Luke G Williams: “At one point there was quite a prominent lawyer and Ike wouldn’t accept his advice.”
By Chris Akers
The Executioner, The Takeover, and The Problem are just some of the more distinctive sobriquets that have been assigned to boxers over the years. Yet none are as grandiose as the name fans used for Ike Ibeabuchi. The President.
“It was picked up quite early in his days in Texas, from his very early fights,” explains Williams. “There was President Dwight Eisenhower, who was known as Ike. From all the people I have spoken to, it appears in an early fight in Texas, some of the local fans came up with this nickname before he made it big.
“I think Ike enjoyed it because he was a man with quite a high opinion of himself,” he laughs. “Pictured himself as a bit of a regal character and I think he suited his conception of himself and his self-importance. There were times where he genuinely appeared to think he was The President of somewhere. Certainly, he referred to himself like that and that he mustn’t be spoken to at times unless they referred to him as The President.”
The nickname may have tapped into his sense of self, but Ibeabuchi did not just want his name to showcase his willingness to lead the heavyweight division. He wanted to be on top of the division, which would have meant facing the top two fighters at that time – Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.
Although Williams was unable to get Lewis and Holyfield’s thoughts on Ibeabuchi, he doesn’t think that neither boxer consciously avoided him.
“I don’t think it quite reached the point. Lewis and Holyfield had their two fights around the time Ike was stating his case. I think the first Lewis-Holyfield fight was not long after the Tua fight. After the Byrd fight but before he was arrested, Ike’s manager had in his possession a contract from HBO. I believe it was going to be a two fight contract, with potentially the second fight against Lennox Lewis.
“I don’t think Lewis would have avoided him. Lennox was a great fighter, never avoided anybody. Arguably Chris Byrd, but I don’t think that’s because he didn’t think he couldn’t beat him. I think that was more for commercial reasons. So, Ike I think was going to get the Lewis fight, and most likely he’d be matched with Michael Grant first. I fancy that Ike would have done a number on Michael Grant. I think there was a bit of smoke and mirrors about Michael as we saw when he fought Lewis. Essentially he got the shot at Lewis rather than Ike because Ike had been put away.”
As to who would have won these fights, Williams seems to suggest that one of those fighters would have struggled with Ibeabuchi.
“I think maybe Lewis’ experience, height, and length would have given him the edge over Ike. I felt that Ike-Holyfield would have been an all out war. I think I would favour Ike to edge Evander just because Ike had a few physical advantages over Evander.
“But we’re in the realms of what if. Part of being a great fighter is holding yourself together, both inside and outside the ring. We can’t say he was robbed of the chance or anything like that because he couldn’t hold himself together. That’s part of what you need to be a great fighter is the collective mentality outside of the ring and to hold your life together so he could get into the ring.”
Alas, it was not to be, primarily because of the crimes that brought a halt to Ibeabuchi’s career. When in the ring, he showed the world his power, his strength, and the destruction he created with his fists. In court, his dealings with his lawyers demonstrated aspects of his personality that hindered him in the long run.
“At one point there was quite a prominent lawyer and Ike wouldn’t accept his advice. He’s been involved in many court cases since, even legal actions he’s taken from when he’s been in prison, where he’s represented himself and filed all sorts of legal documents. I think he did a paralegal course, as he’s an intelligent man, when he was in prison.
“Lawyers have come and gone over the years. Whether they’ve lost patience with him or he’s lost practice with them or a combination of the two things, that does seem to have hampered his attempts to free himself.
“Similarity when he did finally get paroled, he was failing to attend his sex offender program. That element of arrogance or single-mindedness where he thinks he knows best has clearly hampered him.”
What made things worse for him was that during this period, his views on women were first published.
“He gave a very revealing interview when he was in prison to a journalist called Tim Graham and he subsequently blamed Tim Graham for not getting parole at that point. In this interview, he essentially expressed sentiments along the lines of that he couldn’t have raped the woman as she was a prostitute and therefore doesn’t count as rape. There does seem to have been a bit of inherent sexism there. Some of the people who worked with him or with the Kushner promotional team eluded to the idea that he seemed to have quite old-fashioned, prehistoric views of the status of women in terms of how he treated them.
“Curtis Cokes spoke about how he felt that Ike didn’t acclimate to the social and cultural landscape of the United States. Again that seems to be one of the factors that seem to have been his undoing.”
A former world welterweight champion, Cokes became a trainer after he retired, with Ibeabuchi without question the best boxer he coached.
“Ike was probably the most high profile of them, the closest he ever got to the making it in the big time as a trainer. Kirk Johnson was another guy who he trained for a while, and Ike sparred in the early days. We can see what Curtis did with Ike what a great trainer he was because Ike had had very little experience when he arrived in America. I think he probably had 20 to 30 amateur fights in Nigeria. Essentially Curtis took this guy who had very little experience and molded him into arguably the best heavyweight in the world at one point.
“Everybody I spoke to spoke glowingly about the work that Curtis had done with Ike. Kirk Johnson in particular said that he [Ike] was a different fighter after he linked up with Curtis. I think what happened with Ike broke Curtis’ heart because he felt that was his chance to immortalise himself as a trainer. I did reach out to Curtis and had some contact with his family, but he was quite ill, and I didn’t get the chance to speak to him. From speaking to some people close to him, they did indicate that the whole episode with Ike took its toll on him and was quite heart-breaking for him.”
As to what Ibeabuchi is doing now or where he is, who knows.
“It’s a bit of a mystery. I spoke to him when he was briefly released from prison. He then violated his parole and went back to prison. That sentence expired and he was in ICE custody until the last couple of months. I’ve been checking the ICE database where they list who is in ICE custody, as last time he was in ICE custody they tried to deport him to Nigeria and they wouldn’t accept him back. Then at one point in the last couple of months, his name no longer appears on their database. Since then I’ve heard nothing. He hasn’t reached out to the media. So presumably he’s been released or he’s gone back to Nigeria.
“He’s not broken cover, unlike the last time he was released when he contacted Yahoo Sports first of all. He did an interview with me for Boxing Monthly. He was linking up with Michael Koncz, who was one of Manny Pacquiao’s managers and advisors, as part of his comeback. This time it seems like he is free. Where ‘The President’ is nobody seems to know. He, I’m guessing at some time, will give an interview or reveal whether he’s still planning to fight. But it seems now he is a free man, but I have no idea whether he’s in America or Nigeria. It’s become a bit of a mystery.”
Whereabouts unknown, no one knows what Ibeaubachi is up to at this current time. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, parts of his life at times have been a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Yet for all of that, as a boxer, he was a wasted talent. An example of what could happen if boxers don’t put their talents to good use.