David Tua on his big­gest loss

Herald on Sunday - - SPORT -

When David Tua took his long walk to the ring at the Man­dalay Bay Casino in Las Ve­gas for his world heavy­weight title fight against undis­puted cham­pion Len­nox Lewis, he caught sight of his fa­ther, Tuavale, and was trans­ported for a mo­ment to his child­hood in Samoa.

There, as a boy, in the vil­lage of Faleatiu, which still cel­e­brates its favourite son with a sign an­nounc­ing it as the “home of the Tua­man”, he watched old fights on TV with Tuavale. The fights fea­tured box­ers such as Rocky Mar­ciano and Ge­orge Fore­man, the lat­ter ring­side for his fight against Lewis, and Tua se­nior said to him: “I hope one day that I get the chance to be at a world heavy­weight title fight.”

Now, 17 years ago to the day since that night in front of the bright lights which ul­ti­mately ended in a unan­i­mous de­feat to Lewis, Tua told the Her­ald on Sun­day he felt vin­di­cated re­gard­less of the re­sult. “Even though I hadn’t fought or com­peted in the ring [against Lewis], a dream had come true be­cause of that,” he says.

Tuavale passed away in June this year. Tua, who will turn 45 in a cou­ple of weeks, lost his mother, Noela, in Au­gust. Un­sur­pris­ingly, emo­tions are still raw. “It’s bit­ter­sweet — they were to­gether in this life and they are to­gether again at the end.”

Sit­ting at a ta­ble at his gym in One­hunga, quiet now but usu­ally full of en­ergy, Tua adds: “They were won­der­ful peo­ple. Amazing par­ents. As far as them en­cour­ag­ing me through the tough times in train­ing — it was a pos­i­tive thing at that time.

“We didn’t have much. Dad had to work at times 14-16 hours a day just to sup­port me and my older brother Andrew at the time. Train­ing camps weren’t cheap. They both worked tire­lessly to make sure I didn’t miss any camps.”

Those camps and fights in the US — he was al­most ex­clu­sively based State­side dur­ing his 21 years as a pro­fes­sional — took him away from his fam­ily for months, but the sac­ri­fices made by him and his par­ents honed Tua into a 1.78m wreck­ing ball.

As a boxer, Tua will for­ever be known for his leap­ing left hook, a weapon that de­stroyed many of his op­po­nents, in­clud­ing, mem­o­rably, John Ruiz af­ter just 19 sec­onds, but he couldn’t get close enough to land it con­sis­tently against Lewis, the last undis­puted world heavy­weight cham­pion.

It was Tua’s one and only world title fight and while he prob­a­bly had the bet­ter of the early rounds, Lewis’ jab — the much taller man had an in­cred­i­ble 35cm reach ad­van­tage — took its toll in the end.

“All in all it was a great ex­pe­ri­ence. It wasn’t the out­come that I had searched for,” Tua says. “But a lot of great things came out of that fight. I learned about my­self.”

Asked if he had any re­grets about that fight, Tua says: “Ab­so­lutely not.

“You know, you go through the fight and if the plan works, great, but if it doesn’t you stay in there un­til the fight fin­ishes. I’ve never been one to take the easy way out. I could have quit on my stool, I could have thrown in the towel and all that . . . but you have to keep try­ing.”

Tua’s abil­ity to take and de­liver pow­er­ful punches meant he was rarely out of a fight and many of his 52 pro­fes­sional vic­to­ries came from late knock­outs. His record when he fi­nally quit the ring four years ago reads: 52 wins (43 knock­outs), five de­feats, two draws.

He was never knocked out and un­til very late in his ca­reer was never put down or hurt.

He takes to the present tense when de­scrib­ing Lewis now: “Very sci­en­tific. Great fi­nesse. Uses a great jab. He boxed a very good game plan. He stuck with it and did a good job of it. He’s got a good right hand.”

But Tua needs prompt­ing when asked about his ca­reer. “I don’t sit around and think about the things that I’ve done,” he says. “I’ve moved on from that and now I’m en­joy­ing what I love do­ing ev­ery morn­ing — tak­ing the classes here at our gym and be­ing in­volved with com­mu­nity events.”

There are ob­vi­ous high­lights, though, like his de­struc­tion of Ruiz and the abil­ity, af­ter a vic­tory that has slipped his mind, to make the fi­nal pay­ment on his par­ents’ house in south Auck­land. He adds: “It was a priv­i­lege. It was a great honour and op­por­tu­nity for me to look af­ter my fam­ily and take care of them. It was a beau­ti­ful jour­ney while it lasted.”

The fight against Ruiz, an Amer­i­can who later beat Evan­der Holy­field over 12 rounds and had lost only twice in 27 pro­fes­sional bouts when he faced Tua, came in 1996, four years into Tua’s pro ca­reer. It was Tua’s most sig­nif­i­cant win at that point.

“Ob­vi­ously John Ruiz [was a big win], but that is a dif­fer­ent story,” he

says. “It was the belt that mat­tered.”

Tua tells a story about how as an am­a­teur in New Zealand he won a na­tional heavy­weight title, and was pre­sented with a tro­phy, a cer­tifi­cate and a shield, but not the gleam­ing belt he had seen in a dis­play case. When told that was for the most sci­en­tific boxer of the tour­na­ment, Tua couldn’t hide his dis­ap­point­ment.

“I was re­ally hurt. I re­ally wanted that belt, so when there was a chance I could fight

John Ruiz, my first ques­tion was ‘is it for a belt?’. They said, ‘yes’.

“About a week and a half be­fore the fight there was a prob­lem with my el­bow. I had an x-ray on it and there was a hair­line frac­ture. The doc­tor said ‘you can’t fight’. I said ‘no, I’ve waited a long time for this, I’m not go­ing to let it slip by’. Sure enough that was the punch which did the job.”

Ruiz hit the deck af­ter 14 sec­onds. An ex­tra five went by as ref­eree Tony Perez counted the un­con­scious fig­ure out. Do­ing “the job” helped Tua to the WBC in­ter­na­tional heavy­weight title. It was a vic­tory which cre­ated in­ter­est around the world. Asked if his left hook, a punch which be­gan at his toes and trav­elled up his tree trunk legs all the way to his knuck­les, was coached or nat­u­ral, Tua replies: “A bit of both. It started way back when I was young in Samoa. When I was asked to go and cut the grass I did it with my left [hand]. Even though I was righthanded, dad would say ‘no, no, use the left’. So for some crazy rea­son it would have de­vel­oped some kind of strength through it. Go­ing into box­ing, the left hook seemed nat­u­ral, but the tim­ing and to per­fect it, how to throw it prop­erly, was an­other mat­ter.”

While many of the kids who come to Tua’s gym to train or take part in lead­er­ship pro­grammes held in con­junc­tion with the lo­cal schools now are likely to be Joseph Parker fans, they know of Tua’s deeds too. “Sur­pris­ingly they still remember my name. It’s not too hard to spell. It’s hum­bling.”

Asked about Parker, the Ki­wiSamoan who is the holder of the WBO world heavy­weight title, Tua says: “I’ve been fol­low­ing him. He’s do­ing amazing things. Ob­vi­ously he’s be­come world cham­pion. It’s still early days. The rest is up to him. There are a lot of great, ex­cit­ing fights, for him lined up. I hope that all goes well for him.

“Just keep do­ing what you’re do­ing,” Tua says, when asked what ad­vice he would give Parker. “Con­tinue to love what you do be­cause you have to be pas­sion­ate to do what you do.”

Tua was in­volved in a long le­gal dis­pute over money with for­mer man­agers Martin Pugh and Kevin Barry, the lat­ter now Parker’s trainer, but he has al­ways loved the sport.

Among his more promis­ing fight­ers is a nephew, Andrew, an 18-year-old mid­dleweight about to start his am­a­teur ca­reer.

“I’m still in­volved in it. It’s still a big part of my life.

“I’ll al­ways be in­volved with box­ing. I love teach­ing, I love shar­ing knowl­edge and I love see­ing these kids suc­ceed.”

Fi­nally, asked which op­po­nent hit him the hard­est, Tua says, smil­ing: “My mum. My mum had the hard­est punch — she had a good sneaky up­per­cut.”

Greg Bowker

David Tua has had ups and downs in his ca­reer but has never lost his love for box­ing.

David Tua (right) lost to Len­nox Lewis.

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