Ultimately, watching David Tua announce his retirement on Saturday night came as a relief. For many years the sporting public has had to endure yet another comeback (remember “Tua of Duty”?), that has drowned in a sea of missed opportunities.
Yet in time, David Tua deserves to be remembered as one of New Zealand’s finest sportsmen. He may not have fought throughout the golden years of heavyweight boxing, but he came up against many fine athletes and put them away – in some cases convincingly.
Sure, he fought some absolute bums early on in his career. For every Lennox Lewis there was a Cecil Coffee. For every Chris Byrd, a Mike Acey. But that’s just how boxing works. Get the numbers on the board and move on. And move on David Tua did. He made a solid, and sometimes spectacular, climb through the professional ranks to make it to a genuine World Heavyweight Title fight.
However, if you could sum up David Tua’s career in just one word, the short priced favourite would be “frustrating”. Here was a man with immense punching power and a very strong chin, who seemed unable to put it all together when it really mattered.
Most recall the performance against Lennox Lewis, where Tua failed to turn up to the big dance. He looked gun shy, and didn’t fire a shot. In fairness though, Lewis will most likely be viewed as one of the most underrated heavyweights in recent times. Not only did he outsmart the Tua Camp in 2000, he gave each one of them a boxing lesson.
So perhaps a more frustrating performance was the one against Chris Byrd a year later. Against yet another taller opponent – there weren’t many shorter – Tua needed to win the fight to move back into legitimate contender status. But his camp seemed to have learned nothing from the title fight, and failed to negate Byrd’s height in a carbon copy performance.
There were a couple of other shockers too, most noticeably the more recent lacklustre showings against Monte Barret and Demetrice King. Remember Demetrice? Nah, me neither.
But there were some stunning performances as well. His first showing against decent opposition lasted a full 19 seconds against John Ruiz. Michael Moorer only lasted 30 seconds before losing for just the third time in his career. And his come from behind destruction of Fres Oquendo the same year was a memorable affair. Overall, he knocked out four former world champions.
Yet strangely, for a man of such genuine power, he arguably saved his most brutal performance for Shane Cameron. During that (albeit very brief) fight, he looked absolutely ferocious. What he would have given for that level of ferocity against the likes of Lewis.
Whenever the Tua tale is told, the inevitable questions surrounding his various management set ups will be asked. His early mentor Kevin Barry did very well in the early stages to get Tua in to contention. Barry was a steadying influence at a time where fighters are notorious for going off the rails in spectacular fashion, and his guidance was crucial to Tua’s early success. But Barry had his limitations, and by the time these came to realisation, the relationship had disintegrated.
The introduction of Martin Pugh into the equation was a complete disaster. And once Pugh decided to complete his own house renovations with Tua’s purse money, the inevitable happened. The subsequent court case put Tua’s career on the backburner, and legitimate questions were raised as to where exactly Tua’s career money of $20million had been spent. All of a sudden, New Zealand’s biggest sporting earner was penniless, and living in a gym.
And then David Tua aligned himself with our dear old friend Cedric Kushner. We’ve had a crack at Kushner before, but we were proven correct. Kushner failed to deliver on various promises, and did absolutely nothing to further Tua’s career. In fact, at one stage he was almost solely responsible for stalling it. That he put up with the convicted fraudster for 10 years is more of a reflection of David Tua’s trusting nature than Kushner’s ability as a boxing promoter.
Ironically, it is that good nature that may ultimately be David Tua’s legacy. After all the crap he has been through – with a lot of it played out in the public arena – he has come out the other end remaining positive. And he has been lucky enough, and good enough, to be able to get out of the sport undamaged.
Unless he developed the absolute mongrel of Mike Tyson, Tua was always going to be up against it when it came to the taller fighters. With a bit more ferocity, he may have been able to overcome those hurdles and win the title. But being a trash talking mongrel just wasn’t his go.
David Tua deserves to be remembered for more than not turning up against Lennox Lewis 13 years ago. He was at one time a genuine contender, and there are precious few New Zealanders who have been in that company.
Here’s hoping that David Tua’s retirement is both fulfilling and final. He deserves it.