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Whatever Happened – The search for the next great heavyweight boxer is one that knows no boundaries.

That’s because there is the heavyweight division, and everything else, basically.

Fight fans accept and even cherish lighter weight fighters, but the most massive interest and money generally follows the heavyweight division.The scouring of the planet for that next Ali, or Tyson, or even a lesser grade talent, doesn’t stop at this nations’ borders, or, in fact, any facility.

For instance, in a nation which “boasts” an incarceration rate of one of every 108 adults, being behind bars doesn’t disqualify someone from being seen as the next great heavyweight champion.

That tag was attached to a fighter named Ike Ibeabuchi, a Nigerian-born hitter who accumulated a 20-0 (15 KOs) mark as a professional, from 1994-1999. Power, energy, sturdy of chin, Ibeabuchi seemed the sort of total package who could at worst be in the mix with the Holyfields and Lewis,’ and at best, pull away from those athletes, and cement a spot as a ‘must see’ sort of pugilist who would leave a legacy of greatness in the annals of the game.

Instead, Ibeabuchi’s legacy took a sinister turn, when he was arrested in July 2000 for abusing a woman in Las Vegas. The fighter assaulted an out-call erotic entertainer, and eyebrows raised when his behavior during that incident, and his comments during the fallout period from the situation, made news. His grasp of reality was questioned, but his mental state, and place in the game, became more and more immaterial to fight fans when he was convicted of that assault, and sentenced to do time for attempted sexual assault. He would be eligible for parole, and each year that passed found fewer and fewer folks pondering “Whatever happened to…?” and mentioning the man who upset David Tua, throwing more than 900 punches in the process, and was awaiting a million dollar payday against over-hyped Michael Grant when he was snagged by law enforcement.

The “whatever happened to?” voices perked up last month, when a rumor began circulating that Ibeabuchi had been released from prison, in Las Vegas.

Nobody assumed he’d pack right up where he left off, but quick calculations–he was born in 1973–meant that it was theoretically possible that if he worked on getting his 6-2 frame down to near his fighting weight, 240 pounds or so, just maybe another heavyweight could be added to the mix.

I heard the chatter, and reached out to his trainer. Living legend Curtis Cokes lives in Texas, and he took the phone from his missus after I called his house, and we talked Ike. Cokes, who held a middleweight title back in 1966, told me he heard the same thing, that Ibeabuchi was out from lockup.

“I heard he was flown back to Nigeria,” Cokes told me. The trainer who worked with Ike his whole abbreviated career, and who still trains guys at his gym, said that he hasn’t been in contact with Ibeabuchi. They talked on the phone once, he said, but the situation left the trainer feeling sad. I wondered if he saw signs of, perhaps, mental illness in Ibeabuchi. “I don’t think so,” Cokes answered. “Some people from different nations, they act different. There’s a difference in culture. We got along fine.” Cokes said Ibeabuchi knew he couldn’t mess with him, because “I’d threaten to knock him out.” The graybeard tutor did, for sure, see strange behavior, like when, he says, Ibeabuchi took off with the son of a girlfriend, drove with him from Dallas to Austin, to teach the kid a lesson, get him to smarten up.

Cokes said he wasn’t crushed, from a professional point of view, when Ike was locked up, because he’s had others get to a certain place and then drop the ball. He was getting the notorious Tony Ayala ready for a big bout when Ayala was snagged for a sex assault. He was sentenced to 35 years and went in to the pen in 1983. He got out in 1999, tried boxing again, but was again picked up on a sex assault charge, and was re-inserted into lockdown in 2004. He is still in jail.

Anyway, Cokes hadn’t heard from Ibeabuchi. So I went through official channels to see if Ike was out. A spokesman for the Nevada Department of Corrections came through.

“Ibeabuchi was discharged from the Nevada Department of Corrections,” an email from the spokesman read. OK, so the ex boxer is out and about. Maybe Wlad should adjust his thinking, because a “new” challenger could be re-emerging. Then I kept reading…”… the Washoe County Jail on February 28, 2014.”

I asked the ICE spokesperson to get an update on Ibeabuchis case, the likelihood of his release and to receive information on his stint. ICE responded: “Due to legal and privacy considerations, we wouldn’t discuss a detainee’s temperament nor would we speculate about if or when an individual might be released. I will endeavor to get authorization from our Privacy office in Washington, D.C. to provide you with a very short synopsis of his case.”

That synopsis came the next day: “Mr. Ibeabuchi came into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody Feb. 28 following his release from the Nevada State Department of Corrections where he was serving time for felony sexual assault and battery. While incarcerated in state prison, Mr. Ibeabuchi appeared before an immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. The immigration judge overseeing those proceedings determined Mr. Ibeabuchi was removable based upon his aggravated felony conviction and ordered him deported. Mr. Ibeabuchi remains in ICE custody at this time while the agency makes arrangements to carry out his removal.”

And, I wondered, could a person deported in the same circumstances as Ibeabuchi be allowed to re-enter the United States?

“Following a formal removal, or deportation as it’s often called, an individual is barred from returning to the U.S. – the length of the bar depends on the nature of their case,” said Virginia Kice, the spokesperson for the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Western Regional Communications spokesperson. “That said, the person can always seek a waiver of the bar and apply for readmission through the Department of State.”I put in a request to speak to Ike, looking to get an update from the ex (and future?) heavyweight contender.

Ms. Kice got back to me. “(Someone) from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department alerted me you wanted to speak with an individual who is currently being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Washoe County Jail pending a decision in his deportation case,” she said. “Since the individual, Ike Ibeabuchi, is technically being held by ICE, we agreed that I would follow-up with you regarding this request. Per my discussion… one of the officers at the Washoe County Jail will advise Mr. Ibeabuchi tomorrow that you’re interested in speaking with him and provide him with your phone number. If you prefer he attempt to reach you on a number other than your cell, please advise. Also be aware, long-distance calls by detainees must be placed collect – so that may also rule out the use of your cell. Finally, while we can alert the detainee about your interest in speaking with him, we can’t compel him to call you, so it’s possible he will not make contact.”

And indeed, he did not.

I didn’t hear from Ibeabuchi.

So, for now, it looks like his status is quo, as is the heavyweight division.

We will look forward to May 10, when Messrs. Stiverne and Arreola re-ignite their fury, and we also await another trial date, er, ring appearance for Deontay Wilder, as the jury is still deliberating on his merits, in the minds of many.

As for Ike, his case will stand as another in a long line of ‘what might have been stories,’ a genre well known to the sweet science, which attracts so many persons with holes in their soul, many of whom cannot be healed by the extreme nature of in-ring therapy.


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