The compound has had animal problems before, as you I might expect when a lion, a tiger, a chimp and a camel share the backyard. The fighter's human entourage has h ad to stand guard against a pack of coyotes that creeps down off Mount Charleston to snack on the frozen horse-meat left to defrost in the Nevada night air for the next day's feeding. That was just one problem. But there has never been anything like this.
"It went right under my bed," says one camp member. "It was on top of mine," says another. Everyone in the camp, it seemed, had some kind of nocturnal experience with...something...and the breakfast table is extremely agitated. "I think it was in my bed," says the fighter himself, slapping his spoon down for emphasis. "Something black? With whiskers? If I'da caught that...."
Well, you can just imagine. David Tua's fierceness is scarcely softened by the Samoan lava lavas he prefers for casual wear around his fight camp. Even at breakfast—his hair, as always, standing straight up—he conjures the notion of pent-up primitivism. He's a 245-pound cannonball is what he is, a guy who grew up knocking down banana trees with his bare fists and whose ancestors' idea of fine dining (it's in his press bio!) was the occasional missionary. If he'da caught that mouse....
He leans into his guest and, so nobody else can hear him, whispers, "I was going to set him free, you know, that little mouse. You can't hurt a little mouse."
Tua, who will face heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis on Saturday night in Las Vegas, is after bigger game. While he has no plans to put Lewis in a pot (it was Mike Tyson who said he wanted to eat the Lewis family), Tua is definitely on a trophy hunt Underpromoted for much of his eight-year career, he has waited a long time for a chance at the title, and he's not about to let it scurry away, like some little mouse.
Haven't heard of Tua? Not a lot of folks have. It was only recently, after administering a succession of vicious clubbings, that he emerged as the division's top contender. For years, since being brought to the U.S. from Auckland, New Zealand, he was odd man out in a Main Events stable of heavyweights that included Lewis, Andrew Golota, Evander Holyfield and, later, Michael Grant. This despite being the most colorful and action-oriented among them. Since being sprung from Main Events a year ago, he has been promoted hot-and-heavy by America Presents (which also promotes Tyson), earning No. 1 status, a lot of press and, finally, this weekend's nearly $4 million payday in Las Vegas.
Possibly the vicious clubbings would have earned him the shot anyway. They were becoming hard to ignore. Built like Tyson, willing to take whatever punishment was necessary to get close enough to deliver a paralyzing left hook, Tua was crushing people. He's 37-1, with 32 KOs, his only loss being to Ike Ibeabuchi. ("And now he's in a mental institution," says Tua, slyly.) The KOs have been more and more convincing. His four fights over the past two years have required all of seven rounds, and they've all been picturesque, in a heavyweight kind of way. Showtime exec Jay Larkin recently described Tua's June razing of Obed Sullivan: "Sullivan slowly slid down the ring post, like paint running down a wall."
Tua will be an underdog all the same. He has not faced the same caliber of opponent as Lewis—who this year has blown out Grant and Frans Botha, following a controversial draw with Holyfield and then a decision over him—and Tua is not regarded as anywhere near the athlete the champion is. Lewis can jab, box, pile up points, bore you to death and win huge decisions (and he can mortally wound you with his right hand, if it lands). At 6'5", Lewis towers over the 5'10" Tua, no matter how high his hair. Tua, who turns 28 this month, will have to eat a lot of leather to get close enough to wear out the 35-year-old Lewis with his powerful whacks.
However, do you really want to bet against a kid who writes poetry, calls his parents in New Zealand regularly (he has had a monthly phone bill of $22,000), lives to organize Ping-Pong tournaments and then, when he does go to work, as he did in March 1996 when he chopped Johnny Ruiz down in 18 seconds, is impish enough to say, "I just wish I had more time to get to know the guy"?
You would have to go back to Riddick Bowe to find a heavyweight this playful, and to Muhammad Ali before that. Lewis has been an exemplary champion, though one often derided for excessive caution, but he remains private and enigmatic and, if you believe the pay-per-view numbers, not all that interesting. Tua is the flip side. If there's the slightest bit of mystery to him, he's eager to dispel it with another of his well-polished tales.