Ike Ibeabuchi - The Return of the King, or is it?

ike ibeabuchi29.10.07 – By Andrew Wake: With the current heavyweight landscape showing little quality, with 44 year olds who have not beaten anyone but journeymen and no hopers in recent years getting title shots and with champions like Ruslan Chageav and Oleg Maskaev unknown to most of the general public, many people (boxing critics included) often talk about what might have been if one certain boxer could have controlled his personal demons and reached his full potential.

The boxer I speak of here is currently under lock and key at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada. The boxer I speak of is Ike “The President” Ibeabuchi.

The first time Ike felt the itch to start boxing came in 1990. Ike, who had recently failed in an attempt to become a cadet in the Nigerian Defence Academy, was at the home of an uncle watching Mike Tyson defend his undisputed heavyweight crown against the unheralded James “Buster” Douglas. When Douglas knocked out “Iron” Mike in the 10th round, the young Ike turned to his uncle and said “If Tyson can be beat, anybody can be world champion."

With high levels of poverty in his home country Nigeria and little employment prospects Ike made the decision to become a boxer and began training with days of Tyson’s loss. He quickly advanced from contests at local level to the national stakes, winning the Imo – State Super Heavyweight Championship and later he beat a fighter called Duncan Dokiwari who went onto to win a 1996 Olympic bronze medal.

In 1993 Ike travelled to America to join his mother Patricia, who had moved there 3 years earlier. He quickly found a gym and under the guidance of former WBA and WBC welterweight champion Curtis Cokes became a Golden Gloves champion before turning professional in late 1994. In the paid ranks Ike impressed with his combination of speed and power as he built 16 – 0 record, primarily made up of upstarts and journeymen.

In 1997 he came up against a fighter who posed a real threat to his perfect record as he faced fellow unbeaten puncher David “The Terminator” Tua for the WBC International strap. At the time Tua was being groomed for the big time and had impressive knock out wins over future world champions John Ruiz and Oleg Maskaev on his résumé. Going to their meeting at the Arco Arena in Sacremento few gave Ike a chance of winning but he came out throwing fast combinations to Tua’s head and body and dominated the first 5 rounds. Tua claimed some of the middle rounds but Ike finished strongly and won by unanimous decision 115 – 114, 116 – 113 and 117 – 111. The fight instantly went down in boxing history as it broke the record for the most punches thrown in a heavyweight contest, beating the one set by Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier in the infamous “Thriller in Manilla” some 22 years earlier, impressive considering that Ali v Frazier went on 2 rounds longer.

After the tussle with Tua, Ike began complaining of severe headaches but an MRI scan found nothing and his boxing career continued.

The first signs that Ike may have been mentally unhinged came shortly after the Tua fight when reports that he fractured a sparring partner’s skull and badly injured cruiserweight contender Ezra Sellers leg began to circulate. Later in the year he kidnapped the son of a former girlfriend, bundled him into his car and then crashed at high speed into concrete pillar. The boy was seriously injured and still can not walk properly to this day. Ike was sentenced to a mere 2 months in prison and forced to pay the boy’s mother an undisclosed sum.

After his showing against Tua Ike should have been hot property on the heavyweight scene but due to his stint in the pen many promoters did not want anything to do with him. Instead of getting the top level opponents he should have, he had to make do with bouts against limited journeymen Tim Ray and Everton Davis. He knocked both of them out.

His defining fight came in March 1999 when he became the first man to beat slick 1992 silver medallist Chris Byrd. At the time Byrd was considered a defensive master and virtually unhittable but a monster of a left uppercut in the 5th round (and yes it was an uppercut and not a left hook as often reported) rocked the American before a right hook made him fall to the canvas face first. Byrd, with slather dangling from his mouth, did manage to get to his feet but he had legs like a newly born giraffe taking it’s first steps and could not stop the big Nigerian from swarming all over him. Byrd dropped to the floor and rose to his feet again before a string of punches from Ike forced referee Ron Rall to waive the contest off.

Ike Ibeabuchi was now a name you could see near the top of the boxing rankings and he began calling out the big names of the time, Lewis, Holyfield and Tyson. HBO were interested in giving him a lucrative TV deal and arranged to meet him and promoter Cedric Kushner at a restaurant in New York. What happened during that meeting was further evidence that Ike was not well mentally. Apparently they were having a fine meal and discussing terms when Ike picked up a big carving knife, slammed it into the table and screamed “They knew it! They knew it! The belts belong to me! Why don’t they just give them back?” What he was talking about nobody knew and he probably didn’t either.

In July 1999 Ike travelled alone to Las Vegas after being told that he could possibly meet with Don King and discuss a possible promotional deal. He had been unhappy with the deal that had been offered by his current promoter Cedric Kusher and was willing to speak to anyone who would offer him more money. He checked into the Mirage hotel and called a local escort agency, who sent a girl to his room. Ike has admitted that he had a weak spot for prostitutes and had been with them many times before. An argument ensued after the girl allegedly told him that she was there to strip and give him a lap dance but nothing else. The story goes (and I’m in no way implying I know what really happened that night) that Ike was enraged and forced her into a walk in closet and attempted to rape her. The noise from the attack was so loud that the people in the next room heard and alerted the hotel’s security. Ike barricaded himself into the bathroom and when the police arrived on the scene they had to use teargas to get him out.

In 2001 he was found guilty of battery and attempted sexual assault and sentenced to up to 20 years at in prison. His mother Patricia believes that the rape incident was a fit up organised by rival promoters who did not want Ike to sign with a big name promoter. She says on Ike’s website “These promoters went so far as to fly and bring false charges against Ike in Gilbert and Scottsdale while he lived with me in the same house, by paying a couple of women to accuse him of attempted kidnapping and sexual assault. The police investigated these charges and threw them out because there was no basis for these charges against him.”

She adds “Since they did not achieve their aim here they followed him to Las Vegas and repeated the charges which have kept Ike in jail.”

The Ike Ibeabuchi story is in many ways similar to that of Mike Tyson’s and if you take the letter M away from the word Mike you get Ike. Both fighters were phonons who hit like they had horseshoes in their gloves, both fighters came from impoverished backgrounds and both spent their best fighting years behind bars.

Ike admits that he has had his problems in the past but says that prison has had some positive effects on his life. He has trained everyday and studied something called “Psycho-pugilism”, which he says he will introduce to the world of boxing when he is released and he has also completed a series of self improvement programmes while on day release at the Western Nevada Community College. A place he has been on the “Dean’s List” for two semesters in a row.

I have read on various discussion boards and in articles people claiming that Ike would have been the saviour of the heavyweight division and could have gone on to become the greatest fighter of all time. Even respected HBO analyst Max Kellerman once stated that Ike would have murdered Lennox Lewis if they had ever fought.

So was he really that good? Well, in a word, no. It’s easy to make a legend out of what might have been and I’m sure that, given the state of the division at present, most people just want to believe that it didn’t have to be the way it is.

However, he would have certainly have won some version of the world championship, especially when you take into account that his former victim Chris Byrd went on to win the WBO and IBF crowns. He could have beaten Lennox, after all Hasim Rahman did, but it was unlikely. If they had have met I would have fancied the Brit to out jab him and win on points.

Ike could be out on parole in December and has said that he will return to ring and resume his quest to conquer the division. But after 8 years out of the ring what will Ike have left in tank? I’ve heard mixed reports, some saying that Ike has trained so well that he is still at optimum weight, while others have said that he is grossly overweight. He will also be 34 years old, not exactly over the hill given the ages of other current big men but they don’t have the disadvantage of having 8 years worth of ring rust. There is also a question of whether he really is 34.He listed as born in 1973 but some believe he is older. Maybe 37 or 38.

A few years ago Riddick Bowe made a similar return to the squared circle after 8 years out. He looked slow and blubbery and struggled to beat low level fighters. While I don’t expect Ike to be as bad as “Big Daddy” was, I also don’t expect the likes of Wladimir Klitschko to lose much sleep at the thought of him returning either.

I’m sure that many fight scribes will proclaim his release (if it is granted) as “The Return of The King” but sorry to break it to you guys, it won’t be. Well, not unless this “Psycho-pugilism” he talks about really is something special. In 2008 we may well find out.

Article posted on 29.10.2007

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