Tiger Flowers was the first African-American to become a world middleweight champion. Born in Georgia, Flowers began fighting in 1918, when he was working in a Philadelphia shipbuilding plant. He started his professional boxing career at the age of 23, much later than most who plan to reach the top. A southpaw, Flowers was sometimes called a "left-handed Harry Greb," because of the way he hit opponents with the side of his fist. Flowers was a deeply religious man who recited a passage from Psalm 144 before every bout.
Flowers won his first 25 fights before experiencing a knockout at the hands of Panama Joe Gans. In 1922 and 1923, Flowers racked up several wins, interrupted by knockout losses to Kid Norfolk, Sam Langford, and the Jamaica Kid. In 1924, The Ring magazine rated Flowers the top contender for champion Harry Greb's middleweight title. Flowers earned a title shot after losing a controversial decision to light heavyweight Mike McTigue. The judges for this special holiday-time bout, held December 23 in New York, were Bernard Gimbel, the department store magnate, and Peter J. Brady, a banker. These unqualified judges gave the decision to McTigue, although nearly all expert observers thought the fight belonged to Flowers.
In February of 1926, Flowers met Greb for the title in Madison Square Garden in front of a crowd of 16,311. Flowers got off to a good start and staggered Greb in the first round. Greb cut Flowers in the second and the fourth. As the fight went on, the battle degenerated into a wrestling match with considerable holding, gouging, and low blows. Flowers won a unanimous decision to capture the title. He also won an August rematch with Greb. Just four months later, Flowers lost his title to Mickey Walker in Chicago, even though Flowers had dominated the fight. The judges' questionable decision was investigated by the Illinois State Athletic Commission, but Walker still held the title.
Flowers tried for most of the next year to obtain a rematch with Walker. Still a top contender, he twice fought to a draw with Hall of Famer Maxie Rosenbloom. In November of 1927, Flowers was hospitalized for an operation to remove scar tissue from around his eyes. He died as a result of the procedure, which was similar to the surgery that had claimed the life of Harry Greb the previous year.
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Excerpted with permission from 'The Boxing Register' by James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, copyright © 1999 by McBooks Press. All rights reserved.