On this day in 1999, in Tacoma, USA, an unbeaten heavyweight named Ikemefula Ibeabuchi, better known as Ike, appeared to be well on his way to becoming not only a world heavyweight champion, but perhaps one of the next dominant rulers. Facing the much smaller but slick Chris Byrd – a small heavyweight who would nonetheless go on to make a habit of out-speeding and outboxing bigger, more powerful fighters – Ibeabuchi scored a quite brutal KO.
After going hammer and tongs with fellow juggernaut of a puncher David Tua in the summer of 1997 24-year-old Ibeabuchi had certainly proven his credentials. Having out-pointed the dangerous Tua, “The President,” as Ibeabuchi was known, proceeded to destroy the then undefeated Byrd. This fight, now 19 years old, pitted two undefeated fighters together, and someone’s “O” had to go. Byrd lost both his unbeaten record and his consciousness in the fifth-round.
Sounding for all the world like a shotgun blast, Ibeabuchi’s left hand, a hook-cum-uppercut, was savage and it blasted Byrd’s head back violently. Byrd went down, yet amazingly, on pure instinct, he climbed back up. Ibeabuchi showed his finishing skills as he tore at his wounded prey sending Bryd down a second time. Up again clambered the badly stricken fighter, only to take more shots and be stopped, whilst still on his feet, with just a second remaining in the round. Byrd was so out of it he did not even know he had been knocked out – his state of mind being evident during the post-fight interview he gave Larry Merchant. Needless to say, nobody questioned the legitimacy of the stoppage.
Now 20-0(15), Ibeabuchi had put the entire heavyweight division on notice. Sadly, and shockingly, Ibeabuchi would never fight again. Mentally troubled – to the point where he reportedly insisted on being addressed to by his “President” nickname at all times – the talented giant soon strayed off the right path and wound up languishing in a prison cell.
Had he carried on fighting, training and keeping himself on the straight and narrow, Ibeabuchi would have been right in the running for a big fight with either a Lennox Lewis, a Mike Tyson or maybe a Hasim Rahman. Would he have had a great shot at beating Lewis and Tyson, along with Rahman? We will never know, as Ibeabuchi imploded.
As for Byrd, he regrouped and, in time, would defeat big names such as Tua, Evander Holyfield and, via a shoulder injury on the part of his opponent, Vitali Klitschko. Against Ibeabuchi, however, Bryd had no chance.