Ibeabuchi to launch comeback Livefight remembers the Ike of the 90’s
By Michael J Jones
JUNE 1997 in Sacramento, two young undefeated heavyweights collide for the WBC International title. In one corner is the feared David Tua, the stocky, lethal-punching Samoan who looks destined to win a portion of the heavyweight championship after leaving a trail of destruction in the division. In the other corner is a little-known Nigerian whose name nobody can pronounce.
That Ike Ibeabuchi beat Tua that night wasn’t what made us heavyweight fans turn our heads. Several men would out-box and beat Tua by keeping away from that left hook and utilising the jab but only one man walked right up to Tua and stood toe-to-toe and won.
The two fighters slugged it out over twelve thrilling rounds before Ibeabuchi prevailed by scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 115-114. Only the latter score reflected the competitive nature of the contest which amazingly featured no knock-downs.
Ike, who raised his record to 17-0 with the victory, threw 975 punches during the fight and they weren’t range-finding taps; every shot was loaded up with the single intention of causing maximum damage to his rival. Tua also scored hard and often with both hands but, incredibly, his potent fists would never inflict significant damage to the determined Ibeabuchi.
The winner would thus rise from unknown prospect to contender in just 36 minutes but there is where the story of Ike Ibeabuchi turns the darkest shade of black…
The 6’2” Ibeabuchi turned to boxing in the early 90’s after watching Buster Douglas upset “Iron” Mike Tyson. The muscular heavyweight made his mark as an amateur winning the Dallas and Texas Golden Gloves before turning pro in late 1994.
The Texas-based Nigerian fell under the radar for his first two years but did gain victories over respected fighters such as Terry Porter, Greg Pickrom and the hard-as-nails journeyman Marion Wilson. Tua was deemed a massive step-up but Ibeabuchi came through with flying colours.
Following his biggest win to date, Ibeabuchi started complaining of head-aches but was given the all clear after a battery of medical tests. He then began insisting demons were inside his head but only he and his mother could see them.
The heavyweight star continued his bizarre behaviour and proceeded to kidnap an ex-girlfriends son before driving both he and the boy into a concrete pillar. The troubled fighter escaped jail after his defence argued it was in fact a suicide attempt gone wrong (no I’m not making this up).
Despite the odd goings on, Ibeabuchi resumed his career 13 months after the Tua bout and stopped both opponents in the second half of 1998 to set up a match with fellow unbeaten Chris Byrd.
The contest took place in March 1999 and would be the final bout of Ibeabuchi’s career (to date). Byrd, then 27-0 and already being avoided by many contenders, put on a terrific exhibition of defensive boxing for four rounds. The speedy southpaw left Ibeabuchi hitting air for most of the first few rounds. Ibeabuchi’s 36lb weight advantage slowly started to tell though…
Entering the fifth the fight was even on the cards but a massive left uppercut took all of the zip out of Byrd. Despite nearly having his head taken off by the blow, Byrd rose from the knock-down but a further trip to the canvas and follow up flurry resulted in the fight being waved off with one second to go in the session.
The victory raised Ike Ibeabuchi’s record to 20-0 (15) with many tipping him to be the next dominant heavyweight champion with stars like Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and Holyfield all well into their 30’s.
However, instead of heavyweight glory, the ensuing year for Ibeabuchi reads like something from a horror movie.
Before the Byrd bout, “The President” was said to have chased, punched and strangled Ezra Sellers after a sparring session resulted in Ike getting cut. The worrying incident was brushed off as nothing but things would go from bad to worse following his win over Byrd.
Potential big-money fights against leading contenders Jeremy Williams and Michael Grant were turned down before an ill-fated night at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A young escort was called to Ibeabuchi’s suit for the heavyweight’s pleasure but was instead violently attacked.
Once the case was brought to court, more reports of similar incidents involving Ibeabuchi were brought to light as well as dozens of accounts from boxing folk to underline the troubled heavyweight’s disturbing behaviour.
Despite the shocking train of events and subsequent incarceration, Ibeabuchi was released from prison last month, has sought the help of boxing advisor Mike Koncz and is set to make his boxing comeback at the age of 42 in 2016.
At the time of his arrest, Ibeabuchi was, for me, behind only Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield in the heavyweight rankings. Although he is said to be in good physical shape with a clean bill of health, it is hard to forget the darkly tormented man who clearly had a mental illness akin to schizophrenia. Can that be simply ignored as the former contender embarks on his unlikely comeback?
It probably will as money talks and nothing sells better than a notorious heavyweight. Ibeabuchi has claimed he is ready to make his ring return on the April 9th Pacquiao-Bradley bill. Bob Arum has even mentioned matching Ike with undefeated Andy Ruiz Jr.
There were suggestions the incident in Vegas was a set up but with all the other reports it’s hard to make a case that Ibeabuchi was the victim of a sting. Guys who are sound of mind don’t bundle kids in cars and drive them into a wall, nor do they violently attack sparring partners or wave knives at promoters (which Ike did to the startled Cedric Kushner).
Ibeabuchi apparently behaved himself in prison and even picked up two college degrees so deserves credit for that. It’s doubtful he’ll ever be even half the fighter he was 16 years ago but could still feature in an open division if he can score a few wins.
What If Ike had never left boxing in 1999?
I don’t think Ike could have beaten a tactically astute man like Lennox Lewis. The same way Lewis tamed Tua, I think the Brit great would have formulated a plan to nullify Ibeabuchi’s aggression and out-boxed him for a decision victory. Almost certainly Ike would have been more competitive than Tua was (this writer never gave the Samoan a round in a landslide defeat to Lewis).
One match which would have been fun was Ike against Mike Tyson. By 99’ Tyson had suffered those two defeats to Holyfield and probably would have found Ibeabuchi too strong and hungry to subdue. Ike would have knocked “Iron” Mike out in eight pulsating rounds.
The gifted Nigerian would have been too young and busy for Holyfield, would have knocked out Grant in four or five rounds and would have also been the favourite over the likes of Michael Moorer, Hasin Rahman and Axel Schulz.
I don’t believe Ike would have been a unified champion with Lewis around but would have almost certainly have picked up one of the other belts from Byrd or John Ruiz. His combination of strength, determination and work-rate would have left all but Lewis in an unceremonious heap…
…but we will never know for sure. Remember that when he was put away, Ibeabuchi was only in his mid 20’s and still developing and could have potentially become an even better fighting machine.