When debating the greatest heavyweights of all time, inside most boxing circles someone will inevitably start a comment with, “Well if Ike Ibeabuchi never went to prison…” For those unfamiliar with heavyweight boxing in the 90s, Ike Ibeabuchi was one of the top prospects in the sport’s most revered division, boasting a very solid 20-0 record with 15KOs by, and bested the then undefeated David Tua and eventual IBF Heavyweight champion Chris Byrd in devastating fashion. In fact, Ibeabuchi’s knockdown punch on Bryd is one of the most brutal punches I’ve ever seen landed in boxing. Many also prospected that he would have won against the likes of Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis had his career not been cut short.
(Go to 1:57 to see the punch)
In July of 1999, Ibeabuchi was arrested for an alleged sexual assault against a 21-year-old escort in Las Vegas, and eventually submitted an Alford plea on the charges of battery with intent to commit a crime and attempted sexual assault. An Alford plea is where the defendant asserts his innocence, but submits a guilty plea on the belief that the prosecution would have enough evidence to find him guilty. Ibeabuchi was sentenced to two to ten years for the first charge and three to twenty years for the second; the judge ordering that the sentences be served consecutively.
The Nevada Prison released Ibeabuchi in February of 2014, but because of his status as a Nigerian immigrant, was held by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona until last month. Sixteen years have passed since he last stepped in the ring with Chris Byrd.
It appears that Ibeabuchi still has his sights on a heavyweight championship, however. According to Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports (http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/boxing/out-of-custody--heavyweight-ike-ibeabuchi-plans-comeback-at-43-003001842.html), Ibeabuchi contacted the publication informing them that he’s hired Manny Pacquiao’s adviser Michael Koncz, and is gunning for a spot on the undercard of Pacquiao’s farewell fight on April 9th. If successful in landing a bout, the Nigerian heavyweight will be 43-years-old by fight night.
"[Ibeabuchi] has served his time and wants to improve himself and Manny feels that since he's served his term and is trying to turn his life around, he deserves a second chance," Koncz told Yahoo Sports.
Ibeabuchi also reported weighing in at a healthy 245-lbs, only a quarter-pound heavier than he weighed in against Byrd, and is supposedly in fighting shape. Now, the biggest obstacle is regaining his boxing license, a process in which he says he’s willing to do anything for.
"I am definitely in shape and I understand I would have to prove this," Ibeabuchi said to Iole. "I need to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world and I understand that I will have to prove myself worthy. Any of the tests that would be required of me, an EKG, an MRI, an EEG, those kinds of tests, X-rays, things that would be required to obtain a boxing license, were done while I was incarcerated. But I am willing to cooperate and do whatever so that I may obtain my boxing [license] and appear on this card in Las Vegas."
The prospect of Ibeabuchi returning to the squared circle is outlandish, but perhaps not too outlandish for a few reasons. First is the current state of the heavyweight division. This is quite possibly one of the worst heavyweight eras the sport has ever seen, and with the belts being scattered since long-time champ Wladimir Klitschko was dethroned by Tyson Fury last month, there are a growing number of opportunities for a title shot. Second is historical occurrence of fighters winning championships at an advanced age. George Foreman won the IBF and WBA crowns at the age of 45, and of course Bernard Hopkins set the record of being the oldest fighter to win the a title when he beat Tavoris Cloud at age 48 and then unified against Beibut Shumenov at age 49. To be fair, neither of them did so with a 16-year layoff (though Big George did it with a 10-year one), but given the excitement that Ibeabuchi used to garner at the height of his career, it might be interesting to see how he looks in the ring against a carefully planned opponent. Sure, it’s no guarantee that he’d have any sort of chance at winning a title, but with the state of the division and the number of bizarre stories already in boxing, why not?
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.