His father—who, as you might have gathered, believes in a kind of tough love-said he could come on back, but he had better pick a different beach from the ones he was used to. "Think about all the people," the old man said, "who are going to laugh in your face. Quit if you want, but don't come home."
Tua realized that someone who truly had warrior blood in him wouldn't appreciate friends laughing in his face, so he stuck it out, accommodating his loneliness as best he could. "I kept calling home, only about six times a day," he says, "and I'd hang out at the Barnes & Noble, or the record store. I had to believe in my destiny."
It was slow, coming into that destiny, though. Fighting on Main Events under-cards or headlining small shows in New Jersey, Tua got zero attention for his lengthening string of knockouts. Nor should he have, considering the level of fighter he was knocking out. Not until 1996, in his 23rd fight, was he matched with anybody at all promising, and that was Ruiz. He might have proceeded quickly from there, but the next year, in his 28th bout, he lost a questionable decision to Ibeabuchi (who, while not institutionalized, is undergoing psychiatric evaluation, though not necessarily because of anything Tua did to him), and it was back to the starting gate. It took him nearly two more years to gain top ranking and nearly two more after that to force a fight with Lewis, or as the Tuaman calls him, " Mr. Lewis."
Now that he's finally in the limelight, he's loving it. Just about anybody who shows any interest is invited to Tua's camp outside Las Vegas, where he shows off and sometimes poses with his animals (the menagerie of retired casino attractions is maintained by the property's owner for possible showbiz pinch-hitting), plays two-a-day Ping-Pong tournaments, practices quips at Lewis's expense ("I don't hit that hard," he says, speaking of Lewis's reluctance to accept the fight. "It gets done very quickly, but it doesn't hurt"), tells his Tuaman story and crafts his poetry. "Deeply lost in darkness," he begins, reciting from memory, trailing off into, "the electricity through my body totally paralyzes me"—with something in between.
The other thing he does, and he leans in close to whisper it, is: "I call home a lot." Oh, really? Still talk to the old man? "Only about four times a day."