Friday, November 15, 2013

David Tua Attempting To Reemerge In The Heavyweight Mix Against Alexander Ustinov

When the subject of the most devastating punchers in Heavyweight Boxing history is discussed along with names like Tyson, Foreman, Frazier, among others it is hard while in such discussion to not include David Tua. Tua, known for his ability to end fights with one punch burst on the Boxing scene after winning a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympic games. As a professional, Tua after compiling twenty-two straight wins, Tua faced future Heavyweight champion John Ruiz on March 15, 1996 Atlantic City, New Jersey.

It is not often that one can say that a fighter can become a legitimate star of the sport in one fight. Tua however, did become a star that night against Ruiz. After unleashing what may arguably be the most devastating left hook ever thrown in Boxing history, Tua knocked out Ruiz in nineteen seconds. From that moment on David Tua was a force in the Heavyweight division.

Tua continued to defeat contenders, some of whom would go on to become world champions. For the contender from Samoa however, it would not be a clear-cut path to the Heavyweight championship of the world. Tua would suffer the first loss of his career in 1997, losing a hard-fought twelve round unanimous decision to then contender Ike Ibeabuchi in a fight where the two Heavyweights set the all-time record for most punches thrown in a Heavyweight fight at the time.

Despite suffering the first loss of his career, it did not really have all that much affect in Tua’s standing among the best Heavyweights in the world. Tua went on to win ten straight fights, scoring knockouts in nine of those ten culminating in his challenge of then unified Heavyweight world champion Lennox Lewis in November of 2000.

Although having a great deal momentum prior to that fight, the 5’10 Tua could not successfully get on the inside of the 6’5 Lewis and was dominated for twelve rounds in route to losing a unanimous decision.  Tua would also go on to lose a unanimous decision to former Heavyweight champion Chris Byrd in 2001.

Despite not getting the opportunity to again challenge for a World Heavyweight Championship, Tua remained a player in the division for several years. Most will remember Tua’s most recent battles with former longtime contender Monte Barrett.  In their first fight in 2010 Tua and Barrett engaged in a grueling back and forth battle that saw Tua suffering the first knockdown of his career in the final round of that fight by a Barrett left and right hook. Some including this observer felt that Barrett had done enough to earn the decision in what was to be the final contest of his career. The judges however, scored the fight a majority draw. The two would meet again in August of 2011. This time Barrett’s greater activity and ability to keep Tua at distance was enough to earn him the fight in his favor by a lopsided margin in the eyes of most observers. Tua however, did provide drama in the final round of the rematch knocking Barrett down and nearly scoring a come from behind knockout.

Now after a two-year hiatus David Tua prepares to return to the ring against Heavyweight contender Alexander Ustinov on November 16th in Hamilton, New Zealand. The current landscape of the Heavyweight division one may argue lacks marquee value outside of the Klitschko brothers who continue to rule over the division. It will be interesting to see what Tua, who will turn forty-one years old on November 21st will have to offer after being out of the ring for two years.

In comparison to another fighter in the division that is on the comeback trail, Oleg Maskaev who was knocked out by Tua in eleven rounds back in 1997, Maskaev the former WBC Heavyweight world champion now forty-four years old has taken a gradual approach in his comeback thus far facing three fighters Owen Beck, Jason Gavern, and most recently Danny Williams. Three fighters who are known to most Boxing aficionados, but fighters who most would consider not present contenders. Tua meanwhile, will face what some will consider a stern test when he faces Alexander Ustinov.

Ustinov, a winner of twenty-eight out of twenty-nine professional fights comes into this fight ranked number twelve in the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) Heavyweight ratings. The lone defeat for Ustinov came in September of last year when he was knocked out in eleven rounds by undefeated current International Boxing Federation (IBF) number one contender Kubrat Pulev.

The story of this fight seems clear. Can Tua find a way to get on the inside of the 6’7 Ustinov? Can Ustinov keep Tua at distance for a full twelve rounds? The fight which was originally scheduled for August 31st was postponed by a calf injury suffered by Tua. 

When this fight was originally announced I had several thoughts. The natural question that ran through my mind was how would David Tua look after being out of the ring for two years? It was also somewhat curious in my eyes to see Tua elect to face someone who is a top twenty contender right out of the gate in his comeback. On one hand, one could say Tua’s choice in facing Ustinov is a sign of confidence, perhaps wanting to test himself against a legitimate contender right away rather than facing an opponent who most would not recognize. Perhaps Tua’s choice is motivated by wanting to see what he has left right away and more specifically attempting to reenter the Heavyweight championship picture as quickly as possible. On the other hand, one may say that Tua might have benefited by having a couple of fights against lesser-known opposition, or taking a more measured approach in his comeback as Oleg Maskaev has.

It will be interesting to see in this fight whether or not Ustinov establishes the pace from the outset. Will Ustinov adapt a similar strategy against Tua that worked so well for fighters like Lennox Lewis and Monte Barrett?

The key to this fight in my eyes is whether or not David Tua will fight in a more aggressive manner from the outset than he did in his rematch with Monte Barrett. In addition to dealing with the height differential, Tua will also have to contend with being outweighed by fifty-six pounds by Ustinov who weighed in at the official weigh-in at 292lbs to Tua’s 236lbs. 

As this fight approaches many may be tempted to say that not only based on a two-year layoff, but also the height and weight disadvantage that David Tua should be viewed as a considerable underdog in this fight. In all truth and honesty it is hard to argue against such an opinion. It is worth remembering however, that David Tua built his career on a reputation of being able to get an opponent out of there with one punch at any given time. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Ustinov could find himself in control of this fight for the majority of rounds and then suddenly see the fight turned in Tua’s favor. Tua has shown the ability to turn a fight around suddenly specifically in his first fight with Hasim Rahman, and in his 2002 fight with Fres Oquendo. 

David Tua will always be known as one of most devastating punchers in Heavyweight history compiling a near 75% career knockout ratio. Tua’s status as a knockout artist will not be affected regardless of what happens in this fight. If however, Tua still possesses the punching power that made him a major player in the division for many years, if he can find a way to execute his offense more than occasionally, this could be the beginning of yet another good comeback story that the sport of Boxing tends to be captivated by.

Does David Tua have enough of the fighter he was in his prime left in him? We will have to wait and see.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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