Pinched by a large knot of reporters into his dressing room last week at Madison Square Garden, Dick Tiger was shedding his robe and his gloves, and as the questions fell it became obvious he was shedding something else—his faith or, as H. L. Mencken wrote, "an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
Tiger, neatly and furiously, had just destroyed Rubin Carter, but he was impassive and no more elated than a shoemaker who has just finished operating on one of 50 pairs of shoes. Outside, in the dim glow of the Garden lobby, people were calling him the best middleweight around, but there in the dressing room Tiger, visibly disheartened and frustrated, knew that he was just a fighter with no place to go. He had given up—not on himself but on Joey Giardello, the middleweight champion who, critics contend, is responsible for the ridiculous inertia in the best division in boxing.
"I am going home," said Tiger, hammering each word crisply. "In Nigeria I have a bookstore and some real estate. I am not broke. I do not need Giardello. He is no gentleman. A gentleman keeps his word. Eighteen months ago [when Tiger lost the title to Giardello in Atlantic City] he promised we would fight again. And then again here in March, after I beat Rivero, he came in my dressing room and said right before the press, 'Tiger, I will fight you next.' Ha! I am glad I met many nice Americans before I met Joey Giardello."
Meanwhile, following the Tiger-Carter fight, Giardello—according to Giardello—was sitting home waiting for a call from Tiger.
"Yeah," says Giardello. "I told him to call me if he takes Carter. But does he call? I don't hear a word from him. Listen, if he wants to fight me why doesn't he sit down and talk with me. Neither Tiger or his manager have come around to talk about a fight. All of a sudden I'm the rat in the picture. I'm not ducking Tiger. Who's Tiger? He's my meat. I'll tell you right now, I want him bad. But I'm not going to ask him to fight me. He's got to ask me. Not just go shooting his mouth in the press. I'm the champion. Print that.
"Also, a lot of people are saying Teddy Brenner and the Garden has offered me $75,000 to fight Tiger in the Garden. Yeah, well that's a lot of bull. Sure, Brenner has offered me a big money match in the Garden, but that's all he has done. Just offered. I don't see any contract. Brenner just talks. Let him come up with a contract. The only concrete offer I've received is from Sugar Ray Robinson. The contract is there and all I gotta do is sign it. [ Robinson, who recently won a tax suit against the government which had dragged through the courts since his bout with Carmen Basilio in September 1957 had come up with a substantial money offer.] I'm liable to sign with Robinson any time. Brenner and Tiger are all wet. Print that. All they gotta do is stop mouthin' off and come up with a contract, and I'll fight Tiger in the Garden in August or September. But I don't hear from none of those bigmouths."
Giardello did not have to wait long for communication from one of the "big-mouths." Lew Burston, Tiger's acting manager (Jersey Jones is in the hospital with a stroke), called Giardello later that day. "Giardello," says Burston, "told me, 'You've got my word I'll fight Tiger in September.' He didn't mention any particular night so we'll have to wait and see. Dick is 35 and he can't wait much longer. This time we hope Giardello means what he says."
Most boxing people, although suspicious of Giardello's latest pang of conscience, would like nothing better. Tiger is, perhaps, boxing's most admired figure at the moment, and there pervades an unusually sensitive opinion—for boxing, at any rate—which holds that Tiger has been grossly mistreated.
There are a number of reasons for Tiger's popularity. To begin, there is Tiger the man. He is a courtly, soft-spoken person with impeccable manners—one feels that he should be standing in front of a big, white southern mansion waiting for Zachary Scott to arrive. The image is absurd because Tiger, articulate and intensely interested in politics, is more a symbol of emerging Nigeria than the graying, hat-in-hand retainer his good manners sometimes suggest. But most of Tiger's appeal emanates from the fact that he is the embodiment of a rare species called the professional fighter. When Tiger is in the ring the spectators know that it will not be Tiger's fault if the fight becomes tedious. "I am a fighter," says Tiger. "It is all that I have ever wanted to be, and it is all that I know. I love to fight. The fighter fights. It is that simple. He does not run. I am proud to be a fighter."
Against Rubin Carter, Tiger amply demonstrated his simple philosophy. A short man, he fought Carter as he has all other tall men during the past 10 years—with his feet wide apart and moving straight ahead. "He reminds me of those movies of British soldiers fighting in India," said one ringsider. "They move ahead in a straight line and they're getting knocked down one after another, but they keep comin'. That's Dick Tiger." Carter, a sharp puncher who also does not believe in retreat, was expected to be a perfect opponent for Tiger. He did not disappoint. Until he was later discouraged, Carter took the fight to Tiger and this is not considered wise, but nobody in boxing has ever been moved to marvel at Carter's ring intelligence.