Ibeabuchi vs Tua revisited

Luke G. Williams
26/04/2016 9:08am

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. As a follow-on from this interview, Luke G. Williams revisits and recreates the classic Tua-Ibeabuchi contest from 1997 which launched Ibeabuchi into the upper echelons of heavyweight boxing …

PROLOGUE

The Ike Ibeabuchi versus David Tua fight, which took place on 7 June 1997 at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, California, has entered into heavyweight boxing folklore.

Its fame owes nothing to the tangible laurels that the victor earned – the WBC International strap being an unusually meaningless bauble even by the absurd standards of boxing’s proliferation of governing bodies.

Instead it owes its legendary status to its breathlessly relentless pace and beautiful brutality; a brutality reflected by a remarkable and oft-quoted statistic - of all the heavyweight fights analysed since 1985 by CompuBox, Ibeabuchi-Tua featured more punches thrown than any other heavyweight contest, a staggering 1,730 in twelve rounds, of which Ibeabuchi threw a barely believable 975 at a jaw dropping average of 81.25 per round. By way of comparison, the famed Thrilla in Manilla, the benchmark by which all heavyweight wars are usually measured, saw 1,591 punches thrown in fourteen rounds.

Another element that made the fight so memorable was that the underdog emerged triumphant. Prior to June 1997, no one had really taken much notice of Ike Ibeabuchi beyond his immediate circle of friends and advisors and hardcore boxing fans. ‘The President’ might have been an impressive 16-0 and aligned with prominent promoter Cedric Kushner, but as far as most people were concerned he was just another heavyweight prospect, and one with a hard surname to pronounce at that.

That was all about to change though. Cable TV boxing giants HBO were looking for a piece of undefeated cannon fodder to be devoured by rising knockout specialist Tua. The squat and powerful Samoan-born heavyweight was seen by many as the ‘new Tyson’ after stringing together an impressive 27 successive victories, including 23 Kos, 11 of them in round one; a more impressive strike rate than Jack Dempsey and George Foreman, if not Mike Tyson.

After rejecting Obed Sullivan, Corrie Sanders, Larry Donald and Zeljko Mavrovic as prospective opponents, HBO accepted Kushner’s offer of Ibeabuchi’s services to the South African-born promoter’s surprise. “The only reason Ike was picked was because he had a good record and nobody expected him to win,” Kushner’s publicist Gregory Juckett later recalled.

The bald statistics back up Juckett’s view; although both men were just 24 years old, Ibeabuchi’s three years, 16 fights and 56 rounds of professional experience were dwarfed by Tua’s four years, 27 fights and 99 rounds. The television money, the crowd and the bookmakers were all backing Tua.

But Ikemefula Charles Ibeabuchi was about to prove everyone wrong.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

DAVID TUA
Trainer: RONNIE SHIELDS
Manager: LOU DUVA

IKE IBEABUCHI
Trainer: CURTIS COKES

HBO AFTER DARK COMMENTARY TEAM:
JIM LAMPLEY
LARRY MERCHANT
HAROLD LEDERMAN

TALE OF THE TAPE:

Tua

Age 24

Height 5’10”

Weight 226 pounds

Fights: 27

Wins: 27

KOs: 23

Ibeabuchi

Age 24

Height 6’2”

Weight 235

Fights: 16

Wins: 16

KOs: 12

ROUND 1: Ibeabuchi starts fast, whipping in jabs, body shots and uppercuts. Tua stands his ground and responds in kind, although his work isn’t as frequent or as eye catching. Almost a minute in, the huge Samoan whips an overhand right which catches Ibeabuchi on the top of his skull. Ibeabuchi’s reply sets the tone for the fight - a huge right and two lefts of his own - he won’t be cowed or intimidated by Tua’s reputation or his bulky physique. Both men then go to work inside, continually swinging, with no clinches and no need for the referee to get involved. With 40 seconds left in the round, Ibeabuchi catches Tua flush with a huge left. As the clock runs down Tua responds with a big left while Ibeabuchi cracks a massive body shot in return. Ibeabuchi is the busier throughout, landing and throwing more leather – 91 punches in all.

BOXING MONTHLY SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 10-9 Tua

CURTIS COKES: Take a deep breath, you’re doing fine … don’t stay in there all day.

LARRY MERCHANT: Can Ibeabuchi sustain that level, Jim? He hasn’t had long, tough fights.

JIM LAMPLEY: Ibeabuchi throwing 91 punches by Compubox count in round number one – the heavyweight average is between 45 and 50 punches in one round!

ROUND 2: Ibeabuchi starts fast again, his jab working like a piston, before going to Tua’s body and getting a brief warning from referee Lou Filippo for straying low. The pace continues to be relentless, Ibeabuchi outworking Tua, as both men score to body and head at fairly frequent intervals, but Ibeabuchi never cedes the initiative, and maintains his incredible punch volume. As Tua trudges back to his corner a look somewhere between bemusement and alarm is etched across his features. According to Compubox, Tua has been incredibly active so far in the contest, throwing 122 punches and landing 40, but Ibeabuchi, with another 91 shots thrown in round 2, has thrown a staggering 182 and landed 59.

BM SCORECARD:Ibeabuchi 10-9 Tua (20-18)

RONNIE SHIELDS: This guy can’t keep up this pace like this!

ROUND 3: A swift two-fisted assault by Ibeabuchi in the opening minute of the round forces Tua backwards momentarily. For the rest of the round Ibeabuchi successfully smothers Tua’s attempts to land a big left hook. In the final minute of the round, the two men flay each other to the body, neither flinching nor taking a backward step. Ibeabuchi lands a left on the bell and shades the round having thrown an incredible 95 punches.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 10-9 Tua (30-27)

LARRY MERCHANT: Eventually something has to give.

LOU DUVA: You’re standing in front of him, right? Go round him, and get your hands off and break a rib, baby … Turn him around!

ROUND 4: Ibeabuchi bosses the opening of the round with his jab. By the time the fighters have advanced to the centre of the ring, the pattern continues as before, with Ibeabuchi’s constant punching to body and head consistently putting Tua’s work in the shade. Towards the end of the round Ibeabuchi is warned for shoving Tua backwards with his forearm and elbow, it’s only the second time in the fight that referee Filippo has had to do anything other than watch the two men hammer away at each other. Tua goes to the body with some cracking shots, Ibeabuchi responds in kind. It’s a wafer thin round, which Ibeabuchi shades, although he looks, for the first time, a little weary at the bell. Perhaps he’s human after all.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 10-9 Tua (40-36)

COKES: You’re staying in there too long, sonny. You’ve got to make him let you get outside. Get outside, Ike, and stick a jab four or five times. Don’t let him get too close to you.

ROUND 5: Following Cokes’ instructions to the letter, Ibeabuchi fights at range for the opening minute, swift raking jabs loading up the points. A wild Tua left hook then catches Ibeabuchi on the back of the head and the duo once again go to war close in. Every time Tua lands, Ibeabuchi seems to land two or three punches in reply, even though his punch output has marginally decreased. For the final 50 seconds the men trade swinging blows in the centre of the ring. As the round ends, Tua lands his big left for the first time in the fight to steal the round. Ibeabuchi’s punch output has fallen to 68. In the context of the fight it’s a low figure; in reality it’s more punches than most heavyweights throw in two rounds.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 9-10 Tua (49-46)

DUVA: That’s the way you fight!

SHIELDS: You hurt him a couple of times there, Tua! He’s hurt baby! Tua, let the hook go now!

COKES: Fight him inside, then get out of there and go back to your boxing. You’re staying inside too long. Fight him inside then get out of there and jab, jab, jab!

ROUND 6: A big left hook early in the round pushes Ibeabuchi backwards and an overhand right also scores for the Samoan, but the Nigerian rallies with big body shots and hooks of his own. Ibeabuchi then attempts to jab and move but Tua stalks him mercilessly to win the round.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 9-10 Tua (58-56)

LAMPLEY: A war of attrition here in Sacramento!

COKES: Don’t quit, you know you can go twelve!

ROUND 7: Ibeabuchi continues to box behind the jab, at times countering Tua effectively, at times being dragged back into the trenches or roughed up. With less than a minute to go in the round, Tua lands a big left and right, which Ibeabuchi shrugs off, but Tua lands more power shots as the round winds down to take his third straight round. Ibeabuchi threw 75 punches in the round but only landed 18, whereas 30 of Tua’s 59 found their target. Ibeabuchi’s early advantage has nearly been wiped out.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 9-10 Tua (67-66)

SHIELDS: This is a very close fight now. The jabs that this guy’s throwing are scoring punches on you. You’ve got to jab with the guy, and when you get close throw the overhand right. And double up with the hook.

COKES: You’ve got to make the run at him and show him you’re a bad man. Hit him as hard as you can. Come on, let’s go!

ROUND 8: An even first minute, slightly less frantic than before, is punctuated by a wicked Tua right to Ibeabuchi’s midriff. As Ibeabuchi fails to find an opening, Tua gains confidence landing a right hand on Ibeabuchi’s jaw. In the final half of the round both men start swinging. Ibeabuchi lands a right, Tua a left hook; neither man flinches. Just as it appears that Tua is bossing the round, Ibeabuchi finds reserves of energy and determination in the final 40 seconds of the round, scoring repeatedly with his left, including a massive left hook with 20 seconds remaining. It’s a late flurry that secures a tight stanza.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 10-9 Tua (77-75)

SHIELDS: David, baby, look, you’re waiting too long with this guy. He’s trying to steal the rounds from you in the last 30 seconds. … Now, Tua, listen. You’ve got to go back to the body.

ROUND 9: Ibeabuchi begins the round in determined fashion, a quick one-two smashing into Tua’s face. Regaining his equilibrium, Tua responds to the body, but Ibeabuchi establishes dominance with the jab. When Tua slips inside the thudding right fist of Ibeabuchi, the Nigerian smothers his efforts with clever inside work. Two minutes in, Tua has some success with a big uppercut, but Ibeabuchi returns to his jab, and Tua’s attempts to reach him become wilder and less accurate.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 10-9 Tua (87-84)

MERCHANT: You may wonder how does a fighter like this [i.e. Ibeabuchi] come out of nowhere? I frankly admit I had never heard of him until this fight was made.

SHIELDS: You’ve got two hands, baby. You’ve got to move both hands.

COKES: You’ve got to get mean, son. You’ve got to get mean or it’s going to slip away from us.

IBEABUCHI: (quietly): Two rounds ahead.

COKES: Come on, come on! Make a serious run at this man.

ROUND 10:  Ibeabuchi continues to jab, but with less alacrity than before and Tua is able to enjoy greater success as he charges forward, in search of the points he needs. Two solid lefts from Tua halfway through the round seemingly bounce off Ibeabuchi’s granite skull. The underdog scores consistently with the jab, but Tua’s aggression and forces Ibeabuchi back on several occasions. In the closing seconds Tua lands a rapid combination only for Ibeabuchi to come swinging right back at him with hurtful shots of his own. However, Tua’s ceaseless aggression has swung the round his way.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 9-10 Tua (96-94)

COKES: You’re doing alright ... I need a better one, you got your second wind now? You feel good? Let’s throw some punches.

ROUND 11: Ibeabuchi starts fast, whipping in a left hook, and snapping his jab back and forth. Tua looks to duck inside and swing his big overhand right, and connects a couple of times with the back of Ibeabuchi’s head. 

LAMPLEY: I remember Mike Tyson saying a few years back this is a hurt business… This is a hurt fight, both men hurting each other constantly throughout the battle.

When Tua steams in, Ibeabuchi has some success with short lefts, but at times he looks weary when he tries to raise his gloves. Tua also is displaying signs of fatigue, as he bobs and weaves, displaying the air of an enraged but exhausted bull. A constant stream of Tua hooks in the closing 30 seconds snatches the round. Ibeabuchi taps his opponent on the chest in a show of respect as both men return to their corners.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 9-10 Tua (105-104)

SHIELDS: Tua, it’s the last round, baby!

DUVA: This is going to decide the fight. This round!

SHIELDS: You’ve just got to keep throwing punches like that, ok? Tua, you can do that, baby!

COKES: You gotta go - three minutes of hell! You’re in good shape! Keep your hands up and throw punches!

DUVA: You want the fight?  You want this fight? Then get the hell out there!

SHIELDS: Go! Gotta go now!

COKES: OK, Ike, fight hard!

LAMPLEY: What a fight! And as they come out for the 12th, Ike Ibeabuchi smiles at David Tua and nods as if to say: hey, you are some man!

MERCHANT: And Tua smiled right back at him, Jim.

LAMPLEY: Fabulous sportsmanship, great competition. Both fighters giving it the best they got.

ROUND 12: Ibeabuchi attacks from the bell, a flurry of jabs scoring. He takes a hard left from Tua and swings back with a left of his own to Tua’s chin, before charging in with an assault to the body. Tua, sensing the round slipping, stalks his man, Ibeabuchi proving content to jab and move. A rare clinch, just the second of the fight, is split up by the referee. Tua starts swinging, but Ibeabuchi leans back and the New Zealander mainly hits thin air, before the men lean on and work each other’s bodies. In the final ten seconds an explosive Tua left is answered by two huge hooks from Ibeabuchi. For the final five seconds both men stand and swing in a final show of defiance, power and pride. BM gives the final round – and the fight - to Ibeabuchi.

BM SCORECARD: Ibeabuchi 10-9 Tua (115-113)

LAMPLEY: Fantastic bout!

MERCHANT: I’ve never seen big men hammer at each other quite like that, Jim.

After the bell, Ibeabuchi, rather touchingly, chases after Tua, who has run to the corner to hold his gloves aloft. He drapes an arm around his shoulder and pats him on the back several times. It’s not an acknowledgment he thinks Tua has won, merely a gesture of solidarity at the shared drama the two men have conjured for 36 unrelenting minutes. The celebrations of both men possess none of the kiddology and posturing that characterise the end of most close fights; instead, both men seem to be reveling in the fact they have come to Sacramento and touched each other’s souls.

After all the drama, the banal mathematics of the scorecards and punch stats, which result in a unanimous win for Ibeabuchi, are as follows:

JUDGE YOUNG: 117-111

JUDGE ELLISBREW: 115-114

JUDGE JORDAN: 116-113

TOTAL PUNCHES:

LANDED: Tua 282 Ibeabuchi 332

THROWN: Tua 755 Ibeabuchi 975

PERCENTAGE: Tua 37% Ibeabuchi 33%

On hearing the verdict, the Ibeabuchi corner leap around in childlike celebration, Tua smiles ruefully. As he prepares to be interviewed by Merchant, Ibeabuchi raises his right hand to the heavens, his eyes half closed in prayer: “Thank you, thank you. father”.

MERCHANT: What won this fight for you?

IBEABUCHI: God. God first.

EPILOGUE: WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

David Tua arguably never recaptured the ferocity he displayed in his first 27 fights or against Ibeabuchi. Although he won his next ten fights to earn a shot at unified Heavyweight Champion Lennox Lewis in November 2000, Tua lost widely on points and never again challenged for the world title. He eventually retired in 2013 with a record of 52-5-2.

Ike Ibeabuchi suffered a series of legal problems after the Tua fight and to date has not fought for the World Heavyweight title. His career initially stalled when he was arrested and later sentenced to 120 days in prison for false imprisonment. After his release he won three more fights, including a sensational fifth-round stoppage of previously undefeated Chris Byrd in March 1999. However, he was arrested in Las Vegas in the summer of the same year and was subsequently convicted of attempted sexual assault and battery with intent. Ibeabuchi finally became a free man again in late 2015. Now 43-years-old, he was planning a boxing comeback when he was arrested for alleged probation violation by officials in Arizona in April 2016. At the time of writing the outcome of his latest legal problems is still to be determined.