is a reflection of the lot of former Nigerian boxers. Most active Nigerian professional boxers can hardly meet their daily basic needs-though with promising potentials, they are left in the lurch as promoters shun them. Without fights, they definitely can't make money. Paul Onwuachu, a national boxing coach, observed that "this situation has put our boxers in a very desperate position, and made them vulnerable." The coach added that Nigerian boxers' conditions have made them to be so cheapened that they could jump at any fee for fights both within and outside the country. "Once a promoter dangles any figure before them, they see it as an opportunity to eke out a living and perhaps catch the eye of another promoter." Retrospectively, Nigerian boxing has come a long way. Before the country's attainment of independence, Hogan 'Kid' Bassey and Dick Tiger (both now of blessed memory), had caught the attention of the world by becoming world champions. Unfortunately, since those pre-independence landmarks, Nigeria has almost vanished from the international boxing scene. No Nigerian has won any major title in the paid ranks in recent times. Bash Ali's was the lone crusader in Europe and even then his claim were quite questionable. Obisia Nwankpa, Eddie Ndukwu, Dele Jonathan, Hogan Jimoh, Davidson Andeh, Joe Lasisi and a host of others sparkled for a while winning the West African, African and Commonwealth titles at different times. Some of them raised the hopes of their compatriots for at least another world title, but such dreams were never fulfilled. "World titles will continue to elude us for as long as we abandon our boxers to the machinations of foreign promoters," coach Onwuachu said. "No Ghanaian or American would want to promote a fight that will produce a Nigerian champion. No matter, except by knockout." Though the boxers have complained of neglect, the consensus of boxing buffs is that Nigerian boxers are generally lazy. "Most of them are not ready for the hard work that will get them into the shape that past fighters such as Eddie Ndukwu, Obisia Nwankpa, David Andeh and others attained. Like the physician, the boxer must first heal himself. Publication Date: 19 November, 1998 Copyright 1998 Africa News Service (via Comtex). All rights reserved Author not available, BOXED INTO A CORNER. , Africa News Service, 11-12-1998. I'LL ALLOW MY KID TO BOX (Africa News Service) I'll Allow My Kid To Box Lagos (Tempo, March 25, 1999) - Once the toast of the boxing world, Obisia Nwankpa spends his time away from fame, training young boxer's. PETER DEMEYIN reports on the ex-boxer's exploits in the ring, his regrets and projections He didn't look any different from the generality who came to eat at the bukas that dot the mainbowl of the National Stadium. The fact that he was engrossed in his meal ("Apu" and Egusi soup) made him more anonymous. The surroundings and his entire mien never gave an inkling to his past. Nobody gave him more than a casual glance and a solitary hello. It was a far cry from the fame and popularity he enjoyed in the '80s. Then he was the toast of not only the boxing world, but many fans and admirers, especially ladies. Then he was the real Obisia Nwankpa. Though his name was not changed, he is no longer the Obisia Nwankpa of old. The old Obisia Nwankpa was boxing champion who won many laurels and championships within and outside Nigeria, high point being a shot at the world lightweight title then held by Seoul Mamby. That was in 1981. He enjoyed the blitz and glamour of boxing. Today, Obisia evokes pity. He lives a life of near destitution. Neglected and unsung, Obisia has resigned himself to fate. "In Nigeria, people don't know how to celebrate their heroes. Rather, they seize every opportunity to denigrate them. You should help tell the public that Obisia Nwankpa is alive, hale and hearty." Obisia, who speaks Yoruba very fluently, would not strike you as an average Igbo man, despite hailing from Isialamogwa Local Government Area of Abia State. Having been born in Lagos to Mr. and Mrs. Mathias Nwankpa in the early '50s might be responsible for the ex-boxer's very "Western" manners and accent. The former number one contender to the lightweight crown of the world is one of the many Easterners whose education was cut short due to the civil war of 1967-70. "Even if I had gone to the university, I wouldn't have had the type of fulfillment boxing provided me. When you talk of money and honour, I had them in boxing. Again, boxing accorded me the opportunity to travel to over 50 different countries in different continents. What else do I want in life?" Considering his antecedents, that Obisia fought for a world title is a miracle in itself. He started boxing at Makpara Approach School, a reform institution for children of Igbo men captured and adopted by the federal government forces during the civil war. Between 1967-70, he was the boxing champion in the school. For seven years, 1970-77, Obisia fought in the amateur ranks in the colours of the Nigerian Army. He joined the force as a corporal. Inspired by the late Dick Tiger and Hogan Kid Bassey, Obisia won many laurels in the amateur ranks which included gold medals at the 1973 All-African Games and the 1974 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. When he turned professional in 1977, it didn't take long for Obisia to establish himself as a force in the paid ranks on the local scene. In what he regarded as his toughest fight, Obisia remembers his clash with Davidson Andeh. "My fight with Andeh, who was the reigning lightwelter weight champion was a thriller, indeed. Most people didn't expect me to win but I knocked him out in round eight. Andeh resigned from boxing the following day." Having won the African and Commonwealth titles by defeating Degis Lorents and Jeff Malcomm respectively, the stage was set for Obisia to have a crack at the world light weight crown held by Seoul Mamby of America. The fight was billed for Lagos. Before then Obisia had beaten many boxers in their backyards . They included Englishman Chris Davis, Mike Abbay of Guyana, Mika Hayana of Pueto Rico and Argentine Joan Gumene. The world title fight against Seoul Mamby was to mark the turning point in the career of Obisia. Recalling the fight, Obisia's voice was laced with emotions tonged with regret. "Before the fight, during training, I always weighed every morning. nd myself and my British manager calculated that I weighed 65 kilograms. But before the fight, at the weighing in, I was one kilogram overweight, which means I had to shed the extra weight by physical training. Despite the weight problem, Obisia went to give a good account of himself. He recounts the tense moments after the fight: "After the fight, it took the judges one and a half hours to announce the result. It was 2-1 against me. The two American judges gave it to Mamby, and the French judge gave it to me. The bout was a charade." Asked what happened to the banned substance caught with Mamby in the seventh round, Obisia got visibly furious: "I don't like talking about that fight because it was day light robbery. From the video clips, I dominated the first seven rounds while we shared two other rounds. How they came about the verdict I don't know. I don't know why the NBB didn't follow up my protest." The defeat marked a turning point in the life of Obisia. He was beaten twice by Billy Famous, and to aggravate his woes, Obisia was dismissed from the Nigerian Army for allegedly raping a minor. He refused to comment on the rape charge. "I don't want to open old wounds," he declared. Though Obisia collected $50,000 for the world title fight, and generally made money during his career, his present state leaves much to be desired. How did he spend his money? "I think it would be foolish to ask me how I spent my money. Have you seen anybody who made money and spent it on sand? I invested some of the money on projects and some members of my family. Many people made more money and are broke today. Didn't you hear about Muhammed Ali. Even Pele was broke at a time. It's not peculiar to me." Now a boxing coach, the father of three boys and four girls says he would allow any of his kids, male or female, to take to boxing. His priority now is to help young boxers excel in the forthcoming All African Games and the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Publication Date: April 1, 1999 Copyright 1999 Africa News Service (via Comtex). All rights reserved Author not available, I'LL ALLOW MY KID TO BOX. , Africa News Service, 03-25-1999. Akinwande gets huge chance to shake image as gentle giant (USA Today) NEW YORK -- If size really did matter, wow, can you imagine the swath of menace Henry Akinwande would rip through the heart of the heavyweight division, much less Evander Holyfield, Godzilla or a rush-hour Manhattan taxi snarl? Six-feet-seven. Nearly 250 pounds. He has the size to stalk, the jab to punish. In theory, Akinwande should possess the paralyzing punching power of George Foreman during his '70s heyday (the decade, not the big fella's age). Alas, Akinwande is boxing's gentle pterodactyl, more prone to flight than fight. The fighter's 86-inch wing spread is reputed to be the longest in the sport since Italian giant Primo Carnera roamed the canvas more than 60 years ago. But his attention span for matters violent is one of the shortest. Ultimately, that is what Holyfield, the littlest, bravest heavyweight warrior, relies on Saturday night in their championship battle at Madison Square Garden. ``It's obvious he can feel (intimidated), that's the way he looked against (Lennox) Lewis,'' Holyfield says. That's why Akinwande doesn't stand tall with fight fans. Only 10 months ago, referee Mills Lane -- an ex-Marine unable to stomach the sight of a grown man refusing to fight -- disqualifed Akinwande in the fifth round for repeatedly clutching WBC champion Lewis. ``If he had beaten Lewis, I would've called him `Henry the First,' '' says boxing scribe Colin Hart of The (London) Sun. ``As it turned out, he was `Henry the Worst.' '' Akinwande, son of a middle-class Nigerian businessman, became known as Huggin' Henry. This despite displaying the kind of terrorizing power forward frame that Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson would pay untold millions to lay on Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz this week. But where's the attitude? ``People say I have no guts, I have no heart,'' Akinwande says. ``They do not know what I went through in my life.'' In less than two months, new trainer Emanuel Steward -- who supplanted Don Turner, who also co-trains Holyfield with Tommy Brooks -- has faced an enormous task in attempting to transform Akinwande's passivity. As with many fighters, Steward says ``a lot of Henry's problems are mental,'' brought on by his own insecurities. ``That's why I'm here,'' Akwinande says. ``To prove something.'' To himself. To the public. To his parents, who pleaded with him not to get involved with boxing as a teen-ager. And to the great many Nigerian athletes of his homeland, from the memory of middleweight Dick Tiger to the present-day wonder of Hakeem Olajuwon. Akinwande has come a long way from his job as a street sweeper in south London, after he left home at 15 against his father Joseph's wishes. ``In Africa, they look down on you if you get into sports,'' he says. ``The father tells you everything to do, even if you're 30. When he found out I was boxing, he nearly killed me. He said I wasn't his son anymore.'' They've since repaired the relationship. Saturday, Akinwande tries to do the same with the public. ``My destiny,'' he says knowingly, ``is my hands.'' Copyright 1998, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.Jon Saraceno, Akinwande gets huge chance to shake image as gentle giant. , USA Today, 06-03-1998, pp 13C.
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