Movie buffs can look forward to a biopic on the late Nigerian boxing legend Richard “Dick Tiger” Ihetu thanks to a collaboration between the South African filmmaker Zola Maseko and Nigerian film producer Mahmood Ali-Balogun, says Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
An international blockbuster movie is about to be made on the life of Dick Tiger, arguably the greatest ever boxer to have come out of Africa. In the 1960s Dick Tiger won the world middleweight title on two occasions, and then stepped up to equally become the undisputed light-heavyweight champion of the world. After Dick Tiger defeated the American boxer Gene Fullmer via a seventh round TKO at Liberty Stadium, Ibadan on August 28, 1963, to retain his world middleweight title, the mauled American fighter said: “I went to Nigeria to fight (Dick Tiger) and, of course, I don’t know what happened over there. I had nothing. He beat me. He beat me bad. My mother and father could have been judge and referee and I couldn’t have won a round, wouldn’t have won a round. I mean, he beat me that bad.”
It pumps my heart to break the great news that a groundbreaking movie about to be shot on the Dick Tiger phenomenon is poised to put Nigeria up the elevated pedestal of the global stratosphere. It is crucial to state that Dick Tiger was born as Richard Ihetu on August 14, 1929 in Amaigbo, Orlu of present-day Imo State. The idea of the feature film entitled Dick Tiger originated from the South African ace filmmaker Zola Maseko, director of the 2004 celebrated movie Drum. He is collaborating with a Nigerian producer, Mahmood Ali-Balogun, the renowned director of the multi-award-winning film Tango with Me. It’s a case of the best of South Africa and Nigeria meeting to showcase Africa to the world with Imo State as base. Governor Rochas Anayo Okorocha who has hosted President Zuma of South Africa and erected his statue in Imo State has this co-production between South Africa and Nigeria as a crowning glory.
Hollywood stars would shine in Nigeria. Chiwetel Ejiofor is on the cards as a lead alongside the delectable Idris Elba. The film Dick Tiger is planned as a period masterpiece by the Director Zola Maseko, in the manner of his film Drum which was set in Africa of the 1950s. Producer Mahmood Ali-Balogun is quite busy with the Nigerian groundwork, having visited Dick Tiger’s hometown of Amaigbo and apprised the Imo State authorities of the coming boon. Ali-Balogun has also discussed with the Dick Tiger Foundation in Nigeria and has been granted access to the lionized boxer’s memorabilia.
The multi-million dollar project will be shot on locations spanning Nigeria, South Africa, Liverpool and New York. It is proposed that aside from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba, Nigerian screen sirens such as Genevieve Nnaji and Rita Dominic, who incidentally are from Imo State, would equally star.
The film Dick Tiger will rival Martin Scorsese’s movie Raging Bull, based on the riotous career of the recently departed middleweight world champion Jake La Motta, for class. There is no doubt that it will gain world attention like the film on Muhammad Ali starring Will Smith. Telling the true-life story of the esteemed world champion in the film Dick Tiger, according to Director Zola Maseko “is what Nigerian cinema needs at this moment, a film that can shine the international spotlight on this vast country and set new standards for Nigerian cinema.”
Dick Tiger’s son, Dick Tiger Jnr, has already given his assent to the project. The classy Nollywood actor Bobby Michaels, a nephew of Dick Tiger, based in South Africa has been a bulwark of strength tying all the knots.
The tribute that The New York Post wrote about Dick Tiger after his death on December 14, 1971 is germane here. According to The New York Post: “Dick Tiger started on his hands and knees cleaning chicken hoops on his father’s farm in Amaigbo, Orlu in Nigeria. He ended up working as a man’s room attendant for 96 dollars a week at the Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. In between he fought 82 bouts, becoming a world champion and Nigerian hero.” It is incumbent on Governor Okorocha to utilise this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immortalise the great native son as he is already interested in internationalising the state.
The Dick Tiger story indeed reads like a fairy-tale. He left his rural birthplace of Amaigbo to the harsh urban streets of Aba where he was a bottle-picker, bicycle repairer and water vendor. A British Army Commander stationed in Aba after World War II, Colonel Richard Diamond, saw the prospects of his young African namesake as a boxer and introduced him to boxing in 1952 at the relatively old age of 23. He won the national middleweight title in Lagos in May 1954. In December 1955, he travelled to Liverpool, England to further his professional boxing career. He suffered tremendously from cold and homesickness, but he somewhat trudged on, fighting and winning the British Empire (Commonwealth) middleweight title in March 1958 by defeating Pat MacAteer in Liverpool. He got married to his sweetheart from back home, Abigail (nee Ogbuji) in 1959 and then moved to the United States of America in a striking drive to conquer the world of professional boxing.
Dick Tiger won what was then called the National Boxing Association (NBA) world title in 1962 in San Francisco, California, USA by defeating Gene Fullmer over 15 tough rounds. He had a rematch with Fullmer which ended in draw before retiring the American from boxing in the iconic fight that took place in Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, in August 1963. Queen Elizabeth of Britain bestowed Dick Tiger with the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1963. He lost the middleweight title to Joey Giardello in December 1963, only to regain the title from the same boxer in October 1965. He finally lost the undisputed world middleweight title to Emile Griffith in Madison Square Garden, New York in April, 1966. Dick Tiger then amazingly stepped up in weight to win the undisputed world light-heavyweight title by defeating Jose Torres in December 1966. He retained the title by defeating Torres in a rematch on May 16, 1967. Dick Tiger lost the title to Bob Forster in May 1968 via a fourth round knockout, the only KO he ever suffered in his long career.
Wracked by the raging Nigeria-Biafra War, Dick Tiger lost everything. He ended up by taking up a job as a porter on 96 Dollars at the American Museum of Natural History. He was sadly diagnosed to be suffering from advanced liver cancer that could not be cured. He then relocated to a sanatorium where he hoped to die until a sportswriter from Sports Illustrated saw him and raised the funds with which he was transported home to Nigeria. Throngs of supporters lined the road to the airport to welcome home the hero. Many others visited the dying Tiger in his house in Aba. He passed away on December 14, 1971.
Through the film Dick Tiger Nigeria is poised to an esteemed position in international moviemaking. The co-production between South Africa and Nigeria is the grand prospect needed to match African movies with Hollywood. Incidentally, it is about the life of the Imo State-born boxing legend Dick Tiger, and the film is being shot at a time Governor Okorocha is bent on internationalising the state as a first amongst equals. The film Director Zola Maseko of South Africa who received the Golden Stallion of Yennenga top prize at FESPACO 2005 and the Nigerian Producer Mahmood Ali-Balogun who won the MNET award in 1999 are indeed esteemed breakthrough pathfinders with the film Dick Tiger.