Ike Ibeabuchi Returning To The Ring: Exclusive Interview With “The President”

06/12/2022 - By Jeff Meyers - Comments

Q: Hello, is this Ike?

A: Yes. It’s The President!!

Ike “The President” Ibeabuchi, born and raised in Nigeria, competed from 1994 to 1999 in the heavyweight division. where he finished with a perfect (20-0-0, 15 KOs) record. As a teenager back in 1990, Ibeabuchi was poised to enlist in the Nigerian military until he saw the biggest boxing upset of all time—the classic James “Buster” Douglas vs. Mike Tyson bout in Tokyo. Inspired by Douglas’ upset of Tyson, Ike entered the amateur ranks. and eventually won the State Golden Gloves tournaments at heavyweight in 1994.

Ibeabuchi continued his rapid ascent upon turning pro and faced David “Tuaman” Tua In 1997 for the WBC International Heavyweight belt, Tua was 27-0 at the time and was heralded as the next Mike Tyson because of his devastating knockout power. The fighters set a CompuStat heavyweight division record with 1,730 punches thrown (at that time), with each fighter walking right through the punches. In only his seventeenth professional fight, Ibeabuchi outpointed Tua for the win and Ibeabuchi emerged as the top contender for the world heavyweight title.

After beating Tua, Ibeabuchi won his next two fights and in 1999 squared off against Olympic silver medalist/future heavyweight champion Chris Byrd. A southpaw, Byrd was also undefeated (26–0-0) and had never been knocked out. But in this bout, Ibeabuchi showed tremendous intelligence and a shrewd ability to dissect his opponent’s style and capitalize accordingly. Ibeabuchi bided his time, pressuring Byrd to find a hole in his defense, and finally landed a fierce uppercut that lifted Byrd off the canvas, staggering and literally foaming around the mouth. Byrd himself recalled:

Most heavyweights don’t have a lot of boxing sense. […] But he was different, where he would come, and he would just use his knees, get up under, try to get low, and pick his shots […], and [s]o, he’s gunning more for my shoulders knowing how I’m dipping and how I’m moving, I’m eventually going to get caught on the chin. Because where my hands were, and how I was moving. […] When I got knocked down the first time, I got, literally, the canvas woke me up. I was asleep before I hit the ground, and when I hit the canvas it woke me up. I didn’t go to sleep, I got back up. I still fought. And it was a bad — I mean, slobber came out of my mouth, I fell flat on my face. But my will to win. And then, go down, get back up, go down again, get back up, but then I complained to the referee, like, why you stop the fight? It hit the five second, before the round, five or 10 seconds, and I’m walking back to the corner, and Ike kept throwing at me. I thought it was the bell. So, I’m like, oh my goodness, and he stopped the fight, I’m like, what are you doing? Why you stopping the fight? The bell rung! But I had my bell was still ringing, that’s what was ringing was that bell.

Ike Ibeabuchi radiates intelligence. A serious student of the Sweet Science, Ibeabuchi watches all the great heavyweight champions to glean knowledge that will help him against a particular opponent:

Q: Ike, which heavyweight boxers are your favorites. Who do you admire the most and why?

A: I don’t really look at it in terms of “favorite.” Any champion is great, they have the posture of a champion. When I watch heavyweight champions on film, the legends, I study what they did to capitalize on their opponents’ flaws and get the knockout. I study fighters like James J. Jeffries and Jack Dempsey and try to copy their skills and use them on my opponents.

Ask the casual boxing fan who James J. Jeffries is, and you will likely be met with a blank stare. Jeffries lost only once, to Jack Johnson in 1910 and came out of retirement fat and out of shape because, as he put it (regrettably), “I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a negro.” Jeffries set the record for the quickest KO in a Heavyweight title fight ever, which was 55 seconds against Jack Finnegan in his second title defense.

Ibeabuchi possesses a deep knowledge and respect for the sport, and his insight into what makes a good fighter is impressive.

Q: If you could compare yourself with another heavyweight great, who would it be?

A: I don’t like to compare myself with other fighters. Because they’ve never faced me.

After beating David Tua and executing the then unbeaten Chris Byrd, Ike Ibeabuchi was about to enter a hallway few boxers have been through. After the Byrd fight, Ibeabuchi declared “I’m ready now, I’m ready for the world heavyweight championship.” Ring magazine called Ibeabuchi “boxing’s most dangerous man” in their year-end issue.

Even Chris Byrd’s attorney/advisor John Hornewer was agog: “This guy is Sonny Liston reincarnated.” Ike had all the tools: punching power, a granite chin, and shrewd ring intelligence. So strong Ibeabuchi once knocked a heavy bag off the wall after he punched it so hard the whole frame came off.

The President had it all, and everyone knew it.

Q: Back in 1999, after beating Byrd, there was a scheduled WBC Heavyweight Title Eliminator fight with you versus Michael Grant—with the winner getting a shot against Lennox Lewis. After you were unable to complete, they replaced you with Andrew Golota, who managed to drop Grant twice in the opening round only to quit later in the tenth round. Based on that, how do you think you would have done against Grant had your planned fight gone on as intended?

A: I would have beat Grant. Grant was strong, but slow. I would have waited for my opportunity, fought from the outside, then once I got him at close quarters, I would have capitalized and knocked him out.

The Lennox Lewis-Michael Grant wasn’t even close. Grant started aggressively, keeping Lewis at Bay for about half the round, but Lewis came on strong with three knockdowns in the first round. Lewis ended the fight with an uppercut at the end of the second round for a KO victory.

Q: So that brings up the next question. If you had beaten Grant, how do you think you would have done against Lennox Lewis?

A: Lewis was a great fighter. Lewis would have brought the best out of me. I think I was a better puncher than him, and at that time I was still learning too. It would have been a good fight.

Just as his star started to rise, Ibeabuchi’s legal problems prevented him from fighting Grant, Lewis or any other fighter. Annoyed after a low WBC ranking following the Tua fight, Ibeabuchi kidnapped his ex-girlfriend’s 15-year-old son and drove his car into a concrete pillar in an apparent suicide attempt. Ibeabuchi was charged with kidnapping and attempted murder and eventually sentenced to 120 days in jail after pleading guilty to false imprisonment and paying a $500,000 civil settlement.

Then, in 1999, Ike was arrested at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas after holding a stripper captive and beating her. Ibeabuchi barricaded himself in the bathroom and the cops had to discharge pepper spray under the door to get him to surrender. The Clark County District Attorney’s office then reopened a similar sexual assault allegation that took place eight months prior at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino

The Court found Ibeabuchi incompetent to stand trial and was sent to a state facility, where medical experts diagnosed The President with bipolar disorder and a judge granted permission to force-medicate him. Ibeabuchi subsequently entered an “Alford” plea (pleading guilty while not admitting guilt to avoid going to trial) and was sentenced to two to ten years for battery with intent to commit a crime and three to twenty years for attempted sexual assault.

After years of incarceration and wrangling with the criminal justice system and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to resolve his immigration and United States citizenship status, in April 2016, Ibeabuchi was arrested for violating the conditions of his probation in Arizona based on an old warrant dating back to 2003 of which he was unaware. In the decade and a half after he was convicted there were frequent rumors that Ibeabuchi was on the verge of being released.

Presently, Ibeabuchi is still waiting for a final resolution of his immigration and United States citizenship status immigration status. However, Ike is out of jail and living in Abuja, Nigeria. And still obsessed with fulfilling his dream of becoming heavyweight champion of the world. Ibeabuchi has a fight with an as-yet named opponent slated to take place in July or August 2022.

Q: Ike, what do you think of today’s heavyweight fighters?

A: Tyson Fury is a good fighter. He is hard to hit. I would have to get close to him to end it. Oleksandr Usyk is a good fighter, he is a faster type of Chris Byrd, I like his agility. Anthony Joshua is strong but failed to capitalize on his opportunities when he lost to Andy Ruiz and Usyk. Joshua should have bullied Usyk and pressured him more. Against Ruiz, Joshua needed more gas fuel.

Q: How do you think you would do against Joshua now?

A: I’d pull an Andy Ruiz against Joshua.

Q: Ike, you’re 49 years old. The oldest fighter oldest heavyweight champion in history was George Foreman at 45 years old. Do you think you can do what Foreman did?

A: Yes. I am going to be the second coming of George Foreman. I am different than Foreman because he fought more fights and was beaten up a lot more than me when I had to stop fighting. I’m in better shape now than Foreman was when he made his comeback, I weigh 259 pounds which is only 15 pounds more than when I fought Chris Byrd. I retired undefeated. I am extremely motivated, I have great confidence. I want to recoup what should have been mine. I want to show the world that I have some fight left in me and come back to finish my career.

Whether Ibeabuchi can pull off a George Foreman is the ultimate question here. In 1987, after not fighting for a decade, George Foreman returned to the ring at age 38. Considerably larger than in his prime, Foreman fought his way up the ranks and eventually secured a shot in November 1994 against WBA and IBF heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, who had stunned Evander Holyfield seven months earlier to become the first-ever southpaw heavyweight champion.

Foreman obviously wasn’t as quick as he was in his prime years in the 1970s. Michael Moorer, 19 years younger than Foreman, dominated him Big George for the first nine rounds and looked like he would cruise to an easy victory. But in the 10th, Foreman—wearing the same trunks he’d worn in the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight with Muhammad Ali—hit Moorer with a number of big shots and one lethal right hand to the chin that dropped Moorer for good. Moorer collapsed to the canvas as the crowd at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas erupted and, 10 seconds later, George Foreman became the oldest heavyweight champion in history at 45 years and 299 days old.

When he made his comeback, Foreman said he was fighting to prove the age of 40, even 50, “was not a death sentence.” George Foreman finally retired for good in 1997 at the age of 48 after losing to Shannon Briggs. There was talk of yet another comeback at 55 but it never materialized.

Does Ibeabuchi have a chance to realize his dream to recoup what should have been his? To become heavyweight champion at age 50? It would be difficult, to say the least. Ibeabuchi would have to shake off the ring rust and get in prime fighting condition, which at age 49, will be a daunting task. His reflexes are not going to be what they were twenty years ago, and it could be years before Ike even gets a shot at a heavyweight title eliminator bout—assuming that Ibeabuchi even wins his fights in the first instance. While Foreman was able to make a comeback and regain the championship at age 45, Foreman had faced far better competition than Ibeabuchi. Foreman also started his comeback at age 38, eleven years earlier than Ibeabuchi.

However, this is the heavyweight division, where age is not as significant a factor as the other divisions. The division where more than any other, one punch can end it all. And Ike was brilliant in his prime: strength, ring smarts, and motivated. If Ike is in supreme condition, he has at least a puncher’s chance. Ibeabuchi was incarcerated before his body endured the punishment most fighters (including George Foreman) suffer when they retire. Foreman became champion at age 45, retired at age 48, and contemplated a comeback at age 55. That is not too far off from where Ibeabuchi stands. Yes, Ibeabuchi has a chance, a long shot to be sure, but for him to climb back in the ring is inspiring nevertheless.