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."
In the early rounds Tiger's long, lunging solitary left hooks to the head seemed futile, even foolhardy, to almost everyone but Ferrara and Jersey Jones, Tiger's other American representative. "Come on, chase him, chase him," they exhorted Tiger from the steps leading up to his corner.
From the fifth through the eighth rounds, Rouse did much as before, except that he largely neglected his right, and, as Tiger began to press him, Rouse's resolve visibly waned. In a sense he lost the fight long before the first knockdown. "I wanted to concentrate more on the jab." he said afterward. "I felt I was reaching too much with it and that he was getting under it. And I thought I should stop throwing the right. It's dangerous punching down. I felt he might come over the top."
Instead, because Rouse was, in fact, reaching with the jab, Tiger, who was troubled with bleeding from a minor cut over his left eye, came in, both beneath the jab and, to Rouse's eventual pain and sorrow, over it. Rouse throws what they call "an elbow jab"; that is, instead of shooting the fist straight out and bringing it back along the same path, he jabs primarily and weakly with his forearm like a man bending his elbow at the bar. The move momentarily leaves his head, in the words of Cus D'Amato, "hanging out there like a lantern in a storm."
Despite his shortcomings, Rouse was still in the fight until the ninth round, when he failed to do what he was told. Bentham said to him in the dressing room after the fight, "Remember when I kept saying 'Don't pull back?' Then that's the one round you pull back." Bentham amplified: "The style was right. Everything was perfect going up to the round he got knocked down. I said, 'Don't pull back.' All he had to do was give it a little bend. I thought he was home in the ninth round. Them was all sucker punches."
Tiger threw a long, loopy left, and Rouse pulled back from it, nowhere far enough. It caught him flush on the mouth, split his lip open, cracked his mouthpiece and knocked him on his back. Rouse got up, but he was not the man he used to be and Tiger chased him the rest of the ninth, although he did not catch up.
In the 10th round, he did. He caught Rouse in close with another hook. As the challenger grabbed him around the waist, Tiger kept hitting Rouse, who, still hanging on, slid to the floor. This time he arose at two and was a bloody sight, like Macbeth coming, astonished, out of Duncan's bedchamber. Rouse was even bleeding from the left knee.
When the bell rang for the 12th round, Rouse was still sitting bemusedly on his stool, suddenly alone and defenseless, innocent. A few moments later Tiger hit him with a right hand. Rouse fell forward, somersaulting, but again was up at two. He stood submissively by the ropes while Referee Jimmy Olivas picked up the mandatory eight count. Olivas, never finishing the count, changed his mind and indicated the fight was over. "He was out on his feet, plus the cut," Olivas explained. "He was cut too bad."
Olivas was right in both respects. The cut took 14 stitches and, in any case, Bentham and Pete Jovanovich, Rouse's manager, were about to stop the fight themselves. "I said, 'Let's stop it,' after the 11th," Bentham said, "but Rouse said to let him go another round."
"I have a thousand thoughts," Jovanovich said later. "Might have done. Should have done. Could have done. But you can't refight it. I don't know much about boxing. I wish I did."
"He was doing all right," Bentham said. "He was driving him crazy. It's only that when you lose, everything is wrong. Ah, but I don't like losing."
"I heard about things like that," Rouse said. "I never thought it would happen to me. They all say you can't win them all. I never would have believed it. Oh———! Somebody told me once, you can't win them all. I sure would like to get another shot at it, but I guess we won't. Oh———!"
"We never lost," Jovanovich said. "We've just paused for a while."
An hour after the fight, Tiger was in his room in the Hotel Fremont, fiddling with the dial of his shortwave radio, waving the aerial like a wand, trying to pick up news of the war in Nigeria; he is from Aba, in the secessionist Republic of Biafra. Tiger had hoped to find a Voice of America broadcast, but all he got were unearthly screeches, voices speaking Spanish and news of Vietnam.
"So, I have broken the tie," he said as he waited for Chickie Ferrara to prepare his bath. Tiger was referring to the telegram he had received, which informed him that his wife had given birth to a girl a week before the fight and that mother and daughter were doing fine. "It is good," Tiger went on. "Now I have four girls and three boys. This telegram lifted a large stone from my mind. It let me know my family was not dead. Chickie, is the bath ready yet?"
"Don't be impatient, Dick," Ferrara said. "You have a long soak ahead. Then I want to strip the eye." At this, Tiger looked at himself in a mirror and smiled at what he saw. "It is an ugly face," he said.
"Are you kidding?" asked Freddie Brown, who is one of Tiger's seconds. "That's a good-looking face. In fact, tonight you were handsome. Tell me the secret. How do you do it?"
"It is no mystery," said Tiger, who is 38. "The older I am, the more better I get."
Lew Burston, who is 70 and says he has been in boxing for 109 years, and Jersey Jones, who is 69, came into the room. "The right hand under the heart in the fifth round was murder," said Burston. "He should have been arrested for that punch." Years ago when he promoted in Paris, Burston was known as Le Juif Errant because, as he is fond of saying, he made 52 round trips to Europe by boat before the war. "Paris will always be lovely," Burston says. "Paris will always be soft. But the soft, quiet, gentle way is not found so often, and the butchers no longer chop your meat with two sharp knives."
"Rouse ain't a bad fighter, but his own left was what killed him," said Ferrara. "He couldn't push Dick off with the blow, even when it landed. But what's the difference? He wasn't going to beat Dick anyway."
At last Tiger's bath was ready. "To be hurt," he said, sitting in the tub in the vaporous bathroom, "is not so bad as long as you get paid for it. Sometimes I have been injured in training. Then it is bad. It is for nothing—free. And pain is part of the price. I am not glad I got my eye cut, but this is O.K. It mean I earned my money. I have bled for it. Life to be good must be hard, otherwise the sweet things cannot be appreciated.
"Here, in this country, things are too easy, I think. Everything must be the easy way, the good soft way. Seldom do I see parents hit their children. No one has control. Not the father, not the mother. With us, the child does as his parents say. My father taught me, and I teach my children. That is how the child learns strength. From seeing how the father lives, how he does his life. There is nothing wrong with working hard and sweating. That is the way life must be lived. Then it is satisfying, and a man can enjoy his rewards. You see, nothing for nothing is nothing. But if you have to climb high up the tree to pick the good red apple, ah, then the apple is sweet.
"To me boxing is a good sport. I would not be here today if it were not for boxing. It has given me a good life because I have put every effort into it. Always from life we must give before we can get. I got $75,000 for beating Roger Rouse tonight. If you have the money, the money tell you what you have to do. If you have little money you do little things; if you have big money you do big things. Seventy-five thousand, that is a lot of money. Too much money if the fight is too easy, but it is never easy if a man comes to fight. In a way, Roger Rouse disappointed me. Yes, he tried hard, but I expected him to come to me to try to take my title from me, but he was running.
"I don't know how long I will go on, this I don't think about. But when the time comes I will know. I put myself into boxing, and I will take myself out when I have to. I will do that when my punches get lazy, when I cannot make myself train, when I cannot get up in the dark morning, while others are still asleep, and run."
Beautifully conditioned Tiger, in sure command from fifth round on, lashed Challenger Rouse repeatedly with stern lefts and rights.
Saddened Rouse leaves Las Vegas arena flanked by Trainer Hayashi and Manager Jovanovich.