There is a narrow strata of renown in boxing (which itself occupies a slim, bright vein in the consciousness of professional sports) compressed between the heaving, molten mass of unknowns and the thin, hardened crust of recognizable stars, comprised of those who nearly made it. Well known to boxing fans, anonymous to the general public other than perhaps as a footnote-- "Didn't he lose to _______?"
That's David Tua, who is expected to retire following a dispiriting defeat.
His footnote fight is a tedious loss to heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who contentedly sat behind an unsolvable jab which simultaneously bedeviled Tua and lulled the audience into a restless stupor over twelve Groundhog Day rounds. The explanation lies in the fight poster, where even a comically tall pompadour left Tua well shy of Lewis' stated 6'5":
Aficionados of the Sweet Science are more likely to fondly recall two other bouts, a spectacular firefight with Ike 'The President' Ibeabuchi in which a combined 1,730 punches were thrown (still a heavyweight record, and about as likely to be approached by today's heavys as I would be to hit the moon with a smooth stone and a slingshot), and his first round demolition of John Ruiz, which fueled a thousand boxing forum avatar gifs:
This fight ruined Ruiz, although you'd never know it from Boxrec, which dutifully records his eventual acquisition of the WBA title belt without noting the singularly unwatchable style he adoped in pursuit of said belt, nor the matchmaking & scoring machinations necessary to achieve it- his title reign reflects more glory on Don King's promotional acumen than on Ruiz's pugilistic prowess. He entered that ring as an entertaining boxer/puncher, but crawled up off the canvas as The Manaconda, transformed by exposure to Tua's radiating power into an unwatchable mutant, more wrestler than prizefighter.)
The Lewis fight was Tua's lone title shot, a fact strange enough that I had to double-check it. In his prime Tua was a solid guy in a weak-ish era with multiple straps up for grabs- plenty of solid guys with better luck (or better promoters- see the previous paragraph) got multiple title shots & occasionally came through big.
Opponents Tua defeated who went on to hold some shard of the shattered heavyweight title:
Aside from the Lewis fight his closest brush with a title was losing an IBF eliminator to Chris Byrd, a defensive specialist & problematic matchup for any heavy not named Klitschko.
In boxing, as in life, timing, luck & connections count as much as skill & effort.
Tua is one of those guys you collect as a hardcore fan- not quite a star, limited in some ways, perpetually clawing up a mountain they are finally doomed never to summit, but fascinating in their struggle.
He spent the last few years of his career on low level cards in out of the way places, off the radar of the boxing press & fans, pursuing a will o' the wisp visible only to aging fighters.
That light's finally gone out-- here's hoping it led Tua to a happier destination than many of his contemporaries.
Cheers, David- thanks for the memories.