David Tua Born 1972
David Tua was a 19-year-old hotel kitchen-hand when he won a boxing bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. But even at such a young age, he had already forged quite a reputation.
In 1988, aged just 15 and still technically a middleweight, he became the national heavyweight champion.
He overcame his extreme youth to beat some good opposition and win a place in the 1992 Olympic team, where he was expected to find the going pretty tough in the competitive heavyweight division, which was dominated by Cuban legend Felix Savon.
Instead, the 19-year-old Tua turned in a series of gutsy performances, knocking out two good European opponents, and made his way into the semi-finals to guarantee himself a bronze medal at least.
In his semi-final he was outclassed by Nigerian David Izonritei, whom he was to meet and knock out four years later as a pro. The Nigerian was superior in 1992, dropping Tua once after a hammer-like blow to the stomach and winning 12-7 on points.
Still, it was a game showing by Tua, who thus became the third New Zealand boxer, following Ted Morgan in 1928 and Barry in 1984, to win an Olympic medal. He also became the first Polynesian to win an Olympic medal in any sport.
So impressive was the short and strong Aucklander that he became a target for offers to turn professional. Kevin Barry persuaded Tua to turn professional under his management and the pair went on to enjoy 11 years of outstanding success, in the ring and financially.
Tua fought Lennox Lewis for the world heavyweight title in 2000, losing on points over 12 rounds in one of the most watched sports events in New Zealand television history.
He had other big wins as a professional, too, including over the highly-rated Michael Moorer, John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman and Fres Oquendo, and suffered very few defeats. Besides Lewis, only Chris Byrd and, relatively early in Tua’s pro career, Ike Ibeabuchi, beat him when he was in his prime.
Though lacking height and reach, Tua had magnificent power in both hands and a very solid chin. He became a favourite for television viewers in the United States because of his explosive style.
In addition, the once quietly-spoken Tua became a popular public figure and a household name in New Zealand. At various times he was promoted as “The Tuaman”, “The Terminator” and “The Tuaminator”.
At the time of his split with Barry, in 2003, Tua had won 42 of his 46 professional bouts and was ranked among the world’s top 10 by all the leading world boxing organisations.
After a hiatus, he resumed his boxing career, but though he had sporadic bouts for the next eight years, he was unable to recapture his former status in the professional ranks.
He did, however, remain a popular New Zealand sports figures whose bouts, even against lowly opponents, always drew good television ratings.