A Performance Fit for a Kingsley: Ikeke Defuses Kid Dynamite
By Coyote Duran (April, 17, 2005)  
Kingsley Ikeke
My grandfather would always say, “The look on his face says it all, boy,” when he would best try to describe someone’s reaction or surprise to something, well… surprising. Last night, we were all shown something that was surprising to some, not so surprising to others. And “the look on his face”? Well, in this case, the “look” and the “face” both belonged to the “his” in question, one Antwun Echols, 31-6-1 (27). For those of you at home or in attendance at the Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, Washington who witnessed the rendering of Echols’ new look in 10 out of 12 rounds on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, you’ll also probably not forget the name of the doctor who administered the facelift (which looked somewhere between the grotesque “balloonification” that William Joppy suffered after taking on Bernard Hopkins in late 2003 and the face of the poor bastard that can’t remember what his manager did last night in the Las Vegas tourism commercials), Kingsley Ikeke.

Ikeke, 23-1 (13), faced what many, myself included, would consider his first true test in Echols for a shot at the IBF’s #2 contender’s spot at middleweight. The Nigerian known as ‘Sharp Knuckle’ (no kidding) has taken on some solid rungs on his professional ladder thus far (if you consider cats like Kenny Ellis and the-guy-who-loses-to-solid-up-and-comers, Marcos Primera) but this fight with ‘Kid Dynamite’ revealed a little, if not everything we need to know as of yet, about the lanky Ikeke’s ability to run with the big dogs.

Echols, who had been campaigning at super middleweight since 2001, found favorable success at 168, defeating the likes of Charles Brewer, Oscar Bravo and Kabary Salem before failing in a bid to capture Anthony Mundine’s low-rent WBA ‘non-super’ Super Middleweight belt in 2003. So, when things are going pretty decently at 168, why drop to a weight you haven’t seen in a while? Maybe Echols needed some career validation. Why not? I mean, he wasn’t a bad middleweight and he did earn a couple of shots against 160-pound kingpin Bernard Hopkins. So what if he came up short each time? It doesn’t mean he ain’t stone tough. Seriously? It isn’t a bad strategy when you think about how threadbare the division is these days. With Hopkins taking his steps toward the outer vestibule of retirement’s grand lobby and the division looking less and less glamorous (that distinction goes to the 126-147 pound classes) why not make another go for the gold? When the belts get splintered, that IBF strap would make for some great paydays for a fighter who’s only worn belts of the regional varieties. And the best thing? He might not have even had to face Hopkins to win the belt by the time he made #1 contender.

But the fight game is nothing if not risky, kids. And a risk did Echols take. Sadly enough, that risk was taking on a strong, sinewy fighter while being unfamiliar with 160. The way he fought Ikeke was quite telling as well for Echols took care of his business rather methodically and unsure of himself. Sure, Echols kept it competitive. He had to, to keep from eating that long left jab all night. There were times that ‘Kid Dynamite’ would come out and try to pull Ikeke into the struggle and hope to get the better of him, but for what Echols offered in exchanges, he lacked immensely in good movement, making himself a more frequent target for the jab. Those Ikeke jabs would, indeed, take their toll for in the fifth, Echols’ right eye would start to show the damage from the accumulation.

What’s a warrior to do? Well in Echols’ case, he dials it up a bit and keeps fighting. Lunging here, connecting there. But the more Echols tried to press his attack, the more frequent and pronounced Ikeke’s jabs and hooks would become. Finally, in the 10th round, a hot Kingsley Ikeke left hook would crash into Antwun Echols’ misshapen, painful mask and Echols would take a knee. It wasn’t much longer after the 10th ended that trainer Dan Birmingham, thankfully and mercifully, intervened and said that enough was enough. Just prior to that, Echols had been pawing at his right eye with every exchange and left hand he would absorb from Ikeke. He just had no quit in him, though, so Birmingham conceded for him.

So, with a tenth round TKO victory, Kingsley Ikeke goes onward and upward and becomes a player and hopefully a talent magnet in a division that thirsts for new faces and marketable challengers as the one true champion, Bernard Hopkins, faces his final paydays and ultimate twilight of his career. Like I said earlier, however, we still haven’t learned what we can about Ikeke. Echols is a solid challenge for anyone but let’s look at what the 160-pound division has in store for the near future. It’s very possible that in a year’s time, the middleweight battlefield could be seeded with titlists and challengers by the names of Trinidad, Taylor, Sturm and Ouma alongside Ikeke as well as the better young middleweight competitors gracing the TV screen in NBC’s reality boxing opus, ‘The Contender’. Hell, when you think about it, 2006 could be a virtual middleweight free-for-all, huh?

With the same TKO, Antwun Echols wonders, “What next?” At 33, He’s not old by middleweight standards but the loss to Ikeke is indeed more telling than, let’s say, his loss to Anthony Mundine. More so, this was a harder-than-Hell wake-up call. Most fighters have them. Some are far too stubborn to pick up the phone. Others do without hesitation and use the call to help them take one path from two choices at the crossroads of their careers: take one path to concession and hang up the gloves or take the other path, search the soul and regroup to fight another day.

Then again, judging from the guts he showed against a guy called ‘Sharp Knuckle’, maybe Antwun Echols is just too damn tough to answer the phone.
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