Two nights before Roger Rouse fought Dick Tiger for the light-heavyweight championship, a computer in the Clark County Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas predicted that Rouse would win by a decision. Whereupon Tiger turned to the machine and said, "You're a liar." As events proved, Tiger was right. It was he who won when the referee sensibly stopped the fight in the 12th round. In a way, Tiger's victory was doubly sweet; not only did the better man win, but man triumphed over machine, although Tiger did not see it that way. "A computer," he explained, "is made by human beings."
Tiger was not half as distressed by the computer's prediction as by the fact that he felt he was not properly dressed for the scene in the courthouse. "Why did you not tell me to dress up?" he asked Lew Burston, one of his American representatives. "I, too, have a nice shirt in my drawer that I could have put on." Tiger, that stumpy, gnarled, inflexible man, has a great deal of pride; he does not want to appear to be uncouth or a savage. He refuses to be photographed in front of trees, believing that such pictures conform with a stereotype of Africa. " Rome wasn't built in a day," Tiger said recently. "And," he added, " Las Vegas was once a desert."
Too, Tiger has a great love for his profession and for his title ("My title," as he always says), and he does not care to see either demeaned. "If you're in the ring to fight a man like myself," he says, "put up a good fight. Don't take it easy." He has no use for clever boxers and considers their art unmanly. "I'm not in there to play tricks," he says, "to go indirect, to fly around like a bird. I fight hard. That is what I get paid to do. I have a job, I train hard. I entertain the public. I go my way."
In his philosophy, the opponent plays little more than a supporting role. Until last Friday night, Tiger had never seen Rouse fight, nor had he seen him in a film, which was of no concern to Tiger. "I'm going to see him for an hour on the 17th," he said. "That's time enough. It's the business I'm in. There's no need to be in a hurry. Take your time. In life I always take things easy. I been fighting now 15 years. I fought all kinds. I fought them as they fought me. That's life. Things come and go. I think of my past years. In my past years I was nobody, had nothing, nobody knew me. Things come and go."
In the Las Vegas Convention Center they went very well for Tiger, disastrously for Rouse and, incidentally, the promoters, as only 3,733, who paid $44,500, came to see the show.
According to Teddy Bentham, Carlos Ortiz' trainer who was brought in to work Rouse's corner, "There's got to be a way to beat a style. If you can't find a way to beat a style, your fighter won't win." Tiger's style is unadorned, "direct," as Tiger would say. He comes at you in a straight line, in somewhat of a crouch, and looks to close and then bang to the body. He favors his left hook, which he generally sets up with a right hand, and if he is not a notably big puncher, he is made of stern stuff.
"He's a piece of steel in the ring," says Mike Kaplan, who refereed Tiger's fight with Florentino Fernandez. "I felt the metal when I tried to break them." Even more to the point, Tiger is indomitable, or, as Bentham says, "Sometimes you have a fighter who don't want to get beaten."
But, as Bentham also says, "there isn't a system in the world can't be beaten." Joey Giardello, Joey Archer and Emile Griffith, all of whom beat Tiger, showed how it could be done—simply by making themselves scarce. All three moved on Tiger, meaningfully jabbed, made him reach, kept him off balance. "A good trombone man will beat Tiger," said Freddie Steele, the old middleweight champion, who was in Vegas for the fight. "Rouse will have to be sliding that left out all night long."
Indeed, this was how Rouse intended to fight. "Get up close," Bentham told him in the dressing room before the fight. "Bop, bop, bop. Get out of there. In. Out. Stick and move. Stick and move. Ah, you know how to fight. I don't have to tell you."
And, in this fashion, Rouse won three of the first four rounds. Although he is not a particularly pretty boxer, he did what he was told—jabbed, stayed on the move and, for good measure, hit Tiger coming in with short, sneak rights. For his part, Tiger tried to get under the jab to reach the body. As his trainer, Chickie Ferrara, had said, "Rouse got a nice long body that attracts me a lot."