Izegwire seeks to fashion success Nigerian light heavy pursues 2 careers

February 26, 1991|By Alan Goldstein

As a youngster, David Izegwire was enthralled by the stories his father, the police chief of Lagos, told of Dick Tiger returning as a conquering hero to his native Nigeria in 1962 after winning the world middleweight title from Gene Fullmer.

And he has witnessed the adulation his countrymen display greeting Akeem Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets basketball star, whenever he visits his homeland.

A dream of similar success and recognition brought Izegwire to the United States in 1986, but he was not prepared for the nightmares he would have to endure for more than a year.

Izegwire, an unbeaten (3-0) light-heavyweight who meets John Keys in a six-round semifinal on the under card of the Vincent Pettway-Eddie Van Kirk welterweight match at the Baltimore Arena on Monday night, was a true innocent from abroad when he first arrived in Washington. The newcomer was dependent on the counsel and financial support of one of his father's close friends.

"We were only here a short time when my guardian got into trouble with the police and disappeared," Izegwire said. "I had no money of my own and I was homeless. All I had were the clothes on my back."

For the next year, he lived by his wits, working odd jobs in construction and in fast-food restaurants and getting help from a few friends.

"I never asked where their money came from," he said. "I was just grateful for their help."

In time, he found a car outside the House of Champions boxing gym on Georgia Avenue. The car had been deserted by Pappy Gault, the late Washington fight manager and Olympic coach.

"That car became my home for over a year," Izegwire said. "It didn't have a heater and I almost froze in the winter, but it was still better than the street."

Originally, Izegwire, an outstanding high school sprinter in Nigeria, had envisioned simply walking into the athletic office of Howard University, applying for a track scholarship and being given free room and board.

"I'd run by the campus every day, but my confidence was shot and I never got up the courage to follow through," he said.

Instead, he grew more interested in the activity inside the boxing gym on Georgia Avenue, where he watched the amateurs and pros work under veteran trainer Bobby Brown, a former middleweight who once fought Rocky Graziano.

"I didn't know the first thing about fighting," Izegwire said. "Bobby Brown asked me if I wanted to learn. He put me in with a tough heavyweight named Terry Ballard. He came charging after me, but I was too quick. I didn't land any punches, but neither did he.

"Mr. Brown kept asking me if I wanted to quit, but I kept fighting. I guess he admired my courage."

For a year, Brown restricted his new student to learning the benefits that accrue to a fighter who possesses a stiff left jab.

"I fought over 30 amateur bouts as a one-handed fighter and still managed to win several regional titles," he said. "I even got to the national quarterfinals in 1989."

Izegwire eventually would add a powerful right hand, a wife, and a new career as a fashion designer.

"I met my wife, Tonya, at the gym. She was a big boxing fan and, in time, I moved into her house. It was much better than my car," Izegwire said with a laugh.

Designing was in his blood. As a juvenile, he remembers being reprimanded repeatedly by his mother for altering the family clothes without permission. By 16, he was working as a model and apprentice for Dacova, one of the top designers in Nigeria.

Today, Izegwire designs men's and women's fashions, selling his originals to boutiques in Georgetown and also staging his own fashion shows to attract new customers.

"Yes, I believe I could be a very successful designer if I devoted all my time to it," he said.

"Designing clothes is my work, but boxing is my love. My father would prefer my being in school and furthering my education. But one day I will make him real proud of me as a fighter. One day, I might remind him of the great Dick Tiger."

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