15 Years Ago Today: A Genuine Heavyweight Classic - Ibeabuchi-Tua

By James Slater: Fifteen years ago today in Sacramento, California, two unbeaten heavyweight juggernauts collided in a fight that put both guys’ rankings and perfect records well and truly on the line. In many ways this fight - between the 16-0 Ike Ibeabuchi and the 27-0 David Tua - was one of the last “old-school” examples of match-making; where two young fighters, who could so easily have been protected from each other as a title shot was awaited, were instead willing to rumble with one another to see who was tougher.

Tua (especially, as he was the far more known fighter of the two) and Ibeabuchi and their teams deserve immense credit for making the fight that so thrilled us all those years ago. Indeed, it could be argued that neither fighter was ever quite the same after sharing 12 bruising, massively entertaining rounds together.

Those fan who saw the fight (and if you haven’t yet, go on You Tube right now!) witnessed the twelve most incredibly fast paced rounds ever in a heavyweight bout. Larry Merchant, doing commentary, said, quite early in the fight with conviction in his voice , “Something’s got to give”. But he was wrong, nothing did. These two strong, solid heavyweights went at it hammer and tongs for the full twelve rounds. In the process their punch-stat numbers, particularly Ibeabuchi’s, surpassed those one would normally associate with welterweights!

Maybe it’s in light of the poor state of the heavyweight division today, but this match up really does look something quite remarkable now. We certainly were somewhat spoiled back in the ‘90’s. Although even back then there were complaints and groans about the state of the heavyweight division. I know I would gladly swap those days for the ones we have to contend with now! In many ways, this fight came too early in both men’s careers. Surely a fight of this quality, between two legitimate world class heavyweights, deserved to have been contested when a world title was at stake? (although no one knew then, of course, that Ibeabuchi’s fighting days would soon reach a premature end) As it was, the lightly regarded WBC international title, held by Tua, was on the line.

Ibeabuchi and Tua answered the opening bell at, and the first four rounds they fought could very well have been held in a phone booth. Nothing much changed throughout. The big hooks thrown by both men were thudding into each other’s skull and ribcage area right from the get go and the intensity of the fight never faded. It was an incredible fight and the pace of it alone ensures it should be held in much higher esteem today than it is. The first three or four rounds belonged to “The President”, but then, in rounds five through eight, Tua’s work started to erase some of Ike’s early lead. Most people watching must surely have been amazed at the ability of the unknown Ibeabuchi. Still, would David come on to stop him in the later rounds? Neither guy really had an edge over the other in terms of physical strength, which must have been a surprise to Tua.

The Samoan slugger tried to shove Ibeabuchi around throughout but was unable to out muscle him. David’s body work was more of a factor but Ike’s toughness served him well in this regard too. He was magnificently conditioned and he sported a body beautiful physique. Tua was also in top shape (something that wouldn’t always be true later in his career) and by the tenth round these two heavyweights had thrown a staggering 1300 punches between them according to punch- stats.

Tua’s hooks were his best weapons while Ibeabuchi’s hooks AND his jab were his best tools. I believe this may have been the key to his success. Both men’s chins were comparable to granite and they needed to be.

Astonishingly, by the end of the tenth round neither guy appeared to be breathing overly heavy. In fact, the number of punches being thrown, again, especially by Ike, was pretty much the same in the last two rounds as it was in the opener. The stamina on display was something to behold. At the end it was very close and an argument could have been made for each man emerging victorious. As things unfolded, the judges rewarded the soon to be very well known Ike Ibeabuchi, with a win courtesy of a unanimous decision. The final punch-stats numbers totalled a phenomenal 1730 punches thrown. This is more than Ali and Frazier threw in the gruelling “Thrilla In Manila”.

Things soon went downhill for Ibeabuchi. After just three more wins - including a most impressive KO of the hard-to-hit Chris Byrd in March of 1999 - Ibeabuchi, who had begun acting strangely shortly after the Tua war (carrying knives, insisting on being called “The President” at all times) was jailed for doing unspeakable things to a Las Vegas call girl. Today, still awaiting parole, the 39-year-old still dreams of picking up where he left off some 13 years ago and challenging for the world title.

Maybe Ibeabuchi will be released in the coming months, but unless he can pull a George Foreman-type miracle, he will not get very far in his planned ring comeback. All those fans who saw Ike’s talents, in the Tua fight especially, wonder to this day how far he could have gone.

Tua himself, though he enjoyed a good career, in which he at least had the fortune to fight for the world title (losing a wide decision to all-time great Lennox Lewis in 2000), could have - maybe should have - achieved more than he did. Now retired and, it’s sad to say, all but broke financially, “The Tuaman” must wonder himself why he was unable to win the crown - after all, he flattened a number of men who were, at one time or another, world champions.

Tua and Ibeabuchi: arguably the last great fight in the career of both men; arguably the last great heavyweight fight, period!

Article posted on 07.06.2012

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