The choice was simple for David Tua. Either get hit with punches or a frying pan. He preferred to take his chances against the heavyweight division. It was probably the right choice.
On Friday, Tua makes his United States return when he meets Cisse Salif on a pay-per-view card promoted by Cedric Kushner at the new Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. It marks just the second fight over the last two years for the Samoan strongman.
Tua, who is 32 years old, has been involved in a long and bitter lawsuit with his management team back home in New Zealand. That was the primary reason for his inactivity. He was asked earlier this week what he had done during the time off.
"I was washing dishes," the heavyweight said. "I thought I did a good job. My wife didn’t think so. She told me, ‘Now go out there and fulfill your dream and become heavyweight champion or I’m going to hit you with a frying pan.’"
Tua ended the inactivity in March when he stopped Talmadge Griffis in 10 rounds in New Zealand. He was scheduled to meet Salif in August, but a problem with his wisdom teeth forced him to pull out of that fight. Although he did not enjoy the circumstances of his inactivity, he welcomed the time off from boxing. He was able to spend time with his wife and children and allowed his body to rest.
"I never had a decent break as an amateur and pro," he said. "This came at the right time. It’s done me wonders in every way, as a person and as a fighter. I’ve been in court, but somehow I found the time to really rest my body. I was well rested. Everything happens for a reason. I found my way through court proceedings. You take the good with the bad and roll with the punches. Sometimes, it’s good to have a rest."
He was also asked if the inactivity will hurt, particularly since Salif has won three fights this year.
"My life is boxing," said Tua. "I was in the gym all the time. Time will tell."
Time is not usually on the side of the fighter. While Tua’s point about rest is well-taken, rare are the heavyweights who can turn back the clock late in their careers. With George Foreman as a notable exception, a fighter’s prime years are usually his best chance to capture the title.
However, Tua has two advantages working for him. Throughout his career he administered far more beatings than he absorbed and the heavyweight talent pool is shallower now than it was during his prime.
"All I can say is, I’m in great shape, mentally, physically," said Tua. "I am ready for this fight. I appreciate the brother for giving me the opportunity to display my talent. We had a good camp. It’s an exciting time. I am really looking forward to it. I’m well prepared."
Tua has long established himself as a force in the heavyweight division. Although he has defeated three heavyweight champions, his legacy was likely to have been the best heavyweight of his era never to win a world title.
In fact, he was so disturbed about the ongoing legal battle, he almost did not return to the ring.
"There was a time when I was thinking about walking away," he said. "I was tired of being abused. I’m not about the money. Yet at the end of the day boxing allows me to look after my family. I want to win the title. That’s what makes it worthwhile."
Tua has always been an amiable, earnest sort. Think Mike Tyson with a smile. While his personality may be a departure from Manic Mike, he could certainly punch like Tyson. Of his 43 victories, 38 have come by way of the knockout. Among Tua’s knockout victims are John Ruiz, David Izon, Oleg Maskaev, Hasim Rahman, Obed Sullivan, Robert Daniels, Dannell Nicholson and Michael Moorer.
It was unfortunate that in the biggest fight if his career, a 2000 title fight against WBC champion Lennox Lewis, Tua turned in his worst performance. The ferocity to his attack was missing, the desire to win the title seemed absent. After the contest the Tua camp reported that their fighter suffered an injury during training. However, Lewis’ piercing jab and 6-6 frame may have had more to do with the lackluster performance. Tua rarely pulled the trigger on his punches after the fourth round.
While height has always seemed problematic for Tua, who stands just 5-9½, the good news is that Lewis has retired. Of the current crop of heavyweight champions, Chris Byrd, Lamon Brewster, Vitali Klitschko and John Ruiz, only Klitschko is as tall as Lewis. The difference – Lewis fought taller. With his style and effective jab, Lewis used his height and reach in ways that Klitschko does not.
Now weight – that has also been an issue. Tua expects to weigh about 240 pounds for the return bout ("The time away has seemed to put more beef on my thighs," he said), but at times he’s weighed more than 250. Salif, who has a 17-4-2 record, is 6-4 and will likely scale 265.
Tua has already lost a decision to Byrd, but if he returns to the effective fighter who was before the Lewis fight, he would have a very good chance at becoming the heavyweight champion. He likes what he sees when he examines the current heavyweight landscape.
"I think it’s very, very exciting," said Tua. "To look at the heavyweight division. There has been a change of champions the last 12 or 14 months."
Meaning the field is wide open. But Kushner steered all conversation away from the future (even a proposed bout against Calvin Brock) to allow Tua to focus on Salif.
"David is a heavyweight and I am a heavyweight," said Salif, who is taking a dramatic step up in competition. "He is a puncher and I am a puncher. It’s power versus power. Just make sure you watch the fight. We’re coming with bombs. We’ve been waiting. I can’t wait until Friday night. I have been waiting a long time."
Tua has been around too long to look past any opponent.
"I don’t dodge anybody," he said. "I’ve done the work, I’ve prepared myself. To be totally honest with you, this is the only fight I am concentrating on right now. I’ve prepared myself for this fight. This is a title fight for me. This is it. Sometimes you can look past what’s in front of you and you can miss out."