Heavyweight fighters who never fulfilled their potential Part 2 – Ike Ibeabuchi
By John Stevens: Mention the name of Ike Ibeabuchi and everyone, from established boxing writers in the media to internet trolls on boxing forums to whom everyone, from Ali and Tyson and all points in-between, is referred to as a ‘bum’ – and they all seem to be in agreement that this guy was a definite world champion in the making before his slide into crime and prison. But how good was he really and is the legend that’s built up around his name a worthy one?
Ibeabuchi came onto the scene in 1994 and for the next three years went through the usual array of journeymen fighters, beating them all with relative ease and scoring most by knockout. One name that sticks out from those early fights is Marion Wilson who took him the distance over 8 rounds.
Wilson was an opponent who lost many more than he won and didn’t really possess a great deal of power but was as tough as nails and was never knocked out or stopped in his career and thus was a perfect yardstick by which to measure an up-and-comers ability. He fought and lost against many big names including Frans Botha, Golota, Briggs, Mavrovic, Page, Maskaev etc and also fought Ray Mercer to a draw. Ibeabuchi had no more luck with the guy than anyone else and was taken the distance. I remember watching this fight at the time and thinking that while Ibeabuchi looked pretty good he didn’t look anything that special – but perhaps I was under-estimating old Marion’s ability too!
After those 16 fights in 1997 Ike was pitted against the awesome figure of David Tua – a fighter who was probably near his very peak at that time after some major knockouts against Ruiz, Izon and Maskaev. Perhaps David’s team didn’t know too much about Ibeabuchi at the time and just judged him by his record up till then against basically average opposition. Whatever the case may be, from the opening bell it was clear that Ibeabuchi was a lot more than an average opponent and what followed next was 12 rounds of the most incredible action – a fight that broke all boxing records in the heavyweight division for punches thrown and a contest that was, and remains, perhaps the greatest heavyweight fight of all time (though Brewster/Liakovich runs it close) – Ibeabuchi fought out of his skin and stood toe to toe with Tua the entire fight, matching him blow for blow. I thought at the time that it may have been a draw and indeed, a draw would have been a fair result owing to the performances of both men; but Ike got the nod by UD and it was as a result of this fight that people in the business started looking at him as a potential world champion
Ike followed this with a meaningless 1st round victory over journeyman Tim Ray. Then he again fought an average fight against a limited fighter in Everton Davis who took him 9 rounds before succumbing. However in his next (and as it turned out, his last) contest, he pulled off a performance that was perhaps even more impressive than the Tua victory when he stopped the elusive and enigmatic Chris Byrd. This performance I feel is where Ike’s true standing should be calculated, and for that we need to quickly look at Chris Byrd himself
Byrd in his prime was every fighter’s nightmare. An incredibly skilled and slippery boxer who had seemingly built in radar that allowed him to run rings around men much bigger than him in the division. He gave both Klitschko brothers fits and totally flustered David Tua winning a UD in that fight. Later in his career Byrd chose, for inexplicable reasons, to adopt a more straightforward style and was nowhere near as effective but at this time in his career he was at his craftiest best and was considered to be practically knockout proof. He gave Ibeabuchi plenty to think about early on in this fight but Ike turned out to be pretty smart too and began to cut Byrd off in the ring, finally hitting him with a left hook/uppercut that nearly decapitated him and ended the fight in the 5th
After this, Ikes slide into mental instability and eventual arrest followed and he sadly ended up in prison where he remains to this day. Summing all this up then, how good was he really? Well, if we take the Tua and Byrd victories as yardsticks, then he was without a shadow of a doubt a very serious player. At 6’3 and hovering around 240lb he was also a very big man and held his weight well, with a very chiselled frame and an overall extremely imposing demeanour, like a bigger and meaner looking Sonny Liston! He could punch like hell and seemed almost impervious to punishment as evidenced by the Tua fight when he was cracked flush many times and barely blinked. All this being the case then I feel that Ibeabuchi could have most definitely gone on to much bigger things. The three giants at that time were of course, Lennox Lewis and The upcoming Klitschko brothers. Again, we can only imagine how Ike would have fared against any of these great champions. For sure it would have been very competitive and it’s all extremely sad and frustrating that the boxing world never got to see any of it
As for Ike now, regardless of whether he is guilty as charged or not or to what level his mental instability has sunk, you have to feel some sympathy for him. As surely of all the ‘could have been’ stories in the division, his case tops the lot.