Lewis class to overcome Tua charm offensive

James Lawton in Las Vegas
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The Independent Online

David Tua, who seeks to remove Lennox Lewis from the pedestal of the world heavyweight championship here tonight with a show of raw aggression unseen since the early days of "Iron Mike" Tyson, has already pulled off one stunning achievement this week.

David Tua, who seeks to remove Lennox Lewis from the pedestal of the world heavyweight championship here tonight with a show of raw aggression unseen since the early days of "Iron Mike" Tyson, has already pulled off one stunning achievement this week.

He has injected a rare degree of charm into the jaded old vineyard of professional boxing while stomping around town in a hairstyle only marginally less alarming than Don King's. Even more improbably, he has carried it off despite alternately yelling Samoan war cries and invoking a childhood that would have made Oliver Twist believe he had been born with a pocketful of winning lottery tickets. Unfortunately for Tua every man has his limit and the suspicion must be that he will find his in the ring of the Mandalay Bay Events Center, though probably not before some exchanges guaranteed to test the foundations of the recently completed building.

Charm may go a long way but nowhere less than in the ring, and this harsh reality is exaggerated more than usually so tonight by the fact that Lewis has a reach advantage of 14 inches and, as he puts it drily, "a real arsenal". There is thus an inescapable hazard to the hopes of Tua's fast-growing army of supporters, and the garlanded prime minister of Western Samoa. It is that if their hero has conquered all kinds of difficulties - including bullying Maori gangs in Auckland, New Zealand, and his father's habit of inviting some of the more strapping local adults to take on the 10-year-old in a makeshift ring back in their native South Sea island - he has never fought anyone with Lewis's range of talent and power.

It suggests strongly that the only prize awaiting him tonight is likely to be one reserved for arguably boxing's most engaging victim of assault and battery. It is, though, a prospect that few fighters can have dismissed quite so eloquently as Tua.

"My head, my soul, is locked down. I'm focusing on concentrating on Mr Lewis, and Mr Lewis only. I give him all my respect. He 'was' a great champion, but he never fought anyone like me. He never fought anyone who has been through so much and punches so hard.

"I was fighting when I was seven. He will be amazed by my commitment, and cut down by my power.

"It has been the hardest of preparation; harder than I've ever known. All the time I've been thinking: 'This is the man, this is one man who stands between me and my destiny.' I've worked so hard that some days I just felt I couldn't throw another punch. But I woke up each morning ready to go again. What Mr Lewis might not really believe is that I can punch as hard in the 12th round as the first. That is something which will shock him if the fight goes that long, which I don't think it will."

No one, including Lewis, doubts that behind the rhetoric of the 28-year-old Tua is something more than a great reservoir of warrior aspiration. His power is utterly authentic and Lewis has made it clear that he will watch for his left hook with the respect that is due a destructive weapon which has already accounted for 37 professional victims and countless aggressive drunks who summoned its power while the 15-year-old was working as a bouncer in a nightclub in Auckland. But then Lewis, reasonably enough, argues that his own accumulation of experience and technique means that he has half a dozen options on victory while Tua has one.

"Obviously," says Lewis, "the left hook is a problem, but it's one that I know I can deal with. No one fights better inside than Evander Holyfield, but he couldn't do it against me. He was shocked by my strength and my ability to fight in different ways. Tua is going to feel the same kind of frustration. I've studied his technique closely. He doesn't throw as many punches as some people think. He does a lot of blocking, a sort of 21st Century version of rope-a-dope."

Tua's trainer, Ronnie Shields, has hammered home the conviction that such a strategy, dictated by the bizarre configuration of his fighter's body, which will have 17st 7lb attached to a frame just 5ft 10in tall, will break down the suspect stamina of Lewis: "We are talking about a battle of wills, and David will inflict his more consistently. He will break Lewis." Shields cites Tua victories in the late rounds against three of his better victims, Hasim Rahman in the 10th, Oleg Maskaev in the 11th and David Izon in the 12th. "Lewis is probably planning to stifle David for a few rounds, and then take over when the fire burns down. But it doesn't burn down. It just keeps going."

In fact much of Lewis's preparation has been geared to an initial suppression of Tua's violent potential. He will attempt to jab and stifle Tua, as he did the bemused Holyfield in the first fight. He says: "As I said, I know about the hook and it's the punch I least want to be hit by.

"But he's also got a left uppercut and a right and I won't be forgetting this. What Tua is going to discover is what it takes to be an all-around, undisputed world champion and these are things he wouldn't learn against the opponents he has faced so far. If you pay attention to your business, if you work with a trainer like Emanuel Steward over a long period, you arm yourself with a whole range of tactics. Certain fights you have to think your way through, and I enjoy the challenge of it as I enjoy playing chess. I've listened to all that the Tua camp have been saying, and I've thought: 'Yes, this is all very well, but what happens when I do something you didn't plan on?'

"They are talking a very simple game. They are talking about power and willpower, but there's a lot more to it than that. There is the talent to change things. That's the real beauty of boxing. People like to see knock-outs, and I understand how they would respond well to a fighter like Tua. He puts on a show, but as I see it it is a one-dimensional show. I've always wanted to bring a little more to it.

"It's one of the reasons why I want to fight Tyson after beating Tua. Tyson and me are like the yin and yang of boxing. We represent different things, different views of the world. In this fight against Tua you will see not just two different fighters, but two different dimensions."

That Lewis occupies a superior one is, despite Tua's high-voltage hair and public relations, being freely accepted in the sports books here. Lewis is a solid favourite at 1-3. The view of the hardest critics of all should be confirmed around the seventh round, probably by a jab and a long right. The process will be hugely aided by the difference in reach and, of course, class.