By Jake Donovan
Ike "The President" Ibeabuchi turns 43 this coming February and has been out of the ring for 17 years. Yet the way his handlers are talking, the intention is to pick up not too far from where he last left off as he stages the unlikeliest of comebacks.
From the moment Yahoo's Kevin Iole broke the news of Ibeabuchi's plans to return to the sport, speculation ran rampant of the impact he can have on today's market. The first round of answers expect to be provided on April 9, where he will appear on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao's third fight with Tim Bradley at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
"Manny insisted that Ike be on the card," Michael Koncz, adviser to both Pacquiao and now Ibeabuchi informed BoxingScene.com of the decision to have him on the show. "He signed with MP (Manny Pacquiao) Promotions (who along with Top Rank serves as co-promoter of the April 9 event) with the intention of making a big splash right away. He's not interested in a tune-up; we're looking for a Top 15-ranked heavyweight for his first fight back."
The unbeaten contender from Nigeria first rose to prominence with a 12-round win over then-unbeaten David Tua in June '97, but remains best known for his highlight-reel 5th round knockout of Chris Byrd.
Their March '99 clash - which along with his win over Tua aired live on HBO - was fought on relatively even terms through four rounds before Ibeabuchi (20-0, 15KOs) literally knocking the spit out of Byrd's mouth with a monster left hook. Byrd somehow made it to his feet but was sent back down in suffering the first loss of his career.
A new era was thought to be born in the heavyweight division, but Ibeabuchi struggled with his inner demons. Rumors swirled of his mean streak in the gym, spilling over to his personal life.
The troubled heavyweight served a four-month sentence in 1997 for false imprisonment, after having abducted the teenage son of a former girlfriend and - in what was deemed a suicide attempt - crashing his car on a highway in Austin, leaving the child paralyzed from the waist down as a result. Two years later in 1999, Ibeabuchi was back in the news for all of the wrong reasons, when he was charged with sexual assault of an exotic dancer at a hotel room in Las Vegas.
The charge led to the reopening of at least three more cases of assault and battery, prompting Ibeabuchi - upon the advice of his legal team - enter an Alford plea, where a defendant admits the evidence against him is overwhelming enough to hold up in court, though without actually admitting guilt or taking the stand in a court of law.
Ibeabuchi was ultimately sentenced in 2001, ordered to serve up to 20 years from the separate charges. He was ultimately released in Feb. '14 - having earned two Associate degrees while in prison - but was only recently released from U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) authorities last November.
Coincidentally enough, it came right around the time that the heavyweight division has taken on a major transformation.
Wladimr Klitschko's near-decade long championship reign came to an end following a 12-round loss to Tyson Fury. Unbeaten Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz has stormed towards the top following a brutal knockout win over Bryant Jennings in December, coming one week after 2012 Olympic Gold medalist Anthony Joshua emerged as a force following a stoppage victory over Dillian Whyte.
A once-stalled weight class has shown signs of new life, although Ibeabuchi and his team believe there's room at the top for an old dog anxious to reveal new tricks.
"He was the best young heavyweight of his time and from where we sit, he can still bring that level of excitement to a division that can always use it," notes Koncz. "Looking at the sport's top level, Floyd Mayweather retired last year and - with his Senate run coming up - this could very well be it for Manny after April 9.
"The sport needs someone exciting to fill that void at the top. We honestly believe Ike Ibeabuchi can be the one to do it."
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox