The heavyweight division. No other division in boxing incites so much awe – or ire. There was a time when being the heavyweight champion of the world was the absolute pinnacle of sporting success, and many of the best athletes on the planet strived to be so. If you got there, you were the king of the world.
By the late 1990s, professionalism in sports such as American football, basketball and rugby now meant that larger athletes could make comparatively the same amount of money with comparatively less brain damage. Even the 1990s had names such as Lewis, Holyfield, Tyson and Bowe to support a division that was crumbling from the bottom. Following Lewis’ retirement in 2003, many have contended to take his place on the throne. However none have done so in either an emphatic or entertaining manner.
“The President” Ike Ibeabuchi could well have been that savour.
A well muscled 240 pound boxer-puncher with a high output, Ibeabuchi was poised to inherit the crown, or at least seriously challenge for it. By mid-1999 Ibeabuchi had amassed an impressive 20-0 record with 15 of those wins ending early. However, it was never to be as mental and legal issues were to sabotage his successes. He had been diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorders but refused to take the voluntary medication as it would damage his motor skills therefore affecting his boxing career.
In 1997, The Nigerian national was 16-0 and was pitched against the much heralded David Tua (then 27-0), one of the most powerful heavyweights ever, in a 12 round contest. The outcome was nothing short of spectacular as both threw bombs, with neither taking a backward step, all night setting a heavyweight record with 1,730 punches thrown. Ibeabuchi also set the individual record (now broken) by throwing 975 punches and averaging 81 per round. The heavyweight average is around 50. Incredible. The President would come away with a close-but-unanimous decision and stamped himself as the cream of the contenders.
Soon after the Tua bout Ibeabuchi’s life would begin to fray. Just two months later, Ibeabuchi was arrested after kidnapping the son of his ex-girlfriend and injuring him by driving into a freeway overpass at 65 miles per hour. He would serve three months. Ibeabuchi also violated terms of his parole by leaving the state of Texas to seek psychiatric counseling in Arizona. The official excuse from the Ibeabuchi camp was that he was suffering from possible manic depression because of the contrast between his successful professional life and gloomy personal life.
In July of 1998 he stopped journeyman Tim Ray in the opening stanza. Then in September he went on to stop Everton Davis in 9. The President would find himself in more trouble in December of that year as he was arrested after a 23 year old “entertainer” that had been called to his hotel room accused him of sexually assaulting her. The case was dropped due to lack of evidence but a pattern of behavior was emerging.
March of 1999 saw Ibeabuchi come up against another contender in the form of a slick Chris Byrd who sported a 26-0 record. Byrd was coming off the back of reputable wins over Ross Puritty, Elieser Castillo and Jimmy Thunder and had the speed and movement to give anyone a long night. Ibeabuchi’s mental problems would again arise as he refused to board the plane on the way to the fight as he believed that there were “demons” on it.
The bout against Byrd was remarkably one sided as The President came out winging hooks to the head which had no problems finding the normally elusive Byrd. In the fifth, Ibeabuchi absolutely powned Byrd with a dynamite left hook that sent him straight to the canvas. Byrd made it back to his feet but looked infantile in dribbling and remaining off balance and was sent back to the deck with the next punch. Byrd once again rose, but was trapped against the ropes and taking fire as the referee waived it off. Chris Byrd would later go on to become a two-time heavyweight titlist and his decimation made Ibeabuchi the divisions hottest prospect. All he needed to do was keep his cool, and a title shot would come knocking. Actions that sound simple enough but, unfortunately for the boxing , this would be the last we saw of Ibeabuchi
In June of that year he attempted to board an overbooked plan and it took two officers and a couple of blasts of pepper spray to subdue him. He then turned down $700K to deck fringe contender Jeremy Williams and $1million for a showdown with the undefeated but glass chinned Michael Grant.
July 22 marked the tipping point as Ibeabuchi was arrested for once again sexually assaulting an “entertainer” that was called to his hotel room. When officers arrived, Ibeabuchi locked himself in the bathroom and pepper gas had to be sprayed under the door before he would surrender. In 2001 he pleaded guilty to battery with intent to commit a crime and attempted sexual assault. He was sentenced to 2 to 10 years on the first charge (paroled in 2001) and 3 to 20 years on the second charge. He has been denied parole three times and is next eligible in May 2012.
Like most people who have unfulfilled potential in their life, you can’t help but speculate on “what could have happened”. Ibeabuchi may have been granted a shot against Lewis and been smartly outboxed like most of his challengers. All we know was that, Ibeabuchi had a granite chin, power in both hands and was proactive in letting them go. Just two out of those three qualities can be enough to make you a champion.