Charles Nwokolo was born in Nigeria in the 1960s, the oldest of nine children. Dick Tiger, the relentlessly determined world boxing champion was his uncle, not by blood, but by tribal tradition. Yet boxing was not Charles’ first sport; “I loved playing soccer,” he recalled. It wasn’t until he turned 13 that the boxing gene was activated. And it was a secret he kept from his family.
There was no ring; he trained in a yard, with one bag on a tree. But there was a natural talent to be groomed. When a competition came to the area, his coach reluctantly brought Charles along. “I never saw a ring before, never been in a ring. I was so happy, so excited!” He was fueled by the crowd (“I thought they were there to see me!”). “It felt like I was fighting for an hour. I was so tired! And I did so much talking, which was against the rules,” he remembers. Adopting Muhammad Ali’s talkative style and Dick Tiger’s power, Charles won his first-ever fight! A family member showed a newspaper article with the gold medal victory picture to Charles’ dad, and said, “Your son is a boxer now.”
Charles Nwokolo became “Young Dick Tiger,” a fierce young fighter who won 84 of 91 amateur fights, and represented his country in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Soon after competing in the Games, he turned pro.
Tiger made his American debut in Los Angeles in 1986. He fought Bobby Joe Young at the Forum. He fought at Caesars Palace. In fact, he fought anybody at any time, because greedy management wanted to keep money coming in. It’s almost a miracle that with a schedule leaving little room for rest and recovery, Tiger was never seriously injured.
In 1996, the bottom dropped out of Tiger’s exciting life. His wife – his friend and best supporter – suddenly passed away. “I went to tell my son. He was 11. He thought I was joking because he said ‘mom was just here. She said everything would be OK.’” This would not be the only time Tiger’s wife would continue to support him.
His plan was to retire from boxing by 2003, but “the woman I love is dead” and he could not keep his head in the ring. His last professional fight was in 1996. He left with an undefeated record of 31 wins (20 by KO) and 1 draw.
Tiger was living in Hollywood, a single dad. He took odd restaurant and construction jobs. “I loved construction because within two weeks, I was taught to drive a CAT!”
After a few years, his wife came to him in a dream, urging him to go back to boxing. “I am in touch with dreams. I believe my dreams,” Tiger said. So he went back to training in a gym at Sunset and Highland. Later, she returned through a psychic, saying “It will belong to you.” In February of 2006, Tiger moved into the Melrose gym that bears his name.
Tiger Boxing Gym offers single or packaged lessons for adults, teens, and children. There’s also general gym membership for individual workouts during business hours. The gym is small, so there is never a crowd of people. That works for Tiger. He doesn’t do group classes – it’s all one-on-one. And it’s no joke!
A typical session would be a jump rope warm up. Sounds simple, until hearing the pros jump for 30 minutes nonstop! Then hands get wrapped before getting in the ring with Tiger. He teaches combo moves which require not just strength, but intense attention and aim. Next are drills on the bag and speed ball, ab work and push-ups, and after about an hour, the most exhilarating sense of complete exhaustion ever. Tiger’s pro clients do this for at least two hours.
Tiger’s clientele – built from positive online visibility and enthusiastic word-of-mouth – is about as diverse as you can get. “Men, women, little kids” and by little, he means 4 years old. He has coached a 78-year-old Swedish actress. They come for the cardio, strength, endurance, and discipline that comes with boxing training. “Try to hit and not get hit” is the simple way Tiger breaks down the sport, but of course, the grit is in the details.
The gym is one part of Tiger’s dream come true. Another is to train athletes for the professional circuit. Femi Oyeleye, a junior middleweight All African Games gold medalist, is one of those athletes. Femi arrived in Los Angeles a year ago, knowing exactly no one, but with belief that he needed the opportunities he could get here. Luck and networking got him to Tiger. Months of hard work and smart decisions got him to Floyd Mayweather, and in December, he made his winning debut for Mayweather Promotions in Las Vegas.
Tiger is also training a young female boxer named Lovethpatra Ekufu, who is a 4x kickboxing champion preparing to dominate the boxing world.
Tiger is now remarried. He met Elizabeth Wilson, a pro classical violist at his gym in 2008. She was recently widowed, and “needed to hit something.” Elizabeth co-manages the gym and the athletes. She is also the reverent keeper of Tiger’s history, and his loving supporter. He has two sons: Charles Jr. (also a boxer) and Emeka.
Living in Hollywood, close to the gym, should make Tiger’s story ripe for the picking. It is exciting and triumphant, tragically and hopelessly romantic, and it is not over.