By Alan Hubbard
Old Aristotle may have known rather more about philosophy than he did about pugilism but maybe boxing was in his thoughts when he mused: ”Out of Africa there is always something new.”
There is indeed. Ask any number of British fighters whose careers have been blighted by the skilled or heavy-handed fistic visitors to these shores from of the Dark Continent, of whom they had never heard, and some of whose names would twist any ring announcer’s tongue.
So I wonder if Daniel Dubois has ever been told one of boxing’s most familiar tales of the unexpected. One that is absolutely true and dates back to the night May 14 1957 when one Richard Ihetu, otherwise known as Dick Tiger, came out of Africa, via Liverpool, to cause one of boxing’s most embarrassing episodes.
After 15 wins in 16 contests in Nigeria, Tiger relocated to Merseyside but the stocky middleweight initially found it difficult to adjust to the fighting technique of his British opponents. He lost his first four bouts here on points before being paired as an easy night’s work at Shoreditch Town Hall for Britain’s then most flamboyant fighter, the crashing, bashing dashing Terry Downes.
Downes, who had served as a Brit in the US Marines while living in the United States, was being schooled as a big box office star after only two quickfire-wins as a pro. But he was brutally savaged by Tiger, left bloodied, battered and stopped in five rounds by some venomous punching.
Afterwards Downes’ dressing room was uncomfortably quiet save for the sound of shuffling feet until one brave scribe ventured to ask him: “Who do you think you should fight next, Terry?” Downes looked up and famously growled:”The f***** who made that match”. Promoter Mickey Duff was suitably ashen-faced.
Of course, Downes went on to become Britain’s oldest surviving world champion until his death at 81 two years ago. Tiger, who fought as a army lieutenant for his beloved Biafra in the Nigerian civil war, also became a notable world champion and was twice named Fighter of the Year in the sixties.
He hadcredible wins over respected contenders such as Gene Armstrong, Joey Giardello, Holly Mims and Hank Casey. However, it was a sixth round knockout of Floro Fernandez in January 1962 that caught the attention of the US public.
By now a successful and popular figure in the States, Tiger earned a shot at Utah’s Gene Fullmer, with the winner being recognised as the WBA world middleweight champion. The powerful African bombarded Fullmer with damagingly accurate blows for 15 rounds, securing him a convincing victory. Sadly he died of cancer in December 1971 aged just 42.
So here’s a question: Will London’s unbeaten heavyweight Dynamite Dan (10-0,9kos) whose popularity is burgeoning judging by the receptions he is getting, be giving a similar response as Downes when asked the same question after he has faced his own African ‘nightmare’ Richard Lartey at Wembley on Apri1 27? Let’s hope not.
But like Tiger, the big, bald banger from Accra, Ghana is also something of an unknown quantity despite his 14-1-0 record and holding the WBO African championship. His record suggests he can box and biff a bit, so we could be in for an explosive night.
Not that Dubois seems too fazed, but then he never is. He knows the might he holds in his mitts can answer any awkward question on the night. Nonetheless, he should bear in mind that such men as the relatively little-known Lartey are dangerous, just as Tiger was.
Other Africans who have travelled here to shock and surprise British fighters include the South African Mvulelo Botile, who, on his first visit ended the escalating 25-fight career of Paul Ingle in Sheffield in December 2000.
Ingle had danced into the ring to defend his IBO and IBF featherweight titles against the hard little man from a township called Duncan Village. But he left that ring on a stretcher after being ko’d in the last of 12 unremittingly fierce rounds.
Within the hour surgeons were working to remove a blood clot from his brain. He was in intensive care for four weeks and had a secondary operation, a tracheotomy, to help his breathing. He has never fought again. Botile himself had only four more fights, losing them all, before disappearing back into obscurity in the Eastern Cape. Funny old game, eh? And quite often a brutal one.
Then who knew of – or remembers now – one Hassan Mwakimyo, from Tanzania, who only last year stunned Sam Eggington in two rounds in Birmingham?
Yes, out of Africa they still keep coming. Just as they always have. More mavericks who have forged their careers with help of conquests of home-based British fighters include the fabulous Azumah Nelson, Roy Ankrah, Jake Tuli, John Mugabi, Julius Indongo, Ike Quarry and, of course, Queensberry’s own sensational world bantamweight champion from South Africa, Zolani Tete.
All terrific fighters… but as yet Africa has never produced a black world heavyweight champion. If the 6ft 5in Richard Lartey believes he has the makings of one then he will have to show a lot of Aristotle (bottle to we Cockneys) against the best young heavyweight in the world on April 27.
Should be fun. While it lasts.
Daniel Dubois v Richard Lartey tops the bill at the SSE Arena, Wembley on April 27 on a card that also includes the Commonwealth super middleweight title fight between Lerrone Richards and Tommy Langford, as well as the Southern Area super middleweight title clash between Zak Chelli and Jimmy Smith. WBO European super flyweight champion Sunny Edwards and WBO European super featherweight champion Archie Sharp also feature.
Rangy Super Welterweight talent Hamzah Sheeraz will be back out after his impressive win over Rod Douglas Jnr. Hard hitting middleweight and Peacock gym product Denzel Bentley (9-0) and Belfast amateur middleweight star Caoimhin Agyarko will also return to action. There are Queensberry debuts for unbeaten welterweight Chris Kongo (10-0) and Sheffield middleweight Shakiel Thompson (2-0) – with Thompson being tipped by sparring partner Billy Joe Saunders as a star for the future. Ilford Super Middleweight Umar Sadiq (4-1) also returns as he looks to rebuild after his first career loss. Tunde Ajayi trained lightweight Bilal Ali (1-0) will have his second professional fight after making a successful start to his pro career, with Hoddesdon super lightweight Alfie Price set for his fifth.