Ike Ibeabuchi’s release from prison and subsequent reports of a planned return to the ring tickled the nostalgia sensors of many boxing fans. After all, The President had the look a heavyweight fighter with all-time potential in the mid-to-late 1990s.
He was blessed with tremendous size, quickness, power and a rock-steady chin, seeming like the kind of guy with the means to rule a glamour division stocked with all-time great champions Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and shortly the Klitschko brothers.
Ibeabuchi, 42, wracked up an impressive 20-0 record, including 15 knockouts and significant wins over David Tua and Chris Byrd, before suffering a huge defeat, not in the ring, but to the inner demons that tortured him just below the surface, even during the good times.
His possible return to a suddenly reinvigorated heavyweight division has created a certain level of buzz, possibly morbid curiosity, but there are a ton of questions swirling that should leave us with a fair bit of trepidation before buying into this comeback sight unseen.
Ibeabuchi’s last fight came nearly 17 years ago, and his next one (assuming he can even get licensed, which is another whole world of questions) will come after spending 14 years in a Nevada prison.
His 1997 upset of Tua remains the signature moment of his in-ring career.
Entering as a serious underdog, the 1994 Texas Golden Gloves champion, who until that point hadn’t beaten a significant foe, stood in the pocket slinging bombs with his opponent, showing no respect for a guy whose punching power drew comparisons to Mike Tyson.
The pair combined to throw 1,730 punches, a record for a heavyweight fight tracked by CompuBox (via BoxRec). Ibeabuchi set a record all his own by throwing 975 of those punches, all with the meanest of the mean intentions.
Ibeabuchi’s performance put him on the map in a big way, contributing to veteran promoter Lou DiBella giving the fighter some pretty serious praise in 2004, shortly after he was denied parole.
“[Ibeabuchi] went into the ring like a bull with steam coming out of his nostrils. It was vintage 1985, 1986, 1987 Mike Tyson. ... He was the best heavyweight prospect I've ever seen,” DiBella said, per Tim Graham of ESPN.com.
"He had a world of ferocity. He had hand speed. He had a chin. He had everything, but he didn't have himself. He was never mentally sound."
Ibeabuchi’s life began to come completely off the rails shortly after the Tua fight. His behavior became increasingly erratic, and he began to claim he was seeing and hearing demons.
A couple of months after the biggest win of his career, he was arrested for kidnapping the 15-year-old son of his former girlfriend and crashing his car into a concrete pillar on a Texas highway. He pled guilty to false imprisonment and was sentenced to 120 days in jail.
He was out of the ring for 13 months before scoring a couple of nondescript wins and then crunching Byrd, a future two-time heavyweight titlist, with a devastating left hook and ending the fight just seconds later.
In July 1999, he was accused of attempted sexual assault of a Las Vegas escort in his hotel room and was eventually sent to a state mental facility, where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
He was considered mentally unfit to stand trial for two-plus years after the diagnosis.
Ibeabuchi eventually entered an Alford plea (where a defendant pleads guilty but maintains their innocence) and was sentenced to an extended prison term for battery and attempted sexual assault.
He was released late in 2014, after earning two college degrees and remaining in shape while in prison, and he signed on with adviser Michael Koncz, hoping to resume his career and prove he’s a changed man.
"[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 said, per Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports.
There are a lot of what ifs in this scenario.
Ibeabuchi faces an uphill climb getting licensed in Nevada in time for an April fight. His long layoff, incarceration and history of mental illness and erratic behavior mean he’ll need to do a lot of heavy lifting to prove he’s capable of fighting without any risk above and beyond the norm.
It certainly helps to have a promoter like Bob Arum, and a fighter like Manny Pacquiao, both of whom carry some considerable weight in the industry, at your back, but Nevada could put the brakes on this before it even starts.
And none of that even considers the question of what a heavyweight, soon to be 43 years old and 17 years past his last fight, could possibly have left in the tank.
Ibeabuchi is one of boxing’s great “what if” stories. He had the physical tools to not just be the heavyweight champion of the world (at a time when that truly meant the world) but one of the all-timers.
His story is tragic, both for the fighter and those who were injured by his actions. While we’d like to see him find a way to make things right and come through in the end, there are just too many questions left unanswered.
Kevin McRae is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. You can follow him on Twitter @McRaeWrites.