As his new book about the turbulent life and career of former heavyweight contender Ike Ibeabuchi is published, Luke G. Williams wonders: where is ‘The President’?

During the writing process of my new book ‘President of Pandemonium: The Mad World of Ike Ibeabuchi’ I knew exactly where Ike Ibeabuchi was.
He was where he’s been pretty much every day since the early morning of Thursday July 22, 1999 – namely federal custody.

That fateful morning guests at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas called security after hearing a commotion coming from Ibeabuchi’s hotel suite.
The police, led by Metro Police Lieutenant Tom Monahan, arrived at around 5.30 a.m. and a woman—naked from the waist down—ran toward them. The twenty-one-year-old “entertainer-on-call” claimed that Ibeabuchi had sexually assaulted her. Ibeabuchi barricaded himself in the bathroom, and surrendered only after pepper spray had been shot under the door.

Monahan, the Sexual Assault and Abuse Section Commander, investigated the incident and soon reached a blunt conclusion, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “This was not a case of a dispute over money, or a matter of services rendered and payment expected. We believe this was forcible rape.”

For the next two-and-a-half years, Ibeabuchi was mired in labyrinthine legal proceedings. Lawyers came and went, his emotional state and mental competency were the subject of fierce debate and his mother – Patricia – claimed that while he had been in a psychiatric institution microchips had been implanted in his brain.

Ultimately, Ibeabuchi was sentenced to five to thirty years for battery and sexual assault. It was a sentence that curtailed a boxing career that had looked destined for great heights.

While assembling a perfect record of 20-0 with 15 KOs Ibeabuchi had waged memorable war with Samoan destroyer David Tua in Sacramento in 1997, removing his undefeated record via a unanimous points victory, and had nearly decapitated the then unbeaten Chris Byrd in five brutal rounds in Tacoma in 1999.

Such was the brooding menace that Ibeabuchi brought to boxing – in the ring and out – that Byrd’s attorney and advisor John Hornewer had declared: “This guy is Sonny Liston reincarnated.”

In the decade and a half after he was convicted there were frequent rumours that Ibeabuchi was on the verge of being released. In nine parole hearings over eleven years, however, he failed to convince the authorities that he should be freed, despite having proved himself a dedicated student in prison by earning two degrees from Western Nevada College in 2007, being named on the Dean’s List in the spring of 2005, and also studying for a paralegal certificate.

In February 2014, some media outlets wrongly claimed Ibeabuchi had finally been released. Some reports even said he was set to return to boxing under the management of John Wilkinson and Bill Hodge.

As usual with Ibeabuchi, nothing was straightforward or quite what it seemed. It turned out that Wilkinson, who had a 1-12 record boxing between 1989 and 1992, was an acquaintance of Ike’s half-brother, Stan. He hoped to manage Ibeabuchi when he got released and even suggested changing his nickname from “The President” to “Train Wreck.” Hodge, meanwhile, didn’t actually exist, except as an alias created by Wilkinson after he was banned from a boxing internet forum.

In April of 2014, Wilkinson confirmed Ibeabuchi was still in custody, being held in the Washoe County Jail in Reno. This jibed with the investigations of boxing writer Michael Woods who discovered that, although Ibeabuchi had been paroled, he had been moved into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because of his status as a Nigerian national.

ICE later revealed that, after a hearing in front of an immigration judge, an order was made to have Ibeabuchi deported to Nigeria. While awaiting deportation, Ibeabuchi was held at ICE’s Eloy detention centre in Arizona. Nigerian authorities refused to issue travel documents for his return, however, and it seemed like Ike might remain in custody indefinitely in some form of legal limbo.

But on November 24, 2015, a post appeared on Ibeabuchi’s Facebook page that contained dramatic news:

“America is the land of the second chance—and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”—George W. Bush.

Sure enough, ICE’s publicly available detainee locator database now listed Ibeabuchi’s status as “not in custody.”

His whereabouts, however, remained unknown. Had he been deported after all? Or had he somehow been released back into American society?
The answer came a few weeks later. Ibeabuchi contacted Yahoo Sports over Christmas to confirm that he was out of custody, living in Arizona, and planning a comeback. With Michael Koncz announced as his advisor, he told writer Kevin Iole that he intended to fight on April 9, 2017, on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s next fight.

During this period, as he eagerly plotted an audacious return to big-time boxing, I spoke to Ibeabuchi by telephone and corresponded with him via email on several occasions.

His determination to return to the ring and win the world heavyweight title that he believed was his destiny seemed unshakeable.

On February 17, 2016 Ike told me: “I have unfinished business in boxing. It’s more a case of why shouldn’t I come back, rather than why I should. My strength is that I have not been defeated. So let’s fight and let’s see if any heavyweights can prove or disprove my ability.

“Most people might think I should have retired by now, but I haven’t been a world champion. To me that is an insult, so I have to redeem myself. I want to be a world champion before day turns to dusk.

“I don’t know if I am free yet. I won’t feel free until I step into the ring to carry on where I stopped after my twentieth fight. So I won’t know the answer to that question until I return to the boxing ring. I can’t consider myself free until then.”

Fifty days later Ike was back in prison.

Papers filed in the Arizona Court of Appeals revealed the reason. After his release from ICE custody he had reported to the Maricopa Adult Probation Department and had verbally agreed that he would comply with his probation conditions but refused to sign a form confirming this.

Although he maintained all of his scheduled probation appointments and registered as a sex offender with the sheriff’s department as required, in January 2016 Ibeabuchi’s probation officer requested a meeting with him to “address [his] refusal to sign probation documents”.

Encouraged by a private defense counsel to sign the documents, Ibeabuchi finally did so; but he subsequently failed to schedule an appointment with psychological and consulting services for his sex offender treatment. On April 5, the state petitioned to revoke his probation for failing “to attend, actively participate, and remain in sex offender treatment.”

Two days later he was arrested, his capture by the United States Marshals Service proudly trumpeted in local media as part of an annual arrest spree known as ‘Operation Justice’.

After returning to prison, Ibeabuchi initiated a range of legal actions and appeals, all of which failed. While incarcerated in Eyman state prison in Arizona he worked as a laundry, kitchen, and building porter and through July of 2020 he had committed eight disciplinary infractions, five classified as minor (including disobeying verbal or written orders) and three classified as major (including disorderly conduct, and threatening or intimidating behavior).

According to the Arizona prisoner database, Ibeabuchi was released from prison on September 23, 2020. With an outstanding 2018 detainer issued by ICE still against his name, however, he was then transferred to immigration custody at Eloy, Arizona.

There he languished until sometime between June and August of 2021 when his name suddenly dropped out of the ICE database.

All of which means that Ikemefula Charles Ibeabuchi has either died, been deported or is once again a free man.

Phone calls and emails from this author to ICE and the Arizona authorities have proved fruitless.

Until ‘The President’ breaks cover, his whereabouts and future plans remain a mystery.

Something tells me though that wherever he is and whatever he’s doing, thoughts of a comeback to the ring are sustaining him.

‘President of Pandemonium: The Mad World of Ike Ibeabuchi’ is now available from all good bookstores and online.

Main image: HBO.