By Thomas Hauser
Okay; I'm being a wise-ass. But hey; it's David Tua's real name. And last Saturday night in Atlantic City, Tua moved a step closer to stage center in the heavyweight division when he annihilated Michael Moorer in thirty seconds.
Tua-Moorer shaped up as a credible heavyweight fight pitting one generation against another. Moorer had remarkable power at 175 pounds. He began his career with 26 consecutive knockouts and an impressive run as WBO light heavyweight champion. Putting the generational aspect of the bout in perspective, by the time Tua turned pro, Michael was 30-0 with 28 knockouts.
Moorer's impact as a heavyweight was compressed into six bouts he fought in the mid-1990s. In 1994, he won a 12-round decision over Evander Holyfield to capture the WBA and IBF titles and become the first southpaw heavyweight champion of the world. Six months later, he was knocked out by George Foreman in the 10th round. Then, after Foreman was stripped of his titles, Moorer won 12-round IBF title-bout decisions against Axel Schulz, Frans Botha, and Vaughn Bean. That reign came to an end in 1997, when he was stopped by Holyfield in eight rounds.
Tua won a bronze medal as a heavyweight at the 1992 Olympics and reached the spotlight as a pro on March 15, 1996. That was when HBO telecast a "Night of the Young Heavyweights" and Tua obliterated John Ruiz at 19 of the first round. It was the signature bout for both men and has followed them throughout their respective careers.
The key to Tua's success is his power. His weakness is that he can be outboxed. His left hook is fast; but at 5-feet-9-inches, 245 pounds, the rest of him is slow. Other than the Ruiz bout, in all of Tua's big wins prior to facing Moorer, he was trailing on points when he stopped his opponent late. Oleg Maskaev jumped off to an early lead, but fell in round eleven. Hasim Rahman was well ahead on the judges' scorecards when Tua stopped him in the 10th round. And earlier this year, Fres Oquendo was leading Tua 80-72, 78-74, and 78-74 when he was KO'd in round nine. In each instance, a single punch turned the fight around.
As for the losses; Ike Ibeabuche was just as strong as Tua and a bit more skilled. "The President" prevailed on a 12-round decision. Against Lennox Lewis, Tua fought a safety-first fight, which isn't a good idea when you're challenging for the heavyweight championship of the world and the champion is putting round after round in the bank. Lewis won 119-109, 118-110, 117 111. And last summer, Tua was outboxed by Chris Byrd over 12 rounds.
But in boxing, as in baseball, three strikes and you get another at bat. Hence, Tua-Moorer. Handicapping the bout, pundits noted that Moorer had only been beaten twice. But he's always had trouble with punchers and has avoided them for most of his career. Meanwhile, although Tua has experienced difficulty with southpaws, he's had more trouble with opponents who are quick and fast on their feet. Moorer has always been a relatively slow immobile target who fights in spurts. He's a lazy fighter. And even when lazy fighters are ahead on points, they get hit.
Kevin Barry (Tua's trainer and manager) put the matter in perspective when he said, "We've trained for the very best Michael Moorer; the Moorer we saw in the mid-nineties. But personally, I don't think that's the guy who will enter the ring. Michael is a good boxer with a well-educated jab. He puts punches together nicely on the inside and has a lot of strengths. But Michael is thirty-five years old. There's a lot of mileage on the clock. I see David catching up with Michael and knocking him out. If you let us pick our opponent," Barry added, "it would be Michael Moorer."
Two of Moorer's past trainers expressed reservations of their own about the bout. "Michael can win this fight," said Emanuel Steward (who developed Moorer as a light-heavyweight at the Kronk Gym in Detroit and worked with him for two weeks prior to the Tua bout). "But he has to hurt Tua. Not necessarily knock him down, but hurt him to get his respect. If he does that, then he can outbox him. But Michael's inactivity in recent years will work against him. I'd say the odds in Tua's favor -- 3 to 1, 4 to 1 – are about right."
And Teddy Atlas (who trained Moorer during his championship reign) was more blunt. "This is a fight where Michael can't make any mistakes," said Atlas. "And you're talking about a guy who, throughout his career, has always made mistakes. So if I'm in Michael's camp and really on his side, the question I have to ask is 'Why?' Michael doesn't need this fight. He's a name. There are lots of guys easier to beat than Tua who Michael can fight and, if Michael beats them, he leapfrogs up in the rankings and becomes an opponent for some belt-holder. So to me, it's all about certain guys on the inside cashing in before they get out."
Moorer weighed in for the fight at 224 pounds. He looked to be in shape, but not necessarily in fighting shape. Meanwhile, Tua tipped the scales at 243 pounds and resembled a miniature sumo wrestler.
The fight itself was shorter than some sumo matches. Moorer offered no opposition. Tua drove him into the ropes almost immediately with body shots and finished him off with a picture-perfect right hand. Moorer landed one punch.
So much for Saturday night. As for the future --
Lennox Lewis might be the heavyweight champion of the world right now. But if sports fans engaged in rotisserie boxing the way they play rotisserie baseball, the two heavyweights most people would want on their roster over the next five years are Wladimir Klitschko and Tua. Tua has power. He has never been knocked down or cut as a pro. And he's 29 years old. Among today's top heavyweights, only Klitschko is younger.
Who does Tua fight next? Let's look at the possibilities and impossibilities among the heavyweight elite.
Lennox Lewis fought Tua two years ago. It was a boring fight, and they aren't going fight each other again.
Tua versus Mike Tyson is the best styles fight imaginable in boxing and also the most explosive. Tua's performance against Moorer was Tysonesque. And It doesn't hurt that David is gracious, charming, and a genuinely nice guy; the quintessential anti-Tyson. Iron Mike won't go near Tua. Tyson-Tua won't happen.
WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko is currently being touted as the heir apparent to Lewis. This makes Klitschko the successor to Michael Grant, who was the previous heir apparent. There are a lot of unanswered questions about Klitschko. But most great heavyweights have had question marks attached to their name when they challenged for the crown. Muhammad Ali [then Cassius Clay] was considered a light-punching pretty boy with an amateurish defense. George Foreman was regarded as a clumsy novice. Larry Holmes supposedly had no heart. In recent decades, only Mike Tyson was conceded greatness before he won the title. With Tyson, the questions came later. If Klitschko fought Tua and beat him, it would give him real credentials. Look for the Ukrainian giant to head straight for the big money against Lewis or go in softer against Jameel McCline.
Evander Holyfield won't venture anywhere near Tua unless there's a championship at stake.
John Ruiz won what is humorously referred to as the WBA heavyweight title in a bout in which Holyfield knocked him out with a legitimate body shot. But Ruiz's corner claimed it was a low blow; referee Joe Cortez mistakenly concurred; and Ruiz eventually won a close 12-round decision. Their rematch, which Holyfield dominated, was scored a draw allowing Ruiz to retain his crown. Then, in his most recent defense, the Boston Strongboy raised crying to a new art form and held onto his title when Kirk Johnson was disqualified (by Joe Cortez) for low blows. It's embarrassing for boxing (and boxing isn't easily embarrassed) when a title claimant wins fights by lying on the canvas and moaning like a beached whale.
Right now, Ruiz wants to fight Mike Tyson for a reported $12,500,000. Ruiz's promoter (Don King) has refused to make that bout unless Tyson drops his $100,000,000 lawsuit against King or, in the alternative, gives King five options. Hence, Ruiz is suing King and seeking an injunction that would allow him to fight Tyson. If that bout can't be made, Ruiz would like to fight Lennox Lewis. Lewis (the real champion) has said of that bout, "I don't want to fight Ruiz, but I'm not saying I won't. He's not deserving of a legitimate title opportunity. But if the deal is right and it's the only deal that is, I'll fight him."
It will be hard for Ruiz to be taken seriously as a fighter until he erases the stigma of his 19-second demolition at the hands of Tua. But Ruiz will do everything possible to avoid getting into the ring again with his conqueror.
Chris Byrd is another possible but unlikely Tua opponent. Byrd is the IBF's mandatory challenger by virtue of his earlier decision victory over the Samoan. Until last week, Lennox Lewis was thinking in terms of relinquishing the IBF crown, signing a promotional agreement with Byrd through Lion Promotions, and (with Don King) jointly promoting Byrd versus Evander Holyfield for the IBF crown. Then, last week, Byrd signed a promotional agreement with Don King Productions. Now it looks as though Lewis might enter the ring himself against Byrd. Tua-Byrd II won't happen. Either Lewis or Holyfield will step up to the plate against the light-hitting southpaw.
Complicated? You bet it is. Things might even play out with Ruiz versus Tyson and Lewis versus Byrd with the winners to face off in spring 2003. On the other hand, if Holyfield fights Byrd and beats him, Tyson-Holyfield might make more sense for Iron Mike than a rematch against Lennox.
Meanwhile, Tua is everyone's last option. The most realistic big-name opponent for him at the moment is Hasim Rahman. There's still controversy regarding their 1998 fight in which at least one damaging Tua blow landed after the bell. And if Rahman's promoter (Don King) balks at a rematch between the two men, Hasim could threaten to abandon HBO for Court TV and sue King over reported accounting irregularities dating to Rahman-Lewis II.
In sum, for the moment, David Tua is in a waiting mode. He wants what all of the aforementioned fighters have or once had -- a piece of the heavyweight championship of the world. Someday, he might get it.