It was 20 years ago today…… it sounds like a line from a great song by the greatest band of them all, The Beatles. But the 20 years ago today this article refers to, is the time when a masterful boxing performance was put on by heavyweight king Lennox Lewis as he defended his world title against the ultra-dangerous David Tua. It was November 11, 2000 at The Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas when Lewis, aged 35, used, as he described it himself, “science,” to outbox, defuse and demoralise Tua over 12 largely one-sided rounds.
Tua, sporting his ‘let’s make him look taller’ hairdo, had supposedly injured a rib in sparring a couple of months before his title shot (as it turned out, his one and only world title shot), and to be fair, this “excuse” in a sport littered with them, is one we can probably buy. Tua gave it a shot early, until he was cracked in the ribs by a Lewis punch, and from there in in the Samoan slugger slung out only a paltry amount leather.
Tua wished to take nothing from Lewis’ dominant performance, leaving it to his team to bring forth the rib injury revelation. Lewis did box brilliantly. So much taller than Tua, Lewis pumped out hard and stiff left jabs, occasionally following his lead shot with a hard right. Tua was marked up but he stayed up. If Tua’s rep as a power-puncher took some damage in this fight, his rep as a guy with a granite chin remained intact.
Tua was out of the fight from the 5th round on, failing to win a session from there on. Lewis had, in the words of Larry Merchant, reduced the fight to that of the level of “a sparring match.” It was one of Lewis’ finest wins to be sure. Lennox, who many said had a poor chin, even a glass one, never really had his mandible tested on this night. Still, Lewis’ standing as the best big man on the planet could not be argued with.
Tua cut a dejected figure after the 36 minutes of combat were over, and who could blame him? Tua needed a major bounce back if he was going to make good on his goal of ruling the world. But as much as the lopsided scores against him hurt – 119-109, 118-110, 117-111 – David Tua would be hurt, and perplexed, far more by his own father, this after the fight. And then Tua became both proud and happy.
One of the great, privileged things about being a boxing writer, is the awesome, honest to goodness and forthright interviews a boxer is often willing to grant said scribe. Tua, back in 2007, when on the comeback trail, was kind enough to take time out to speak with me. Tua had some fascinating things to say.
Tua explained how, at the time of the Lewis fight, and afterwards, he was living with his father. Each night after the loss to Lewis, Tua told me, he would go to bed, only to hear the HBO broadcast of the Lewis fight roll over and over. His father would watch, and watch, and watch the fight.
“I couldn’t understand it,” Tua said. “Why was he watching the fight over and over? Did he enjoy seeing his son get his ass kicked? At that time, I was still intimidated by my father. He was a very strong man. I never could understand why, as a kid, he would make me fight the local kids, and when I lost he would give me the belt and them lollipops. Anyway, one day I plucked up courage and I asked him, ‘why are you watching Lennox Lewis kick my ass again and again?’ He told me, to my face, ‘son, I’m proud of you.’ He had never told me this before, but he told me he was proud of the way I kept trying to fight, how I kept coming forward. I was so overjoyed. I’d been waiting so long for him to say that. At that moment, I realised how my dad had always had my best interests as heart, how he had made me the man I was. That’s the best thing that came from that fight.”
An amazingly forthright, revelatory interview if ever there was one. Tua was never world champion, yet he just might be the greatest heavyweight never to have won the crown. And as far as telling you what a great guy Tua is, well, you don’t need me to explain the obvious.
We sure could do with more David Tuas today. Both in and out of the ring.