The Incredible Story of Ike Ibeabuchi - Heavyweight Boxing's Biggest Tragedy

Ike

the greatest that never was

When the name Mike Tyson is mentioned, many people would instantly think of one of the hardest-hitting and greatest heavyweights in the history of boxing. His unique style was entertaining and effective and made him a fan favourite all across the world and a true great of the sport in the post-Muhammad Ali era.

From fighting with a broken back to claiming he wanted to eat his opponent’s children, the fearless “Iron Mike” carried a certain aura that he was indeed the ‘baddest man on the planet’ and that nobody had a chance against him.

However, there is one man who Tyson is rumoured to have ducked, who goes by the name of Ike Ibeabuchi.

Who was Ibeabuchi?

Ibeabuchi is often mentioned as a ‘what if’ fighter due to his undoubted power, but perhaps most impressively, his ability to maintain an insanely high output for 12 rounds, which is something that many of the top heavyweights have failed to do because of their size.

“The President” Ibeabuchi was inspired by the fight that knocked Tyson off his pedestal, where Buster Douglas beat the reigning champion in one of the biggest sporting upsets of all-time, with Ibeabuchi originally planning to join the Nigerian military before turning to boxing after witnessing the upset.

Ike twice defeated fellow Nigerian and future Olympic bronze medallist Duncan Dokiwari in the amateurs before turning professional in 1994. In just 13 months as a professional, he had won eight fights, five of which came by knockout. He then continued his form and was 14-0 when he got his first real test and fought Marion Wilson, who’d previously faced both Ray Mercer and Shannon Briggs.

Ibeabuchi beat Wilson by unanimous decision and then knocked out Marcos Gonzalez to earn a bout with another highly-rated fighter and challenged David Tua for the WBC heavyweight title in 1997.

The battle that changed boxing

If you haven’t seen this fight then I encourage you to watch it, as New Zealander David Tua went into the fight 27-0 and was a clear favourite against the unknown Nigerian. “Tuaman” was being tipped as the next Mike Tyson and was expected to knock Ike out, with 23 knockouts and four title defences to his name at this point.

However, Ibeabuchi showcased his amazing engine, skill set and power to dominate the fight and got the win by unanimous decision, hurting Tua on a number of occasions along the way. This caught the attention of the division and Ibeabuchi moved to number eight in the BoxRec heavyweight rankings, putting him in contention as a potential challenger to champion Evander Holyfield as well as Tyson.

Why is his story so tragic?

He came back and beat Everton Davis and future world champion Chris Byrd, but was arrested once again in 1999, which all but ended his boxing career, with him being released in 2015.

There are murmurs that Mike Tyson avoided Ibeabuchi and who could blame him given the mental state of “The President”, who was clearly a dangerous man. However, if Ike avoided prison and continued his progress in the sport then he would almost certainly have earnt a title fight with Evander Holyfield, who of course defeated Tyson for the title. A win over Holyfield and Mike Tyson - albeit past his prime - would have thrown the Nigerian’s name into the conversation as one of the greatest of all time, but instead he is more or less unknown.

The question remains: could he have beat Holyfield or Tyson? A fight with Holyfield in my opinion would play out similar to the Holyfield vs Tyson fights, with the champion likely coming out on top and not allowing Ibeabuchi to get on the inside. However, a fight with Tyson would have been fireworks, not only the fight itself, but the press conferences and build-up would have been one for the ages.

I personally believe Tyson still comes out on top, but it would have been an all-out war and this is certainly a fight that would be interesting in the new Legends Only League, following the “President’s” release from prison.

By Tom Eaton

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