Tuaman & The Terminator: A tale of two Tuas

david tua20.11.07 - By Geoffrey Ciani: Oftentimes, a boxer’s career can be broken down into two distinct chapters. There are several famous examples of this, including: Muhammad Ali before and after his license suspension, Mike Tyson before and after prison, and, most notably, the two careers of “Big” George Foreman separated by a ten year retirement. Another less obvious example is the unusual case of David Tua.

Earlier in his career, during a time when I like to refer to Tua as “The Terminator”, he showed tremendous promise that was highlighted by four keynote victories. The first of these came on HBO’s “Night of the Young Heavyweights” back in March of 1996 when “The Terminator” easily dispatched promising young contender, John Ruiz. At this time, Ruiz was the biggest test to date for the young “Terminator”. It took Tua a mere 19 seconds to finish Ruiz, who was mercilessly pounded by a vicious barrage of punches. This awesome display of power resonated throughout the boxing community. The world was on notice: “The Terminator” had arrived.

Later that year, “The Terminator” scored a come from behind victory against the promising young Nigerian pugilist, David Izon. This was the first time Tua trailed on the scorecards during a fight only to have his immense power bail him out in the latter rounds—in this case, it was the very last round, as Tua stopped Izon in the twelfth stanza. The following year, Tua once again found himself behind on the scorecards as Oleg Maekaev used a snappy jab to build up a seemingly insurmountable lead, until the eleventh round, when a perfectly timed punch sent Maskaev wheeling around like a drunken sailor. The following year, Tua once again scored a come from behind victory when he clobbered Hasim Rahman in the tenth.

Even in his only losing effort during this time, “The Terminator” put on the type of performance that enabled his stock to rise against the very talented pugilist who went by the name Ike Ibeabuchi. For twelve hard-fought rounds, Tua and Ibeabuchi stood toe-to-toe in an all-out slugfest. According to Compubox numbers, this fight broke the heavyweight record for total punches thrown in a bout, and, even more impressive, nearly all were power punches with the meanest of intentions. In the end, Tua dropped a close and somewhat controversial decision. Many observers felt Tua deserved the win, however, so the loss did little to hinder his prospects. Incidentally, I had Tua winning the bout, 115-113.

As fate would have it, three of the men Tua defeated during this chapter in his career would go on to become heavyweight champions. John Ruiz and Hasim Rahman would eventually go on to become two-time champions and, recently, Oleg Maskaev also captured a portion of the heavyweight crown. Unfortunately for Tua, a championship crown has eluded him. Who would have thought that Rahman, Maskaev, and Ruiz would go on to hold belts but Tua would not? I venture to guess, not too many.

“The Terminator” was at his best when he showed up in good shape. For David Tua, this meant coming into the ring in the 220 to 225 pound range. During his keynote victories and his notable loss, his slim weight enabled him to apply the type of pressure that made him successful. Even when being out-boxed, which was never uncommon for “The Terminator” he always had the stamina, the will, and the determination to remain competitive, where oftentimes, his tremendous power would bail him out late. That was during the first stage of his career, but unfortunately, things were quite different during the second stage, when David Tua morphed from “The Terminator” into “Tuaman”.

The critical moment of transformation occurred after his victory against Rahman. From that point on, “The Terminator” was no more, and all that was left was “Tuaman”. The most noticeable difference between the two was his fighting weight. While “The Terminator” always entered big bouts in the 220-225 pound range, “Tuaman” often came into the ring out-of-shape, and sometimes, even grossly out of shape. “Tuaman” got into the habit of entering the ring around 245 pounds, topping out at a career high of 253.

Unlike “The Terminator”, “Tuaman” was unable to utilize his extraordinary power to save him late in fights. All of this was because he was not in peak fighting condition. By neglecting the training habits that made him a young sensation, his career transpired into one of grave disappointment and unfulfilled potential. In the biggest fight of his career, Tua was outclassed when he dropped a lopsided decision against heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis. In a match-up where Tua needed to be at his absolute best, he instead entered the ring on the pudgy side which resulted in a lackluster effort.

From that point on, it was clear to everyone what “Tuaman” needed to do to get back on track—he needed to rededicate himself to his training regiment and get back into fighting shape. For whatever reason, this never happened. Whether it is because Tua became complacent or because his body was no longer able to get in peak condition or whether he was overconfident in his own abilities is a matter of debate. Regardless, “Tuaman” was never able to recapture the flair that made him one of the most exciting prospects to come along since a young Mike Tyson.

So where did David Tua go wrong? What happened after the Rahman bout that resulted in the undesirable transformation from “The Terminator” into the “Tuaman”?

Tua’s biggest problem most likely stemmed from an ill-fated blend of his own success and the unique circumstances surrounding the heavyweight landscape at the apex of his merit as a contender. After beating Rahman, Tua became the IBF’s number one rated challenger. This meant that, somewhere along the line, the reigning IBF champion would be forced to defend his crown against “Tuaman”. Tua was reluctant to risk his status as the mandatory challenger, and understandably so. However, he allowed his own skills to diminish and was ill-prepared for the eventual championship opportunity he would ultimately receive.

Further complicating matters for Tua, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield were slated to have a unification bout for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. As Tua sat by awaiting his opportunity, Holyfield and Lewis would do battle, not once, but twice. After their first encounter ended in an extremely controversial draw in March 1999, the two had an immediate rematch eight months later. All this time, Tua waited on the sidelines. When the smoke finally cleared, Lewis prevailed, and in his first title defense, he defended his crown against Michael Grant before taking a voluntary defense against Fancois Botha.

Tua would finally receive his shot in November 2000, but by this time, he was already a shell of his former self. Tua made the mistake of allowing his skills to diminish by sitting on his number one contender status. While it made sense, and ensured that he would definitely receive a title shot, this came at a very costly price, for in the process, he was not training properly as he feasted on a bunch of no-hope journeymen. During this time, he also declined a rematch with Hasim Rahman and declined an offer to fight Michael Grant, who would go on to defeat Andrew Golota propelling him to a title match with Lewis several months earlier than Tua.

Tua still fights to this day, and he has continued to make poor decisions regarding his career. The most recent debacle came when he inexplicably turned down an opportunity to face Lamon Brewster in a bout televised by HBO. This was to be Brewtser’s first fight in over a year since he suffered a detached retina against Serguei Lyakhovich. This would have been a great opportunity for Tua to re-establish himself as a contender. Not only would he have had an outstanding chance at beating Brewster, but even a loss would likely have been competitive and helped re-elevate him to contender status. Instead, he remained low key, and Brewster was eventually beaten mercilessly in his rematch with Wladimir Klitschko.

There is still some time left for Tua to try and make a final run for glory, but the clock is ticking and the curtains are almost closed. In his best effort since his transformation into the “Tuaman”, Tua made a good showing in a losing effort against Chris Byrd (which was a stylistic nightmare for Tua). Although he was unable to make it down to his ideal weight of 225, he did manage to drop down into the low 230s, and as a result, he gave one of his finest efforts in the post-Terminator chapter of his career.

If Tua is going to take a last stab at this, he needs to be willing to take chances, and he better make his move soon. Historically speaking, pugilists who embrace the type of style utilized by “Tuaman” tend to peak early before fading out quickly. In that sense, Tua is already on the downside of his career. After all of the promise he showed earlier, it is a shame he never gave himself his best chance for success in the sport. With his power and his chin, he could have been one hell of a fighter!

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Article posted on 20.11.2007

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