David Tua - Almost Was

Boxing trainer Kevin Barry says David Tua lacked the dedication his current fighter Joseph Parker has to win the world heavyweight title. SPASIFIK publisher INNES LOGAN believes his lack of height and reach and coming from a small island in the Pacific didn’t help either.

In March 1996 I was convinced David Tua would become heavyweight champion of the world. As part of the sports team at the Sunday News we gathered around to see Tua take on rising young contender John Ruiz. Within 12 seconds of the opening bell Ruiz had fallen to the canvas in one of the fastest most brutal bashings you could see.

Being so hyped up by what I had just witnessed, I couldn’t resist blurting out my belief that Tua is on track to become heavyweight champion of the world. My fellow sports colleagues weren’t so agreeable.

In November 2000 David Tua had earned the right to fight for the world heavyweight title against Britain’s Lennox Lewis, the dominant fighter at the time who was unifying the various belts on offer. For me it was vindication. I’d always be up for the big fights we used to see on free-too-air from Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 to the Leonard-Duran, Hagler-Hearns, Tyson, Spinks, Holyfield, Bowe. But none was more anticipated for me than seeing a Samoan living in New Zealand fighting for the most prestigious, coveted individual sports crown on offer.

To say the Lewis-Tua fight was a let-down is like saying the French team that conceded 62 points to the All Blacks at last year’s Rugby World Cup “wasn’t that good”. Tua didn’t turn up. He threw a couple of swinging hooks that hit nothing but air, but seemed reluctant to get in close which, because of Lewis’ superior reach, he needed to do to have a fighting chance.

The following day Barry said that Tua was carrying an injury into the fight. It sounded like the All Blacks claiming that they were poisoned before the 1995 Rugby World Cup final against South Africa. True or not, saying it after losing sounds like an excuse. And anyway, 15 years after the event, Barry said on Sky Sport that Tua suffered from stage fright.

Tua would never come close to another shot, not helped by the fallout in 2003 with Barry and business partner Martin Pugh over the money that had been earned but squandered, and father time, which takes its toll on ageing, professional sportsmen faster than most.

Tua would nevertheless feature on covers of SPASIFIK as he continued fighting without Barry. Sales figures indicated he had plenty of loyal fans. At a personal level, I found him easy to deal with and always good for an entertaining quote.

Samoans and Pacific people have a new boxing hero to pin their hopes on - Joseph Parker, also now trained by Kevin Barry.

Barry says Parker has the dedication that Tua lacked to become world heavyweight champion.

Parker also has the physical attributes, which include reach and height, which Tua lacked.

Whether or when Parker gets the opportunity soon is another matter. Coming from a small, isolated nation in the South Pacific doesn’t help. If Joseph Parker was fighting under the star spangled banner you know he’d be on a faster track to a world heavyweight fight.

Also, in the murky world of professional boxing, getting the best and most exciting fighters in the ring isn’t as straightforward. Records and reputations are at stake, particularly when there’s a rising young star on the up with the potential to ruin it.

Make no bones about it, though, Joseph Parker is the Real Deal.

Former world heavyweight champion Evander ‘The Real Deal’ Holyfield believes so. If justice is served, Parker will get that opportunity within the next year.

I’m still regretful that David Tua never became a world heavyweight champion. As Barry points out, Tua knocked out five guys who wore the belt which he never managed to wrap around his waist.

Even with a world crown, it would be fair to say Tua wouldn’t have been regarded as a great heavyweight.

But it’s better to be a has-been than a never-was.

An almost-was –the fact he stepped into the ring and did fight for the world title will have to do.