Steve Bunce on Boxing: Tiger's tale is still being told and there is a twist at the end of the long, hard road

Tiger Flowers was abused for his colour but never lost his cool

When Tiger Flowers was starting out as prizefighter in the segregated business of boxing, black men were being lynched on the roads he travelled and the Ku Klux Klan, the "invisible empire", was a force in the American south.

Flowers fought for the first time for money in 1918, became the first black man to win the world middleweight title in 1926, and the following year, four days after his 159th fight, he died during a routine operation to remove scar tissue from above his eyes.

According to a startling and raw new biography, A Tiger Rose out of Georgia by Bob Mee, Flowers travelled 77,629 miles by car and train from 1922-27 for dozens of fights. The facts regularly defy logic: Flowers must have been part-pugilist, part-freak to have survived as long as he did.

The relentless schedule inside the ring was matched by a mesmerising itinerary on America's fledgling roads and railroad lines, as Flowers went from fight to fight with seldom more than a week between bells.

Flowers was abused by judges and referees and ignored because of his colour for too long and Mee never once, during the tricky compilation of the book, found one instance of anger, hate or retaliation attributed to Flowers. It was not so much a colour line, as Mee points out in the starkest of language, but a colour wall and the gentle fighter never lost his cool.

Flowers finally gets his world title fight against the great Harry Greb, a rare white champion who was prepared to fight a black man, in February 1926 at the old Madison Square Garden. It's a savage brawl with fouls in every round and at the end Flowers gets a tight decision.

It was a mixed crowd, something that Flowers, more than any other black fighter is given the credit for making a reality, though he did mostly appear on "blacks only" fight nights – the "merry-go-round of the black circuit". Inevitably, the same names come up and he met some men five and six times, doing 65 rounds with Jamaica Kid and taking on a Detroit slugger called Whitey Black three times.

Flowers had met Greb in a non-title fight in the summer of 1924 and Greb insisted the "no-decision rule was in place". Greb kept his title but Flowers won easily according to the ringside gathering and that meant he would be kept waiting for his title chance.

The month after that first fight with Greb it was back to the road and Flowers would fight 46 times in 18 months of "keeping busy" before taking the title.

Flowers beat Greb in a rematch, lost to Mickey Walker the following year in what was probably a fix and was busy up until the very end. His funeral in Atlanta was a big event for both black and white citizens and two streets in the Georgian city carry the name of its greatest fighter.

The death of Flowers is given a literary autopsy in the book and Mee's exploration of the operating quack's credentials even raises considerable doubt over the cause of Tiger's death, which came at a time when he was close to getting a chance to fight for his old title against Walker. It would not be a good boxing book without a tiny tale of mob involvement.

Mee is insanely thorough and uncovered many new details, including a blockbuster twist at the end that previous writers had failed to discover during decades of seemingly endless fascination with Flowers. The final thrilling reveal took my breath away and, having worked at ringside with Bob for nearly 30 years, I knew what it would mean to him. It is a book packed with love and when you can say that about a boxing book you know it is worth reading.

'A Tiger Rose out of Georgia: Tiger Flowers, Champion of the World' by Bob Mee (£20, Foothill Media)

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style
tech

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Life and Style
health

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: I am currently recruiting level 3 n...

Are you a Teacher interested in Special Needs?

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a qualified Teacher w...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album