Exclusive interview by James Slater: Tonga’s Tony Fulilangi made a name for himself as a raw puncher in the early 1980s, “The Tongan Torpedo” romping to a straight 22 wins, all but one by KO. Thrown in with big names, Jimmy Young, Bert Cooper and George Foreman, Fulilangi was unable to beat either man, yet he did hold the still-crafty Young to a draw in 1985.
The quick stoppage loss to Foreman in 1988 signalled the end for Tony, who exited with a record of 36-4-2(33). There were stories years after the Foreman loss that said Fulilangi took a dive. Not so says the 58 year old, as he explains when talking with ESB from his home in Salt Lake City.
Q: You had a great start to your pro career, when you scored all those KO’s. Were you a born puncher?
Tony Fulilangi: “Yeah, I remember my [pro] debut, in ’81 in Honolulu. Time goes by real fast, man! Yeah, I was born with it [punching power]. I used to knock out all the kids I fought, and I fought a lot of ’em, on the streets. I had plenty of street fights where I grew up, in our village in Tonga. And I knocked them cold (laughs).”
Q: You boxed all over: in Honolulu, in New Zealand, in Australia and in America. Where did you most enjoy fighting?
T.F: “Definitely in Vegas. It was so exciting, with all the history to the place; just all of it, man. And it was close to home, Phoenix, where I was at the time. I remember, we would drive into town in Vegas, take care of business, and then drive home. They were great times.”
Q: You were 22-0-1 when you first lost. Monte Masters (who passed away at the young age of 41 in 1996) stopped you in the 14th-round – which was amazing in itself, you fighting a 15-round fight at that stage of your career.
T.F: “Yeah, that loss hurt. I had him KO’d in the second round. They robbed me in that fight. I found out later that they came with the referee, he was a relative of his, and one of the judges. Can you believe that! I didn’t know any better, being just a poor kid from Tonga. When they stopped the fight, I was fine, on my feet, ahead on the cards, and not hurt. Honestly, the ref, he just stopped it. It hurt bad because had I won that fight I would have fought Larry Homes next. And you know, I would have knocked Holmes out. People today might say I’m just talking crazy, but I know. I had the power and I was hot at that time. Real hot. Imagine how different things would be for me now had I not been robbed? I’d have knocked out a legend.”
Q: You fought a great fighter in 1985, when you fought a draw with the crafty and clever Jimmy Young.
T.F: “I know first-hand how good he was, how clever! I knew I had to KO him to get the win, him being a legend, yeah. He had so much experience and I had started late in the sport, at age 21. Jimmy Young, I was close to him in the ring, just a foot away, and yet I swung and he turned his head and I missed the punch (laughs). So I went to his body but he just absorbed it. I couldn’t believe it, he literally absorbed my gloves with his body.”
Q: You had an entertaining fight with Bert Cooper in 1988 but you were stopped in the fourth-round.
T.F: “Yes, you watch that fight today and you’ll see, Bert jumped four-feet into the air when they stopped it. I was all by myself for that fight – literally. My promoter at the time, he actually fired my coach, so I had no coach. I was sent down to work with Abel Sanchez, who is of course well established now. But back then, I didn’t know those guys. I ran by myself, I sparred whoever they told me to spar. I had no-one looking after me and I was lonely. Before the Cooper fight, I was left alone in the room, for around an hour, and then they knocked on the door and told me it was fight time. I needed guidance, someone telling me in my ear what to do, you know? I came out and then all the cameras flashed and it was real noisy. Man, I was overwhelmed and out of my depth. It was a crazy fight but he felt my power in that fight, I know that.”
Q: The fight you had with George Foreman, in what turned out to be your last fight, you being stopped in the second-round in October of ’88 – there have been stories over the years that it was a fixed fight?
T.F: “(laughs loudly). I went down to save myself! They already knew I was finished, that my legs had gone. I couldn’t even run before that fight, I had spinal cord problems. I couldn’t train. They knew I was done. I don’t take anything away from George, he even said himself after the fight that this kid could punch. No, it was no fix. Not at all. I’m not gonna go with that. I’m a clean guy, I win or I lose – and honestly. I don’t do stuff like that.”
Q: Do you still follow boxing?
T.F: “Yeah, and I train young guys. That’s my main thing now, helping the kids, keeping them off drugs. I’m waiting for my son to come over from Tonga, he’s 13 years old and he’ll be the next big thing. I trained Paea Wolfgramm for six years and he won a silver medal at the Olympics. Then he went and left me for another trainer and I had to keep my mouth shut, to be humble. I like Deontay [Wilder] and Tyson [Fury]. That was a good fight but I think Fury won it. Next time, if he [Fury] stops show-boating, he will win for sure. And one thing I’d like to say, my record is 49 wins with 42 KO’s. They have it different on the media sites, but hey, I did have a good number of fights.”