Adeyinka Makinde, author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal, interviewed by Kevin Dawson on GlobalTalkRadio dot 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 dot 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 dot com and eastsideboxing dot 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 that'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 dot 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.
Station and programme themes.
Kevin Dawson: And welcome back to 'A Story to Tell' here at GlobalTalkRadio dot 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 other words, 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 re-absorption 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.
Station and programme themes.
Copyright. Adeyinka Makinde (2006)
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