By: Patrick Mascoe
To achieve greatness in any field in life takes a combination of talent, dedication, discipline and good fortune. The sport of boxing is no different. Add to that list the importance of physical and mental strength and you have the recipe for a world class fighter. To see a boxer who possesses all these qualities is rare. To see a boxer throw it all away is heartbreaking.
Boxing is a sport that requires a strong element of self-discipline. Some individuals like Bernard Hopkins and Dwight Muhammad Qawi used the discipline learned in boxing to change their lives. They went from nothing to something. Both men had served time in prison but used the lessons of the sweet science to keep them from returning to a life of crime. They became world champions and are true boxing success stories.
Unfortunately, the connection between boxing and prison does not always take on a positive narrative. For every convicted criminal who uses boxing to change his life for the better, just as many boxers throw it all away and travel in the opposite direction. They go from something to nothing. In order to be a great fighter, one needs to possess self-confidence and a feeling of invincibility. However, problems arise when one fails to distinguish between the rules inside the ring and the rules outside the ring.
Here is a list of five fighters who were undefeated and on the verge of greatness but threw it all away. For some, they felt their success in the ring placed them above the law and for others they could not leave their savagery solely in the ring.
HARRY SIMON: Before Prison – Harry Simon represented Namibia at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics and finished his amateur career with a record of 121-9. From 1998-2002, Simon was one of the best Jr. Middleweights in the world. In 1998, Simon defeated Winky Wright to win the WBO Light Middleweight title by majority decision. In 2002, Simon won the WBO Middleweight title. The fighter with a 23-0 record appeared to have a bright future ahead of him. Showtime had just started promoting him as a future star.
Unfortunately, that all changed when he was involved in a serious car accident that resulted in the death of three individuals. Due to the combination of his injuries and his appealing the charges presented against him for culpable homicide, then his time served in prison, Simon entered the ring only once in the next eight years.
After Prison – At the age of 38, Harry Simon commenced his comeback. He continually faced and defeated weak opposition back in Namibia where his name still garnered some recognition. Simon last fought in 2016. He is now 30-0, but at 45 years old, he is no longer a threat to contend for a title again. We will never know how good Simon could have been as his prime was wasted due to a poor choice he made while behind the wheel of a car.
IKE IBEABUCHI: Before Prison – Ike Ibeabuchi immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 1993. In 1994, he won the Texas State Golden Gloves Tournament in the Heavyweight division. He turned pro and won his first 16 straight fights. He was then matched against another undefeated fighter, the 27-0 David Tua. Ibeabuchi defeated Tua by unanimous decision and established himself as a top heavyweight contender. In 1999, he face undefeated future WBO Heavyweight champion, Chris Bird. He made easy work of Bird, knocking him out in five rounds.
His career became untracked when people around him began to notice his behaviour becoming more and more erratic. He began insisting that people refer to him as “The President.” At the same time, he began to have run-ins with the law. He abducted the 15 year old son of his former girlfriend and then was involved in a car accident that caused permanent damage to the boy. He pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and received 120 days in jail.
In 1999, Ibeabuchi was 26 years old with a 20-0 record yet he would never fight again. That same year, he was arrested on a number of allegations concerning sexual assault committed against escorts. Ibeabuchi was deemed incompetent to stand trial. Medical experts assessed that he suffered from bipolar disorder. He was convicted of sexual assault and served 16 years in prison.
After Prison – Ike Ibeabuchi was released in November of 2015. After only 5 months, he was rearrested for violating the terms of his probation. Now 44 years old and still in prison, we will never know what he could have accomplished. According to Eric Raskin of HBO Boxing, “No heavyweight of his generation possessed more ability and no heavyweight of his generation possessed less stability.” As a result of his mental health issues, Ibeabuchi proved to be just as scary outside the ring as he was inside it.
TONY AYALA JR.: Before Prison – Tony Ayala Jr. was considered a boxing prodigy. He compiled an amateur record of 140-8 and turned professional in 1980 at the age of sixteen. With a record of 22-0 (20 KO) Ayala was garnering national attention. He was a savage brawler who had caught the attention of the boxing world, much the way Mike Tyson did years later.
On January 1, 1983 Ayala broke into the home of his neighbour and sexually assaulted her. Despite the fact that he was only 19 years old at the time, this was his third assault against women. Under the Repeat Offender Act, Ayala was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
After Prison – Ayala was paroled from prison in 1999 at the age of 36. He proceeded to do the only thing he knew – boxing. He won his first six comeback fights all by knock out. Eventually, he was defeated by ex-champion IBF Super Welterweight champion, Yori Boy Campas. Though his comeback had been stopped, his trouble with the law continued. In 2000, he was shot in the shoulder by a woman after breaking into her home. In 2004, Ayala was sentenced to ten years in prison for probation violations.
He was finally released in 2014, at the age of 51, with no possible chance to return to the ring. He began to assist in running his father’s gym in San Antonio. On May 12, 2015, Tony Ayala Jr. was found dead in the gym from an apparent drug overdose. Angelo Dundee once said, “Ayala could have been one of boxing’s greatest fighters.”
PAUL SPADAFORA: Before Prison – Paul Spadafora had an amateur record of 75-5. However, his professional career almost never got off the ground. As a passenger, involved in a car chase with police, he was shot in the Achilles tendon. Once he started focussing on his boxing career, he proved himself to be an elite talent. In 1999, the undefeated Spadafora was victorious in his showdown with Israel Cardona to win the IBF Lightweight title. He went on to defend his title six times.
The year 2003 was the beginning of Spadafora’s downfall. His continual personal problems outside the ring ended up destroying his career. He was arrested in the shooting of his pregnant girlfriend and followed that up by running his car into a parked police cruiser while intoxicated. Add to that a drug possession charge and you have a career in a permanent holding pattern. On February 23, 2005, Spadafora was sentenced to prison for the attempted murder of his girlfriend.
After Prison – After a 32 month layoff, Spadafora returned to the ring, winning his comeback fight by KO. Before he could fight again, he was back in jail for parole violations. Once again, upon his release, his extracurricular activities continued to hinder his boxing career. He was again charged with DUI, along with assault and brandishing a knife while making threats.
In 2017, Spadafora had another run-in with law enforcement when he was arrested for assaulting his mother and stabbing his half-brother. As if that wasn’t enough, he was also charged with uttering threats against Pittsburgh police. Despite a world title and a 49-1-1 record, Spadafora completely underachieved. With his boxing career now over, Spadafora needs to work on getting his life in order. That will begin by completing a court ordered drug and alcohol program.
EDWIN VALERO: Before Prison – Venezuelan boxer, Edwin Valero, compiled an amateur record of 86-5 with an incredible 57 knockouts. On February 5, 2001, Valero was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. He was not wearing a helmet and as a result, he suffered a severe skull fracture. He needed surgery to remove a blood clot. The injury prevented Valero from turning pro and even after his recovery, there were complications. Due to irregularities in his MRI, he was not given permission to fight in the U.S.
Edwin Valero began his professional career fighting mostly in Japan and Latin America. He competed from 2002-2010 and amassed an amazing 27-0 record, with all his victories by way of knockout. Valero obviously possessed phenomenal power and fought with a high degree of aggression. The result: two world titles, an undefeated record, and emergence as a national hero in Venezuela.
His manager claimed that Valero suffered from mental health issues and needed help. He also allegedly suffered from drug and alcohol abuse. Documents show that Valero’s wife had been admitted to hospital three times as a result of falling down stairs. His behaviour on her last visit was so volatile towards the doctors, nurses and police that he was sent for a six month psychiatric rehabilitation stint. Was this a result of his earlier motorcycle accident, from boxing or a combination of the two? We may never know for sure. Sadly, on April 18th, 2010, Valero’s wife’s body was discovered in a hotel. She had been stabbed three times. Valero was arrested after admitting to hotel security that he had committed the crime.
After Prison – A day after being arrested, Valero was found hanging in his cell. The man who was invincible in the ring took his own life. Edwin Valero, much like Ike Ibeabuchi, needed people around him who cared more about him as a person than as a boxer.
Ironically, the brutality and savagery that is responsible for the success of some fighters is also the characteristic that is responsible for the downfall of others. Boxing is a violent sport that attracts aggressive individuals. It is only those fighters who can leave or separate their life in the ring from their life outside the ring that truly prosper.