Raphael Igbokwe: ‘Trouble’ in the Time of Corona

Raphael Igbokwe

Mikey Williams / Top Rank

It was supposed to be his big break.

Middleweight boxing prospect Raphael “Trouble” Igbokwe was handed the opportunity of a lifetime back in June. Where there had been many fighters in the sport who had just recently lost their scheduled TV fights due to the coronavirus outbreak, Igbokwe was going to be one of the lucky few who actually ended up fighting on TV because of it.

Igbokwe made it all the way from Houston to Las Vegas before his scheduled ESPN fight against Genc Pllana was canceled.

The 28-year-old made it all the way past his first coronavirus test, too.

But Igbokwe’s second COVID-19 test came back positive, so his undercard bout was canceled less than 24 hours before it was set to begin.

About Those Test Results

Maybe the worst part? Igbokwe probably never even had the virus.

“I did the re-test six-hours later, and it came back negative,” Igbokwe said. “It sucked. It was a good opportunity. It was my first TV fight, for it to be taken away like that, and not actually having COVID, that just made it so much worse.”

For the record, Igbokwe tested negative three more times after that.

The coronavirus took and gave many things from the world in 2020. For Igbokwe, it did both and in short order. Igbokwe’s big break was at least partially due to Top Rank’s mad scramble to find fighters for their cards when ESPN was suddenly ready to telecast shows again.

But Igbokwe’s big break ended up just being broke.

Regardless, Igbokwe won’t let any of those past setbacks keep him down as he heads back into the ring this weekend in Houston.

‘Trouble’ Maintains Focus on Future

On Tuesday, Igbokwe was working up a sweat at Main Street Boxing & Muay Thai in downtown Houston.

Under the watchful eye of his trainer, former world title challenger Dwight Pratchett, a mainstay of the local boxing scene, Igbokwe keeps a steady focus on getting better.

“It’s an easy cut,” Igbokwe shouts back to me as he rips fast and furious punches all over the bag.

Pratchett’s gaze remains fixed on “Trouble”. He’s studying his fighter’s movements closely.

Every minute or so, the trainer quietly steps forward to offer instruction.

Nothing about Pratchett’s demeanor tells you he went the distance with Julio Cesar Chavez for the Mexican’s 130-pound title back in 1985, but fighters at the gym hang on his every word in a way that suggests it was absolutely true.

Igbokwe listens attentively, then gets back to it. He’s been working for over an hour now, ripping the mitts before moving over to the nearby heavy bag to do the same thing.

Very few of his punches are thrown with full-force. Today is about cutting down to the 168-pound super middleweight limit, something “Trouble” says he’ll have no problem doing since he’s naturally comfortable competing at middleweight.

Actually, his trainer tells me this particular day is mostly just about getting his weight down enough so Igbokwe doesn’t have to eat a salad tonight at dinner while everyone else around him gets to eat steak.

Igbokwe finishes up his bag work, then heads downstairs to where the scale won’t lie.

Igbokwe Heads Back Inside Boxing Ring on Saturday

The verdict?

Three more pounds are gone, with an undisclosed amount left to go before Saturday night’s fight. Nobody tells me, but Igbokwe seems happy enough with everything that I think he’s not going to have to go vegan tonight.

There, Igbokwe opens up about what comes next in his career: his rematch against Pllana.

It’s the same fight that was canceled because of one out of the six COVID tests. Instead of the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip and the magnifying glass that is ESPN, Igbokwe will have to settle for facing Pllana on a local fight card promoted by Next Fight Up at the Arabia Shrine Center in Houston.

“This guy, he’s been waiting for a rematch,” Igbokwe said. “He was saying he won the first fight, so alright let’s get it on.”

Igbokwe is the fighter who handed Pllana, aka “The Sexy Albanian”, his first loss back in August 2018. Igbokwe believes he’ll do it again and even better this time around.

“He’s just another person,” Igbokwe said. “I just need to get him out of the way.”

Still, that person, Pllana, has at least enjoyed the chance to fight on television more than once in his career. Heck, Pllana rebounded from his defeat to Igbokwe last year by going 3-1-1, including scoring an upset win over Kevin Newman on a Shobox card in February.

Meanwhile, Igbokwe’s lone action over that same timespan was a six-round decision win over Javier Frazier nine months ago. Somehow, the fighter he beat has stayed active and on TV, whereas Igbokwe’s fate has yet to be so kind.

“It’s really about promotion and networking,” Igbokwe said. “It’s about having connections.”

Igbokwe Keeps Moving Forward

He doesn’t say it, but Igbokwe’s recent experience shows that it might also sometimes be about luck. That, or maybe it’s more about not having bad luck, the type that strikes one of out six times and wrecks massive opportunities.

Whatever the case, Igbokwe is keeping his head down and doing what he can to make sure he’s ready for whenever his next big life-changing chance comes back around.

“You only fail if you let it hold you back,” Igbokwe said. “Just keep pushing.”

Of course, another viewpoint might suffice, a way of thinking Igbokwe said himself, and one which is just what a fighter must think and live if he hopes to be empowered by what is rather than imprisoned by what is not.

“What happens if you keep pushing forward and chasing your goals?” Igbokwe asked.

And it’s a great question, maybe the only one that matters, one the fighter learned to ask during the time of corona when a huge opportunity was given and taken away from him at a moment’s notice.

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Twitter: @Kelsey_McCarson

YouTube: Real Talk with Kelsey and Rachel

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