By David Martinez / Boxing Historian / dmboxing.com
Theodore “Tiger” Flowers was the first African-American to become middleweight champion. Born on August 5, 1895 in Camille, Georgia, Flowers’ nickname, “The Georgia Deacon”, was most appropriate because he always carried his own Bible with him. A deeply religious man, he would recite a passage from Psalm 144 before every bout.
Flowers began his professional career in 1918 at the age of twenty-three and was actually introduced to boxing while working at the shipyards in Philadelphia during World War I when he wandered into a gym that was owned by former light heavyweight champion Philadelphia Jack O’Brien.
O’Brien was not prejudiced and allowed all colors and creeds to train in his gym, and he became very impressed with Flower’s natural talent, encouraging him to become a prize fighter.
A southpaw, Flowers won his first 25 bouts before losing by a sixth round knockout to Panama Joe Gans in August 1921. After four successful wins, he would meet Gans in a rematch four months later in December and would lose again by a fifth round knockout.
In 1922, Flowers engaged in 20 bouts, mostly wins, but did suffer knockout losses to Kid Norfolk, Lee Anderson, Sam Langford, and the Jamaica Kid, followed by another knockout loss to Kid Norfolk.
In 1923, Flowers had sixteen bouts with a record of 13 wins, 2 losses, and 1 draw. His only losses were by stoppage to Kid Norfork and Fireman Jim Flynn.
In 1924, Flowers fought an amazing 36 times and, after some key wins, he became world ranked and was considered a top contender for Harry Greb’s middleweight title. They met on August 24 in an over-the-weight, non-title bout as middleweights; Greb won a 10 round decision.
In 1925, Flowers fought 31 times with impressive wins along the way, including a bout on December 23, 1925, losing a highly controversial 10 round split-decision to light heavyweight Mike McTigue. Most at ringside had Flowers winning handily.
On February 26, 1926 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, he meet Greb again as 16,311 fans witnessed him winning a 15 round split-decision to capture the world middleweight championship. He and Greb would have a third fight six months later, on August 19, 1926 with Flowers defending his title by winning a split-decision in 15 rounds.
Flowers would lose his title just four months later, on December 3, 1926 to Mickey Walker at the Coliseum in Chicago. Flowers was ahead on the scorecards at the halfway mark of a 10 rounder, before Walker would come on strong, dropping Flowers in the 9th round. Walker went on to win a narrow decision.
In November 1927, Flowers was hospitalized in New York for an operation to remove scar tissue from around his eyes. He passed away as a result of the procedure, which was similar to the same surgery that claimed the life of Harry Greb the previous year. Tiger Flowers was a great boxer and one the greatest converted southpaws of all time. Greb was quoted by news writer B.W. Dickerson, saying “Flowers is the greatest boxer I ever faced in the ring. He can beat heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey … He gave me a fight I will never forget and it showed me a lot of things about boxing that I never knew before.”
He was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1971, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1976, the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.
Flowers is regarded as one of the all-time greats in boxing and one of the finest southpaws ever. He had an unconventional style; he was crafty, slippery, and physically strong with amazing ring smarts. His only weakness was a less than iron-clad chin. On my personal list of the greatest boxers of all time, I rate him at #39. Legendary boxing historian Bert Sugar ranks him at #54.
Tiger Flowers died on November 16, 1927 at the age of 32. He is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia.