Two of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of the 1960s fought on this day in 1970, with Emile Griffith handing a decision loss to Dick Tiger in the final fight of Tiger’s career. Griffith would continue to compete until 1977, but the only truly notable fighter he beat after Tiger was middleweight contender Bennie Briscoe, in 1974.
Tiger was born in Nigeria and aside from perhaps Azumah Nelson, is the greatest fighter ever from that continent. He emigrated to Liverpool, England, where he began his professional career in 1955, at the relatively advanced age of 26, Remarkably for a Hall of Fame fighter, Tiger lost the first four bouts of his career.
But by the end of the decade, he had developed into a legitimate, world-title contender. In 1959, he split in two bouts with fellow Hall of Famer Joey Giardello. In 1962, he beat another all-time great, Gene Fullmer, to capture the middleweight championship. He drew with Fullmer in an immediate rematch, then won the third fight by TKO. Tiger lost the title to Giardello in 1963, but won it back in 1965.
After dropping the title to Griffith in April 1966, Tiger moved up to light heavyweight and won the world title from Jose Torres in December of that year. He lost that belt to Bob Foster in 1968, but in his first fight after losing to Foster, he beat Frank DePaula in The Ring’s Fight of the Year. In 1969, Tiger beat another Hall of Famer, and the reigning middleweight champion, Nino Benvenuti, in a non-title bout.
After losing to Griffith and retiring in 1970, Tiger became involved in the Biafran Separatist movement in his native Nigeria, working on behalf of his ethnic group, the Igbo people. He died tragically of liver cancer in 1971, at only 42 years of age.
Griffith was the first native of the Virgin Islands to ever win a world title. He grew up in New York City and went to work in the garment district, where he was encouraged to take up boxing by a boss who noticed his extremely wide shoulders and thin waist. He was a natural, winning the 1958 New York City Golden Gloves.
Griffith turned professional in 1959 and developed quickly, beating top contender Gaspar Ortega only a year after his debut. Two years and two months into his career, Griffith beat Benny Paret for the welterweight championship of the world.
Five months later, Griffith dropped the title back to Paret by split decision. Their rubbermatch in March 1962 was one of the most infamous nights in boxing history.
Paret had enraged Griffith by directing an homosexual slur at him during the weigh in. During the fight, Griffith got the better of Paret and battered him in the corner in Round 12, knocking him unconscious. Paret would never wake up. Although the referee was very slow in stopping the fight and Paret had suffered a brutal knockout to Gene Fullmer in a middleweight challenge only three months earlier, the tragic death seemed to haunt Griffith for the remainder of his career. Although he would continue to be one of the sport’s elite competitors, his knockout rate following Paret’s death was anemic and many experts on the era have noted that he seemed to deliberately fight in a manner that allowed him to win without hurting his opponents too badly.