Anthony Joshua’s victory over uninspired Joseph Parker brought to mind another big fight that played out in a similarly monotonous fashion, generating no fireworks to the great disappointment of those in attendance and those tuning in on television. The parallels between Saturday’s fight in Wales and the Oct. 11, 2000 match at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas between Lennox Lewis and David Tua are striking.
In both fights, the fighter who commanded the larger purse held two of the major heavyweight title belts. Although British by birth, he felt a strong connection to the homeland of his brown-skinned ancestors. In his opposite corner you had a fighter from New Zealand of Samoan extraction who resided with his trainer, Kevin Barry, with whom, one could say, he was joined at the hip. You can’t get more “parallel” than that and this is before any punches were thrown.
Yes, there were differences. Both Joshua and Parker were undefeated, whereas Lewis (37-1-1) and Tua (37-1) each had one loss. Lewis’s lone defeat, coming at the hands of Oliver McCall, was considered a fluke, a lucky punch, and the draw, which came in his first encounter with Evander Holyfield, was considered a great injustice to him. (Tua’s lone defeat came on points against fearsome Ike Ibeabuchi, a fighter who left the sport undefeated. Tua had won 10 straight since that slip-up.)
Tua was the underdog against Lewis, but the odds (3/1 at post) were much shorter than the odds quoted against Joseph Parker in Wales. What Tua had going for him was a big punch. He had knocked out 32 of his 38 opponents. The general feeling was that only Mike Tyson among active fighters hit harder. If Oliver McCall could take Lewis out, said those smitten by the kiwi, just imagine what David Tua will do to him.
Working against Tua was his height. He stood only 5’10”, seven inches shorter than Lennox Lewis. To have any chance, he would need to get inside and blunt Lennox’s substantially longer reach. But he was accustomed to fighting taller men and that hadn’t kept him from climbing the ratings to becoming the #1 contender.
Lewis vs. Tua was titled “Royal Rampage” on the fight posters, but there was no rampage. Here’s an excerpt from the ringside report of Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing scribe emeritus Royce Feour:
It was a classic case of a heavily hyped championship fight not living
up to its advance billing. There were no knockdowns and neither
fighter was seriously hurt. Lewis…kept the Samoan away with left
jabs that racked up the points.
On Oct. 11, 2000, Kevin Barry’s fighter, in the biggest fight of his career, lost by scores of 119-109, 118-110, and 117-111.
On March 31, 2018, Kevin Barry’s fighter, in the biggest fight of his career, lost by virtually identical scores:119-109, 118-110, 118-110.
More than 17 years had elapsed in the interim but, as Yogi Berra would have said, it was déjà vu all over again.
David Tua had a few good moments after his hollow performance against Lennox Lewis. Not quite two years later, he knocked out former world heavyweight titlist Michael Moorer in 30 seconds. But he never got another crack at the title and his relationship with Kevin Barry eventually unraveled, begetting wounds that have never completely healed.
As for what’s in store for Joseph Parker, it’s hard to say, but perhaps down the road the fact that he went the distance with Anthony Joshua will redound more to his credit than the fact that he didn’t render a spirited effort.
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