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)

Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
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

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our exclusive client in St Albans Hertfords...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Primary Teachers

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Hertfordshir...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ACCA/CIMA - St Albans, Hertfordshire

£55000 - £58000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street

£25000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - Londo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness