Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ike "The President" Ibeabuchi

Ike with HBO Boxing analyst Larry Merchant after the fight with Chris Byrd.

Ikemefula "Ike" Charles Ibeabuchi was born in Okigwe, in post-Civil War East Central State, Nigeria, on February 2, 1973. He defeated highly ranked contender David Tua and future heavyweight titlist Chris Byrd. With ring name "The President", and after compiling a record of 20-0 with 15 knockouts, he was sent to jail following charges that he tried to rape a woman in Las Vegas in July 1999.

Ibeabuchi planned on joining the Nigerian military before he witnessed Buster Douglas knock out Mike Tyson in 1990. Inspired by the fight, Ibeabuchi started boxing.

Ibeabuchi twice defeated countryman and eventual 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Duncan Dokiwari. He emigrated to the Dallas area with his mother in 1993 and won the Dallas and Texas Golden Gloves tournaments in 1994.

Under the guidance of former world welterweight champion Curtis Cokes, Ibeabuchi made his professional debut with a second round knockout of Ismael Garcia on October 13, 1994.

After winning 16 straight fights against club fighters and journeymen, Ibeabuchi made a big jump in competition and fought undefeated prospect David Tua for the WBC International Heavyweight title on June 7, 1997. Tua was 27-0 and considered by many analysts to be the "next Tyson."

The fight was nothing short of spectacular. Both threw bombs and neither took a backward step all night. They set a heavyweight record with 1,730 punches thrown. Ibeabuchi also set the individual record by throwing 975 punches and averaging 81 per round. The heavyweight average is around 50. Ibeabuchi won by a unanimous decision with scores of 117-111, 116-113, and 115-114. The fight established Ibeabuchi as a top contender.

Immediately after the fight with Tua, Ibeabuchi began complaining of a terrible headache. He was taken directly to the hospital where he underwent several tests, including an MRI. From what the latest advances in scientific technology could detect, there was nothing at all wrong with him. He showed no evidence of brain bleeds or swelling. Nothing was found and he was sent home with a clean bill of health.

After being released from the hospital, Ibeabuchi began to swear that he was being plagued by demons; evil spirits that only he and his mother could see.

A couple of months after the Tua fight, distraught over a perceived snub in the WBC rankings, Ibeabuchi abducted the 15-year-old son of his former girlfriend and slammed his car into a concrete pillar on Interstate 35 north of Austin, Texas. According to the criminal complaint, the boy suffered "numerous injuries" from the accident "and will never walk normally again." Ibeabuchi was charged with kidnapping and attempted murder, but the courts concluded he was trying to commit suicide and he was sentenced to 120 days after pleading guilty to false imprisonment. He also paid a $500,000 civil settlement.

"It was a very frustrating case because what he did wasn't as clearly criminal as what I expected him to get involved with down the line," said District Attorney John Bradley, who prosecuted Ibeabuchi. "I fully expected that his contact with the criminal justice system had not ended with our county. We weren't able to get him examined, but it sure seemed to me -- even if he was a heavyweight boxer looking at making millions of dollars -- that he should have been committed to a psychiatric community and treated."

Ibeabuchi developed a new persona based on his nickname, "The President." At times when he was being churlish or refusing to complete a simple requirement such as attending a weigh-in, his handlers would appeal to The President's regal nature by convincing him it was the noble thing to do. "There were times when he thought he was really a president," boxing promoter and former HBO Sports executive Lou DiBella said. "He would get into these mental states where he insisted on people calling him The President. It was his alter ago, where 'I am The President,' not of the United States, but maybe the world."

Promoter Cedric Kushner said Ibeabuchi on two occasions had to be literally dragged onto airplanes before fights because of perceived demonic forces.

Once Ibeabuchi wielded a knife during a dinner meeting in New York to discuss a possible three-fight HBO deal. "We were having a fine meal at a nice restaurant," Kushner said, "and mid-course Ike picked up a big carving knife, slammed it into the table and screamed 'They knew it! They knew it! The belts belong to me! Why don't they just give them back.'" "That was a peculiar experience," Kushner said. "That wasn't the type of conduct I expected to romance the guy from HBO. (Ibeabuchi) was like a Viking."

Ibeabuchi returned to the ring after thirteen months of inactivity and scored a first round knockout over journeyman Tim Ray in July 1998. Two months later, he stopped journeyman Everton Davis in nine rounds.

Ibeabuchi's next fight would be against Chris Byrd in March 1999. Byrd, a 1992 Olympic silver medalist and a future world heavyweight champion, was a quick and slick southpaw with a record of 26-0.

While training for the Byrd fight, one of Ibeabuchi's sparring partners, Ezra Sellers, cut him during a sparring session.

The cut was on the left eyelid and would take four stitches. Sellers had his gloves and handwraps removed by Jay Wilson, Ibeabuchi's assistant trainer. Afterward, Sellers retrieved his wedding ring from his gym bag and went over to apologize.

Ibeabuchi spotted the ring and accused Sellers of intentionally cutting him. Sellers said Ibeabuchi then kicked him in the right knee.

"As I was falling, I grabbed him and he wound up on top of me, straddling me, and he was punching my head and then he was choking me, and finally they pulled him off me," Sellers said. "I said, 'Your own trainer wrapped my hand,' and that sent him off after (Wilson)."

Sellers left the gym to find a policeman. That's when he realized he couldn't walk and took a cab instead to a hospital. He was told to forget a March 12 boxing date because of torn knee ligaments.

After leaving the hospital, he filed charges. So did Wilson.

A former Kushner matchmaker, Bill Benton, was dispatched by the promoter and HBO to check on Ibeabuchi. Benton said the Sellers incident was "just a gym skirmish" and the fight with Byrd went off as planned.

After four rounds, the three judges had the fight scored even: 38-38, 39-37 for Ibeabuchi, and 39-37 for Byrd. In the fifth, Ibeabuchi landed a devastating left hook that sent Byrd to the canvas. Byrd made it back to his feet but was quickly sent back down. Byrd once again rose, but was trapped against the ropes and taking punishment as the referee waived it off at the 2:59 mark.

Following the win over Byrd, Ibeabuchi turned down $700,000 to fight fringe contender Jeremy Williams and $1 million for a showdown with the undefeated Michael Grant.

In July 1999, Ibeabuchi was staying at The Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas when he phoned a local escort service and had a woman sent to his room.

The 21-year-old woman said she was there to strip and nothing else. She claimed he attacked her in the walk-in closet after she demanded to be paid up front.

"He invites her up to his room and begins to get physical with her," said Christopher Lalli, a Clark County chief deputy district attorney. It got loud enough that people in the adjoining room notified hotel security.

"When they enter the room," Lalli said, "a woman, naked from the waist down, is running toward them."

Ibeabuchi barricaded himself in the bathroom, and police discharged pepper spray under the door to coax his surrender.

Ibeabuchi's defense faced the further difficulty of the Clark County DA's reopening of a similar sexual assault allegation from eight months earlier that took place next door to The Mirage, at sister-property Treasure Island Hotel and Casino.

He was released on bail and placed on house arrest—able to train and fight again until his trial—but he was remanded after two more sexual-assault allegations surfaced in Arizona.

"The troubling thing for us was this was not an isolated incident," Lalli says.

Lalli says the case against Ibeabuchi's crimes at The Mirage was solid. There was physical evidence, eyewitness testimony, a pattern of unacceptable behavior.

"It was evidence you don't have nine times out of 10 in these cases when you go to trial," Lalli said.

Ibeabuchi was deemed incompetent to stand trial and was sent to a state facility for the mentally ill. Medical experts concluded he exhibited bipolar disorder, and a judge granted permission to force-medicate him. Eight months later, 2½ years after his arrest, he was ruled cogent enough to plea.

He entered an Alford plea, conceding the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him while not admitting guilt. Had he gone to trial and been found guilty of rape, he could have received 10 years to life in prison, but instead he got two to 10 years for battery with intent to commit a crime and three to 20 years for attempted sexual assault, to be served consecutively.

Ibeabuchi was paroled on the first charge in 2001 and has been denied parole on the second charge three times. He was denied parole in August 2004, in August 2007 and again in February 2009. He was again denied parole, the fourth time, and the next parole date was set for May 14, 2013. He'll be 40 by then and hopes for his return to the ring will be slim.

Since his incarceration, Ibeabuchi has earned two college degrees from Western Nevada Community College: an Associate of General Studies and an Associate of Applied Science in General Business.

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