A hard right from Bob Foster turns Dick Tiger’s face to putty during their light heavyweight championship bout at Madison Square Garden.
The country of Biafra lived only long enough to generate a brutal war, a devastating famine, and the name of a popular punk-rock singer. But amid all that heartbreak and loss, one of his sons became light heavyweight champion during that historic period, putting the embattled Central African country in the sports map for only a few years.
Dick Tiger was born Richard Ihetu in Amaigbo, back when the town was part of Nigeria. But in May of 1967 a new country was born, constituted by the persecuted ethnic group named Ibo, to which Ihetu belonged. He was already a middleweight champion campaigning in America by the time this happened, but he became an army lieutenant in the fledging Biafra armed forces and took the country’s citizenship, which would later cause him to be banned in Nigeria for a long time after that country invaded and annexed the rogue province in 1970.
It was during this time that Tiger, already a popular fighter in the States, attempted to make the third defense of the light heavyweight title he had taken from Puerto Rico’s Jose Torres against a much taller and rangier opponent.
Bob Foster was already known as a knockout artist, and his physical attributes made him an instant favorite against the more experienced but already older Tiger, who was 13 years his senior.
The fight took place on May 24, 1968, a few days shy of the first anniversary of Biafra’s declaration of independence, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Tiger’s WBC and WBA belts were at stake, as well as the Ring magazine championship.
Foster was 6’3½’’ while Tiger measure only 5’8″, and that disparity became evident with the sound of the very first bell. Foster, born in Texas but residing all his life in Albuquerque, New Mexico, dominated the action from the long range and scored at will, with Tiger trying to sneak in from a crouching position to land his devastating left hand, but with only occasional success.
It was in the fourth round that Foster finally found his range and connected a brutal combination of three punches capped by a brutal left hook that sent Tiger to the canvas on his back, whiplashing his head and leaving him glassy-eyed as he was counted out.
In the end, the fight resulted in little more than a showcase bout for Foster’s vaunted left hook, a devastating punch that he used to rule the division with an iron fist for more than seven years and 14 defenses, which still stand as the second-best number of defenses in the history of the division.
Foster moved on to a great career in which he suffered only eight defeats in 65 bouts, with most of those defeats coming during his incursions in the heavyweight division. During his reign he lost by stoppage to Muhammad Ali but not before becoming the first and only man to cut Ali in a fight. He retired after a controversial draw against Argentina’s Jorge Ahumada but returned for a handful of bouts one year after that, retiring for good in 1978.
Tiger fought only four more times after that, defeating Nino Benvenutti and later dropping a decision to Emile Griffith in his final bout.
Diego M. Morilla writes for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.