At the end of 2015, former heavyweight contender Ike Ibeabuchi was released from custody after spending almost all of this century in prison for battery and attempted sexual assault charges related to a July 1999 incident with a Las Vegas-based escort. At the time of his incarceration, Ibeabuchi was viewed as the hottest rising contender in the heavyweight division. He was 20-0 with 15 KOs and had just knocked out future world champion Chris Byrd in five rounds.
Ibeabuchi looked like the total package as a heavyweight. He was 6’2” and a very athletic 235 pounds. He was a ferocious, explosive puncher. His 1997 war with David Tua ranks among the most exciting fights in the history of the division. Ibeabuchi won by unanimous decision and the two warriors broke the record for most punches thrown in a heavyweight bout, eclipsing the third fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Ike Ibeabuchi turns 43 in early February, and that’s just young enough to pique interest in a potential comeback. It’s unavoidable fans would speculate like this. He remains one of the sport’s greatest “what-if” stories.
Personally, I feel huge ambivalence about the possibility. I’d be a liar if I claimed I wouldn’t tune in to see him fight again. But that doesn’t mean I think the fight should happen.
The nature of Ibeabuchi’s crimes were themselves disturbing, but he has served his time and does deserve to earn a living and resume his life. In general, U.S. society does a poor job of re-integrating the millions of men who serve in our mammoth, prison-industrial complex.
But I am far from convinced that returning to professional boxing is the right way to re-integrate Ibeabuchi. The 1999 incident that ultimately put him away was only the last in a series of disturbing events that indicated Ibeabuchi was a mentally unbalanced individual. There is also reason to believe he suffered brain damage from his battle with Tua, as his behavior deteriorated markedly afterward. Much of his explosive and unpredictable behavior in the late 1990s would seem consistent with brain injury.
It’s not my decision to make, of course. And with the potential money Ike Ibeabuchi could generate as a draw, I won’t be surprised if somebody in a position of power reaches an entirely different conclusion than I have. It will certainly be one of the boxing stories to watch in 2016.