Book Review – President of Pandemonium: The Mad World of Ike Ibeabuchi
It’s almost hard to believe that Ike Ibeabuchi is just 48 years old. Even harder to fathom is the reality that to a segment of boxing fans and media, “The President” and his story is still as relevant today as it was during his all too short prime in the late 90s.
Yes, as we approach 2022, there is still talk about a possible comeback from the Nigeria native who dominated headlines from 1997 to 1999 thanks to wins over David Tua and Chris Byrd, even though no one knows where he is after his latest release from an ICE detention center in Arizona.
For those who don’t know about Ibeabuchi, his rapid rise and even faster fall from grace, Luke Williams’ book, “President of Pandemonium: The Mad World of Ike Ibeabuchi,” gets you up to speed and fills in the many blanks in the latest offering from Hamilcar Publications’ noir series.
For Williams, whose previous boxing book, Richmond Unchained, is also a must read, chronicling Ibeabuchi’s life to this point was a natural for him, describing it as “an endlessly fascinating story, a crazy story.”
And though he admits “it was quite a dark experience writing the book,” he was all-in on the former heavyweight contender from way back, even in England, far away from Arco Arena in Sacramento, when Ibeabuchi’s arrival on the scene against Tua in 1997 hit home as soon as the result found its way to him.
“He’s always fascinated me,” said Williams. “I’ve always been a fan of him as a boxer, going right back to when he fought David Tua. I was a big, big boxing obsessive and obviously I had been following Tua – he was the Dempsey, the Tyson, this and that – and then I just read that he lost and I had never even heard of Ibeabuchi at that time. I read about the CompuBox numbers and it sounded like an amazing fight. It wasn’t on U.K. TV, so I went to the back pages of Boxing Monthly magazine, and they had people who would advertise fight videos from America, and you could send them money and they would send you videos of those fights. So me and a friend of mine at school, we sent for the video of Tua-Ibeabuchi. It was such an amazing fight – I loved the fight and that got me interested in Ibeabuchi, and then I followed his career from then on.”
At the time of his epic 12-round decision win over the 27-0 Tua, Ibeabuchi was 16-0 with 12 knockouts and making his name on the regional scene but not anywhere else. Tua was expected to walk through the prospect on the HBO broadcast, but that didn’t happen. And in the process, the pair combined to set a CompuBox heavyweight record of 1,730 punches. Tua’s stock didn’t suffer, and Ibeabuchi’s rose to new heights as he was seen to be a serious threat to win a world title.
But as his career blossomed, his life outside the ring began to spiral out of control. Shortly after the Tua fight, he abducted his ex-girlfriend’s son and ran his car into a concrete post. Sentenced to four months in jail, Ibeabuchi was back in the ring in the summer of 1998, and after a pair of stoppages of Tim Ray and Everton Davis, his brutal fifth-round TKO of Chris Byrd in March 1999 had his name on the lips of everyone in the boxing business.
That would be his last win and last fight.
Ibeabuchi was arrested for attempted sexual assault in July 1999, ultimately receiving two to ten years for battery with the intent to commit a crime and three to 20 years for attempted sexual assault.
His issues are well documented by Williams, and when supplemented by interviews with several of those close to the fighter at that time, it paints a complete picture of a talented, but troubled, athlete who was clearly coddled because of his ability to win fights and potentially win a world heavyweight title. Telling that story could have been a tricky process, but Williams pulled it off by sticking to the available facts and not editorializing.
“The way I went about the research for this book was to get all the newspaper reports of when he was around, interviewing as many people as I could, and I guess, in a way, that’s how I sort of justify it, that I’m chronicling the story,” he said. “I’m not necessarily condoning or condemning – I’m chronicling what’s there and I just find the sport and the range of characters endlessly fascinating. Was he the victim? In some ways yes, in some ways no. I say in the book that people didn’t really look out for him. Eric Bottjer said that he was always uncomfortable about the fact that Cedric (Kushner) kept promoting him. He told Cedric, you shouldn’t be promoting this guy; he’s going to do something terrible. But Ike would have found some way to fight because he wanted to fight.
“I wanted it to be a fair book,” Williams continues. “To what extent did he just do these things because maybe he’s just not a great guy? That dividing line between what he did because he had mental issues and what he would have done anyway, that’s part of the mystery of the whole story.”
As Williams notes, Ibeabuchi’s mother had significant documented mental issues, and there is also the possibility of CTE, with that damage possibly kicking in after his brutal bout with Tua, as that was when he began running afoul of the law.
“Sometimes a positive life event, like a great triumph, can be a trigger for a manic episode, as well as negative life events,” said Williams. “It’s interesting that after his two biggest victories, that was when he committed his two biggest crimes.”
After the Byrd fight and Ibeabuchi’s subsequent imprisonment, he became a cautionary tale as he fell off the boxing map, and after a bunch of legal back-and-forth, he was ultimately released, detained, and released again, with comeback talk following every step of the way. His current whereabouts are unknown, but it’s clear that if he does resurface, someone will try to put him in a boxing ring again.
Such is boxing. Williams shakes his head about the business of a sport that has seen an Evander Holyfield comeback at 58 and the emergence of YouTubers Jake Paul and his brother Logan as boxing stars in 2021, and while he knows a possible Ike Ibeabuchi return will produce similar moans and groans from the hardcore fans, he admits that he will be watching.
“The circus has always been a part of life and a part of boxing,” he said. “I guess what we hope for from boxing is the freak show and the circus don’t overshadow the main event. There was a point this summer when it seemed like the circus was taking over. Thankfully, we’ve had some great fights and great events, like (Tyson) Fury and (Deontay) Wilder that sort of tipped the balance back again. But there’s always going to be a commission that would license somebody, always gonna be someone putting up the money and it doesn’t say much for the sport, it doesn’t say much for humanity, but it’s just the reality. At the end of the day, I can condemn it, but probably pay to watch it because I’m invested in Ibeabuchi in one way or another, and I want to see how the story pans out.”
For more information on President of Pandemonium: The Mad World of Ike Ibeabuchi, visit https://hamilcarpubs.com/