Enshrined over the weekend at The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame, Samoan powerhouse David Tua had his mighty fists cast for immortality. And what a superb fighting machine the prime David Tua really was. Indeed, it’s been said (and it is echoed here) that Tua has to be ranked as one of the finest, yes, one of the greatest, heavyweights never to have won a world title. Sure, absolute legends such as Sam Langford and Harry Wills have to be remembered when we think of all-time greats who were, for whatever reason or reasons, denied world championship honours, but as far as modern terms go, Tua stands out.
Upon his 1996 arrival on the world stage, this courtesy of his near decapitation job on John Ruiz (who would recover from his KO at the hands of Tua to go on to become one of the most durably stubborn heavyweights of the day), Tua had fans in a frenzy. Short and stocky, Tua was compared to Mike Tyson, to Rocky Marciano. Fast of hand, brutally powerful and, we would find out in due course, blessed with a chin to rival “The Rock’s,” Tua seemed to have it all. Maybe he did, apart from good luck; which is an ingredient all fighters need.
Tua would demolish good, more than capable fighters like Ruiz, David Izon, and Oleg Maskaev (Izon and Maskaev extending Tua into the late rounds), while his out and out war with Ike Ibeabuchi in the summer of 1997 is rightfully referred to as an all-time great heavyweight battle. Tua lost that one, but Ibeabuchi might have left a bigger piece of himself in the ring in victory (a bigger piece of his mental health).
Tua went on to stop Hasim Rahman (a somewhat controversial stoppage win) and Obed Sullivan, before he got his one and only shot at a world title. Lennox Lewis boxed magnificently in decisioning a Tua who was carrying a rib injury that compromised his movement. Tua would never get another crack at the ultimate. Tua would lose a decision to Chris Byrd, he would rebound with a KO win over an unbeaten Fres Oquendo, taking the NABF heavyweight belt, and he would ice Michael Moorer in way less than three minutes in his fight after the Oquendo win.
Tua would then box a draw with Rahman in their rematch, and that was it at world level. Aside from an impressive-looking KO win he scored over Shane Cameron in what was a big fight in New Zealand, Tua had pretty much fired all his bullets. Finally, in 2013, after a loss to Alexander Ustinov, Tua retired at 52-5-2(43). He was never once stopped.
So Tua fell short, especially when we consider the great things he looked capable of achieving when he burst into prominence. But Tua at his best gave us some superb performances, some great and memorable highlight reel KO’s that would have made a Marciano or a Tyson proud. Explosive, fast, hard to hit clean, carrying nuclear power bombs in each hand, protected by a granite chin for when a punch did land, blessed in his prime years with bucket-loads of energy and stamina. Yes, Tua did seem to have it all.
In total, Tua took out five men who were each at one time or another a world champion. It’s just a pity for Tua that these fights did not take place at a time when the title was on the line. As it is, Tua is more revered, admired and is better remembered than plenty of fighters from his era who did become world champion. Tua was special, he was thrilling to watch. Even though he never reached the mountain top, Tua ranks as one of the best of his time.