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 on March 15, 1996, when a young and unbeaten Samoan heavyweight prospect burst onto the world stage in a frighteningly exciting fashion. David 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 25 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 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 handywork on YouTube have nothing against Ruiz (at least they shouldn’t carry any ill will towards Ruiz) they watch it because they are addicted to the spectacle of a truly stunning KO.
And seldom have we seen a more brutal and quick knockout from an emerging heavyweight. Or from any heavyweight.