The heavyweight division has seen its share of interesting characters over its long, long history. We’ve seen artists, showmen, out and out punchers and we’ve seen men of all shapes and sizes reach the very top. Often though, one of these interesting characters either floats beneath the radar or is all but totally forgotten when his career comes to an end.
Which brings us to former fringe contender Tony Fulilangi. Almost certainly the only heavyweight boxer from the island of Tonga to have ever amounted to much – if not the only heavyweight from Tonga, period – the muscled and mustached Fulilangi had some interesting career. A natural athlete,Tony, born in 1960, attended college in Tonga and was offered a scholarship in track and field. Instead, after a trip to Phoenix to see his brother, the young Fulilangi ended up in a boxing gym. After belting the head trainer of the gym (a most aggressive, energetic young man indeed was the Tongan) Fulilangi had his mind made up – he would become a fighter, a champion. Later being trained by veteran Al Fenn, who owned the oldest boxing gym in Phoenix, Fulilangi made something of a name for himself. Scoring quick and eye-catching KO’s in all of his amateur bouts, Fulilangi then beat up the so-called “best heavyweight in Hawai;” having been in Honolulu to visit his sister. Tony was spotted and was offered a chance to go pro.
Turning pro in 1981, the 21 year old soon proved that he could indeed punch. 22 wins later, 21 of them coming by KO, the raw Slugger was held to a ten-round draw by a fighter named Tony Perea, and Fulilangi was then beaten by a guy named Monte Masters; a 14th-round TKO loss – this an incredible distance for a relative novice to be boxing. Six fights later, Fulilangi managed a draw with an ageing but still tricky Jimmy Young, this notable result (sort of) coming in 1985. Then getting back on the KO-train – scoring seven more stoppages in nine wins – Fulilangi was stepped up in class.
It proved unsuccessful. Bert Cooper wrecked Fulilangi inside four-rounds in an NABF cruiserweight title fight, before a guy named Freddie Rafferty stopped him in just two-rounds two months later. The came the biggest fight of Fulilanigi’s career: his October 1988 fight with the comebacking George Foreman. This fight went out on the USA network and Foreman – aged 39 and 12 bouts into his unlikely return – had whipped himself into pretty good shape. Fulilangi, now aged 28 and as heavily muscled as ever (if not quite big enough for the monster heavies such as “Big George”) gave it a go but he was totally overpowered. Down three times in round-two, Fulilangi ended the fight sat on the canvas, the fight apparently beaten out of him.
Later though, Fulilangi claimed he took a dive, that he went into the tank. Watching the fight today, it doesn’t look like it. Foreman cracked his smaller foe with some slow but heavy shots to the head, and even if the last knockdown came as Fulilangi went over largely as a result of his own momentum, having missed with a shot, it doesn’t look like a fixed fight. And that was that for “The Tongan Torpedo.” Fulilangi began his fighting career as a noted puncher and he went out against one of the biggest punchers in heavyweight history. Only Fulilangi claims he faked his loss, the final fight of his career.
Indeed, Tony Fulilangi, 36-4-2(33) was quite a character.