Ibeabuchi recalls Tua showdown
Luke G. Williams
Before his recent arrest for alleged probation violation, Nigerian heavyweight Ike Ibeabuchi, who was planning a comeback at the age of 43, was interviewed in-depth by Boxing Monthly’s Luke G. Williams about the legendary fight which made his name, namely his thrilling points victory against David Tua in 1997...
Back in the late 1990s, the name Ike Ibeabuchi was on every boxing fan’s lips. The Nigerian heavyweight had emerged from relative obscurity in June 1997 to wage an unforgettable war with rising contender David Tua, summarily removing the Samoan knockout artist’s 27-fight unbeaten record with a unanimous points win in a bout characterised by huge punch volumes and ceaseless ferocity from both pugilists.
Viewed today, the fight has lost none of its raw power, although it’s somewhat humbling to realise that a contest that remains so fresh and vivid in many boxing fans’ memories actually took place nearly 20 years ago.
When I recently interviewed Ibeabuchi he was only too happy to discuss the bout that launched him in to the top tier of the world heavyweight scene with such a flourish.
Back in ‘97, Tua was seen by many within the boxing world as the sport’s next superstar, with his penchant for brutal knockouts earning him comparisons to a young Mike Tyson. A 16-fight unbeaten prospect such as Ibeabuchi might have been forgiven for steering clear of Tua, but the Nigerian insists today, despite the fact he started the fight as an underdog, that he was always convinced he would emerge victorious.
“Going into the Tua fight I was confident,” a cheerful and animated Ibeabuchi told BM by phone from Arizona, where he is now based. “My trainer [former World Welterweight Champion] Curtis Cokes and I knew we could beat him when the fight was made. We took the fight on such a premise. We trained to go the distance and we also prepared to throw many punches. Energy and work level were needed to defeat him. We knew we could out-work and out-punch him and that was our plan - to wear him out.”
Ibeabuchi also revealed that, in conjunction with Cokes, there was a deliberate tactical approach formulated before the fight which focused on ensuring the nullification of Tua’s feared left hook. “He was a formidable opponent, but we took his left hook away from him,” Ibeabuchi explained.
“We had our right hand placed so he couldn’t launch his left hook. So we trained to go the distance, to throw many punches but also we trained for defence against his left hook. Except in round nine, he never really landed any left hooks. He continued throwing right crosses, but they were ineffective because I blocked many before they landed. If they did land they were forceful, they had an impact. His left hook would have been the most forceful, impressive punch of his, if he had landed it, but he did not. So we took that away and that was why we succeeded in defeating him.”
When quizzed on the unusual intensity of the fight, Ibeabuchi is clear that this was something he anticipated beforehand. “I wasn’t surprised how intense the fight was,” he pointed out. “We knew we would be in a real fight! We also knew that any mistakes we would pay for dearly, but we were confident in our plan and execution. We [carried out the plan] fairly well and the result was unanimous.” [Ibeabuchi won on all three judges’ cards – 115-114, 116-113, 117-111].
One of the lasting legacies of Ibeabuchi-Tua was the incredible punch statistics that were recorded by Compubox during the contest. Indeed, the fight still holds the record for most punches thrown in a heavyweight bout at 1,730. This is more, even, than during the legendary Thrilla in Manila between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier which, of course, was two rounds longer than Ibeabuchi-Tua. Of the total punches thrown, Ibeabuchi was responsible for a staggeringly industrious 975, of which 332 found their target.
However, Ibeabuchi admits that such records were far from his mind when he climbed into the ring. “We didn’t intend to set any records,” he confessed. “I knew [Muhammad] Ali and [Joe] Frazier had set a record but no way did we intend to beat it and set a record. I didn’t think that was a point we could be measured against. Maybe if we had been fighting a fifteen-round fight we might have thought we could break the record, but not in a 12-round fight! But it happened and we enjoyed it. I’m proud of that and I enjoyed the fight.”
Despite the satisfaction which Ibeabuchi clearly still feels to have participated in such an iconic bout, he does, however, admit to one regret about the contest. “I just wish I had sat more on my punches,” he explained. “Especially when I was commanding the fight. Although Mr. Tua was a durable fighter, there’s no doubt in my mind, if I had reduced the number of punches thrown and had sat on them maybe I would have been able to knock him out. He started bleeding sometime in the fight and I would have preferred to stop him than go 12 rounds!”
Unlike some of boxing’s other great rivalries, Ibeabuchi-Tua was a one-off. Despite conjuring such a thrilling contest, the fates decreed that the two men would never meet again in the ring.
But what if they had done? How does Ibeabuchi think that Ibeabuchi-Tua 2 would have unfolded?
The Nigerian’s response is firm and confident, as befitting a boxer who has never been vanquished in the professional ring. “I guess a Tua rematch would have ended in a knockout victory for myself,” he declared. “I developed more punching power after our first encounter.”
And with that, I say my goodbyes and leave Ibeabuchi to his memories of a stirring night in Sacramento, when two unbeaten young heavyweights conjured a battle for the ages.