- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

LAS VEGAS Henry Akinwande had a shot at the heavyweight championship twice. Frans Botha fought three times for the title.

There are some heavyweight contenders who keep getting chances to fight for the heavyweight championship, and with good reason. They offer minimal risk to the title holder.

David Tua has been fighting for eight years, and has been a top-ranked contender for the past four. Yet when he fights World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champion Lennox Lewis Saturday night at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, it will be the first time Tua has fought for the title.

There is good reason for that. Tua is maximum risk, a combination of the hardest chin in the division and knockout power, a punch that even Lewis' trainer, Emanuel Steward, recognizes as dangerous.

"Tua is a legitimate two-handed puncher," Steward said. "He is very dangerous throughout a fight. There is no safe point with him."

This is why Tua (37-1, 32 knockouts) probably represents Lewis' toughest test yet as champion. He could be losing 10 out of 10 rounds, and knock Lewis (37-1-1, 29 knockouts) out in the 11th.

In fact, that is exactly how Tua has defeated three of his toughest opponents, all three top-ranked contenders. He stopped David Izon in the 12th round, Oleg Maskaev in the 11th and Hasim Rahman in the 10th.

"There is no secret about David Tua's style," said Tua, speaking about himself as he often does in the third person. "I'm not going to play catch-up and leave it in the hands of the judges. The only way to win the fight against Lennox Lewis is to knock him out."

There may be no secret about Tua's style, but he was pretty much a secret in the heavyweight division, a relative unknown despite his status as one of the division's most powerful fighters. Then he made a career move, breaking away from his former promoter, Main Events, and signing with America Presents. Under the guidance of former Washington publicist Fred Sternburg, Tua has emerged within the last year as one of the most popular and well-known fighters in the division, creating this "Tuaman" superhero persona and capitalizing on Tua's Samoan heritage.

Though the 28-year-old Tua fights out of New Zealand, and represented that country when he won a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics, the image that has been promoted for this fight has been that of a Samoan warrior. He wears a Samoan necklace of coral beads and howled a Samoan war chant at yesterday's news conference.

"You have to be proud of what you are, of where you came from," Tua said. "When I put Samoan colors on my trunks, there was a lot of talk. Why is David Tua putting Samoan colors on his trunks when he is fighting out of New Zealand? And it was vice versa. The people in Samoa asked me why I was fighting for New Zealand. I tell the Samoans that I cannot deny the opportunity that New Zealand has given me, to go to the Olympics and to end up fighting in the United States. And at the same time I tell the New Zealand people that regardless of how proud I am to be a New Zealander, I have to let the whole world know I am 100 percent Samoan."

Tua has even used a Don King-like hair style to promote his persona, and it has become a source of controversy. Lewis' promoters have objected to Tua's hair, fearing Tua will put a foreign substance in it and brush up against Lewis' face. Nevada Athletic Commission executive director Marc Ratner, though, said Tua's hair is not an issue, and, despite Lewis' complaint, he won't be forced to cut it.

The other part of repackaging Tua was to be careful about his opponents while they built up his profile. Since his win over Rahman in December 1998, Tua has fought four mediocre opponents, enhancing his reputation as the division's hardest puncher by stopping Gary Bell in one round and Shane Sutcliffe in two rounds in 1999, followed by a one-round knockout of Obed Sullivan in June and stopping Robert Daniels in three rounds in July.

Lewis, 35, scoffed at those opponents. When asked if Tua would be a tougher fight than his two battles with Evander Holyfield (the first one ending in a controversial draw, the second one a close decision victory by Lewis), Lewis said, "All I know about David Tua is what I've seen in his last two opponents. Holyfield could beat both of them on the same night and Tua."

However, America Presents officials offered this defense of their fighter's recent record: in the four fights before Lewis was named WBC champion the first time (he became WBC champion in January 1993 after Riddick Bowe gave up that version of the belt), the combined record of Lewis' opponents was 72-18-1. Of that group, only Donovan "Razor" Ruddock was a known commodity, and while Lewis knocked him out in two rounds, Ruddock was a shot fighter after two grueling bouts with Mike Tyson. Tua's last four opponents had a combined record of 116-21-2.

While Tua was winning those safe fights with convincing style, his promoters were making sure that he wound up the IBF number one mandatory challenger for Lewis, even going to court last April to make sure that Lewis either fought Tua by November or relinquish the IBF version of the title.

Lewis opted for the fight. It has been a long time coming for Tua.

"I believed in myself, and I always believed that I would be a champion someday. Saturday night, I will fulfill my destiny."

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