David Tua gave us some truly special moments during his career: his absolute hammer and tongs war with Ike Ibeabuchi, his controversial stoppage win over Hasim Rahman, his icing of Michael Moorer. And of course, Tua’s sizzling, disturbing to watch knockout of John Ruiz. Yet despite his wicked power, despite his rock for a chin, despite his speed and explosiveness, Tua was never able to win the big one. But Ruiz did. Go figure!
Tua, as fans surely recall, burst onto the world stage on this day back in 1996, when he wiped out Ruiz on an HBO card. Tua’s brutal and quick dismantling of Ruiz left fight fans in a real state of excitement. What more could this Samoan slugger with the crunching bombs disguised as hooks go on to accomplish? How many more bodies would Tua leave prone? As it turned out, Tua promised more than he was able to deliver; this taking into account the terrific fights he managed to give us. Watching that vicious blur of a KO all these years later, a fight fans still gets a jolt, a buzz. It’s a knockout that never gets old. But it’s also a knockout that promised so much. And for whatever reason or reasons – bad luck on Tua’s part, him being avoided by certain fighters, or Tua just not quite being good enough on the night – Tua never quite lived up to his massive promise.
Or maybe you disagree? Tua might be one of the finest, most lethally dangerous heavyweights never to have got his hands on a world title.
When looking back, again, at that destruction of Ruiz, a fight fan sure is left scratching his or her head when noting again how Tua never went on to reach the very top.
It was a blistering combination of violent hooks, most of them landing flush, this in a veritable eyeblink, the entire fight over in just 19 seconds. This was the way it was when Tua, just 23 years of age and built like a bank safe, met the taller and slightly older John Ruiz on a card dubbed “The Night Of The Young Heavyweights.” What went down, aside from the thoroughly unprepared Ruiz, was one sizzling display of power, accuracy and killer instinct.
Tua, who had won a bronze medal at the ’92 Olympics and was now guided by ultimate cheerleader Lou Duva, came out blazing and his lethal hooks to the head and jaw sent Ruiz’ skull spinning. It was over in a blur, with Ruiz left on his back, his eyes closed, the stricken fighter needing medical assistance. Thankfully, Ruiz was okay – recovering and then going on to carve out a pretty nice and distinguished career of his own. In fact, when we look back on Tua KO1 Ruiz all these years later, we have to catch ourselves and remind ourselves of two things: sure thing for greatness Tua never managed to win a world title, and Ruiz managed to become a two-time WBA heavyweight champion. Also, Ruiz was not stopped again for some 14 years.
It really is quite amazing that, if we ask the question, who was the better overall fighter, Tua or Ruiz, some serious thought is needed in coming up with an answer. Tua obliterated Ruiz, yet he was never able to win a world title. Ruiz was smashed by Tua, yet he went on to twice defeat Evander Holyfield (a faded version), he comprehensively defeated Hasim Rahman (something Tua never managed in two tries), and Ruiz also beat Andrew Golota and Jameel McCline. As hot and cold as Tua blew in his career overall, it’s entirely possible he would not have beaten Holyfield, or Golota, or McCline.
All of this was a long, long way away on the night of March 15, 1996, though. In fact it was unthinkable. Tua, with his Mike Tyson/Rocky Marciano-like performance, seemed set for world domination. Ruiz would not have had too many backers. But the fight of 27 years ago is a classic example of how one fight, one result, does not, should not, define two fighters. Who knows what might have happened if Tua and Ruiz had fought a rematch? After the crushing loss, Ruiz became known as one heck of a stubborn fighter, a man who was durable as a cockroach according to one creative description. Ruiz was caught cold by Tua, and this can of course happen to any fighter; any heavyweight especially.
Maybe Tua would have KO’d Ruiz a second time had a rematch taken place, maybe not. But the art of destruction Tua showed efficiency in a little over a quarter of a century ago today remains a knockout of prominence, of celebration even. The fans who continue to get a thrill from those 19 seconds as they re-watch Tua’s handiwork on YouTube have nothing against Ruiz; they watch it because they are addicted to the spectacle of a truly stunning KO.
However, this particular KO also leaves a fan tantalized with a feeling that Tua could have, should have, maybe would have done so much more during his up-and-down ring career.