When the soon to be forty-one-year-old former Heavyweight contender David Tua entered the ring to face rising contender Alexander Ustinov on November 16th in Hamilton, New Zealand there was a healthy sense of curiosity going into the fight. Tua was after all entering the ring coming off of a two-year layoff. In addition to that the 5’10 236lb. Tua would have to contend with a fighter who is nearly 6’8 and outweighed him by fifty-six pounds. The natural curiosity in a fight where there is such a difference in both size and weight is whether or not the smaller man can get on the inside of the bigger and taller man, and more specifically can the smaller man do so without being tied up and find ways to be effective more than occasionally with his offense.
Although Tua was seemingly at a disadvantage, the one question that I had in my mind as this fight approached was how Ustinov would respond if David Tua could get close enough to land his power punches. When the fight got underway Ustinov made his natural advantages immediately apparent using his near 80” reach to his advantage keeping Tua at distance. Tua however, did seem to have a good strategy in that he attempted to make himself smaller in a tactic that would attempt to make Ustinov miss and allow Tua to attempt to get on the inside and look to execute offense. One thing that was also noticeable that Tua did well in this fight was his head movement. Despite having difficulty getting inside the long arms of Ustinov, Tua’s ability to use head movement was effective in that although Ustinov was clearly the effective aggressor as the rounds went on, not everything that the contender from Belarus threw landed cleanly.
The main problem in this fight for Tua was not being able to get on the inside of Ustinov consistently and thus not being able to let his hands go consistently. Ustinov however, did fight with his arms down and I felt that may have led to some opportunities for Tua as the fight went on. Tua did seem to have periodic success landing counter hooks on Ustinov and even though he had trouble finding his range, David Tua was still a very dangerous threat in that he has always had the kind of punching power that could turn a fight around instantly. The conundrum for Tua was whether or not he would be able to get close enough to land something significant.
One thing in addition to being able to land counter hooks periodically, Tua also had sporadic success landing to Ustinov’s body when he was able to come forward behind his jab. Tua however, did not do this consistently enough to make any headway on the scorecards in what gradually became a lopsided fight. The feeling of curiosity gradually turned to formality.
Even though this fight was lopsided, it was an interesting fight to watch. A contributing factor to that can be attributed to Referee Brad Vocale. In the last several years when a Heavyweight fight has taken place where there is a considerable size and weight disparity between two fighters, you have often heard criticism of referees for allowing the bigger/taller fighter to make full use of their physical advantages, specifically leaning and using their body weight to push down on the smaller fighter on the inside. This was demonstrated as recently as the last World Heavyweight Championship fight between champion Wladimir Klitschko and challenger Alexander Povetkin in October.
In that fight Klitschko was able to get away with a lot of holding and roughhousing on the inside by Referee Luis Pabon. Klitschko frequently held and shoved Povetkin down to the canvas throughout the fight. It was not until Pabon began to warn and eventually penalize Klitschko in the eleventh round that Klitschko seemed to not use those tactics perhaps for fear of potentially losing his title via disqualification in a fight that he dominated.
To Referee Brad Vocale’s credit he did not allow Ustinov to make full use of those advantages and warned him immediately when it appeared that Ustinov was trying to lean on Tua on the inside early in the fight. Although some have labeled the Heavyweight division as “Boring” partially due to fighters who use such tactics against smaller opponents, it is important to remember that in situations like that is up to the referee to caution, warn, and if necessary penalize a fighter for leaning, pushing, or roughhousing on the inside. For a taller and heavier fighter, if a referee will let you use your physicality to your advantage and allow you to get away with such tactics, why not use it? It all boils down to a referee’s discretion. In this case Referee Brad Vocale should be applauded for the job he did in this fight.
In this fight the story is simple. Alexander Ustinov being able to be the busier fighter throughout much of the fight won him the fight via twelve round unanimous decision in convincing fashion. David Tua however, should be given credit for the “Game” effort he put forth in defeat.
The win for Alexander Ustinov is the biggest of his career so far. It will be interesting to see if Ustinov will be able to secure a lucrative fight in the Heavyweight division off of this fight. The contention of some could be that even though Ustinov scored the biggest win of his career against Tua, he beat a fighter who was not in his prime and was not active prior to their fight. Although it is hard to argue against such an opinion, Ustinov still defeated a fighter in Tua who has never been knocked out and who is considered one of the most devastating punchers in the history of the Heavyweight division. Regardless of what one’s opinion might be, the notoriety of the victory will benefit Ustinov in some way.
Immediately after the decision Tua announced his retirement stating in a post-fight interview quote “I did the best I could. I don’t know what it is… I actually got myself into great shape, because I believed I could do this and I believed that the fire still burns. But after tonight I’m sad to say my heart’s not in it anymore…I think it’s time for me to try something else. There will be two people at home right now who will be happy with this decision – my mum and dad. That’s it for David Tua. I thank the public of New Zealand for their support and the people of the Pacific – your support has been absolutely ‘O for Awesome’ from day one and I couldn’t have done it without your support. David Tua left the building tonight. Thank you very much. God bless. I love you New Zealand!”
There could be a variety of opinion among fans and experts alike coming out of this fight. An obvious question that some might have is should David Tua have opted to begin his comeback by facing lesser-known opposition instead of facing a legitimate top twenty contender right out of the gate. As I said in previewing this fight last week however, Tua’s choice in opting to face Ustinov was perhaps motivated by wanting to see what he had left right away. One has to remember Tua is almost forty-one years old.
In terms of his performance, Tua did look like a fighter who was in shape and in all fairness he gave it as good of a go as he could against a taller and heavier fighter. One might say that had the physics of this contest were a little more balanced, the fight may have been more competitive.
It would not shock this observer to see David Tua have a change of heart and try again to resume his career. Many fighters over the years have retired multiple times only to come back. Tua gave a good account himself in a fight where in all truth and honesty the odds were not in his favor. Perhaps after some reflection, Tua and those around him may consider taking a more methodical approach in building a comeback instead of attempting to face an emerging contender who has been active right out of the gate.
There may be some debate as to where David Tua will rank among the all-time Heavyweights. As devastating of a puncher as he has been, Tua never reached the very top of the division and some may contend that because he was not able to win a world title that it might hurt his all-time standing. Although Tua has not won a world championship, there is little dispute as to where he ranks in terms of fighters who are labeled “Knockout Artists.”
In terms of the greatest knockout punchers in the history of the Heavyweight division this observer believes Tua is very much in that discussion. Where Tua might rank all-time among the greatest knockout punchers in the division is a subject for debate.
If this is indeed the end for David Tua as a fighter, this observer would like to repeat what I said on social media shortly following Tua’s retirement announcement. “Congratulations to David Tua on what has been a fine career.”
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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