25 Years On – Looking Back At The Great Ike Ibeabuchi Vs. David Tua Slugfest

When we look back at their respective talents, it’s quite amazing to think neither Ike Ibeabuchi nor David Tua managed to claim even a version of the world heavyweight title. Both fighters had it all, or they seemed to have it all: skill, conditioning, toughness, crunching punching power, a great chin, and a ton of desire. When Ibeabuchi and Tua collided, in Sacramento, California on June 7, 1997, fans got an unexpected, instant classic.

Ibeabuchi was 16-0(12) yet he was far less well-known than Tua, who was also perfect at 27-0(23). Tua had smashed his way onto the world stage with eye-catching knockout wins over John Ruiz, David Izon, and Oleg Maskaev. Some people were calling the Samoan slugger with the mean left hook “the next Rocky Marciano, the next Mike Tyson.”

Ike, hailing from Nigeria and now based in Dallas, Texas, had beaten the usual suspects (Marion Wilson, Anthony Wade, Calvin Jones) yet he had not set anyone on fire with excitement in doing so. It turned out Ibeabuchi would have his coming out party with the fight/war/slugfest against Tua.

These two heavyweights, both approaching their peak, both men in tip-top shape, willing to walk through anything to get to the other side and pick up the victory, gave us a heavyweight barn-burner that set punch-stat records and put seasoned fans and experts into a tizzy. It was non-stop action, hammer-and-tongs style, from round one to the final bell. And despite their best efforts, neither guy was ever able to put a dent in the other. It was the kind of fight where, upon watching it, upon being moved by it, the thought that both men were giving too much reared its head in the mind of the viewer.

It turned out that Ibeabuchi, who won via unanimous decision – 115-114, 116-113 and a too-wide 117-111 – HAD given too much, his brain the victim of trauma that was not picked up on any scans. After his 12 rounds of hell with Tua – rounds, and rounds of torrid two-way action, both chins tested to the MAX, savage trading exchanges to die for, gut-check after gut-check passed – Ike began complaining about headaches. Nothing was found via MRI scans, yet Ike would never be the same fighter, or human being, again.

Soon after the biggest win of his career, Ibeabuchi began “hearing voices coming from the air-conditioning,” he was “being followed by demons and evil spirits.”

Sometimes it can be better to be knocked out in a fight, rather than put your brain through the kind of trauma Ike put his through in taking all Tua could hit it with over the course of 36 brutal minutes. Soon after the fight of 25 years ago, Ibeabuchi went full-on crazy and he was later arrested for doing all manner of unspeakable things to a prostitute in Las Vegas; the soon to be ex-fighter was jailed not too long after his 1999 KO of Chris Byrd (the KO frightening to watch).

Tua fought on for some years, getting as far as challenging Lennox Lewis for the world title in 2000, Tua going down heavily on points. Again, it’s amazing to think both Tua and Ibeabuchi never realized their full potential. Ibeabuchi fell short due to the inner demons he became the victim of after his win over Tua, while Tua, though he kept it together after the tough loss, was perhaps an unlucky fighter (a number of the men Tua took out went on to win a world title; the aforementioned Ruiz most notably).

But getting back to the magic Ibeabuchi and Tua gave us a quarter of a century ago, nothing can ever diminish the spectacle, the all-out war these two punched out for us and for their sport. Throughout the long history of heavyweight boxing, fights like Ali-Frazier, I and III, Bowe-Holyfield I, Dempsey-Firpo, Foreman-Lyle, Holmes-Norton, and more recently, Fury-Wilder III, are ranked as the best of the best.

Watch the warfare Ibeabuchi and Tua engaged in 1997 once again, and you will realize that their fight deserves to be ranked right up there with any of them.