|The Cyber Boxing Zone Newswire|
August 19, 2001|
Byrd W 12 Tua
By Chris Bushnell
TUA THINNER, BUT BYRD'S THE WINNER
The first surprise was the weight. Scaling 21 pounds lower than his recent career-high of 254, the normally tubby David Tua looked lean, muscled, and well-prepared for his showdown with Chris Byrd. The second surprise was that it didn't matter. Despite a firmer midsection, Tua was winded after only five minutes of action and no more prepared to go 12 hard rounds than he had been in his failed effort against Lennox Lewis. As Tua huffed and puffed, Byrd pecked away a unanimous decision that left the only man to knock out both of the reigning heavyweight champions further away from a title shot than at any other point in his career.
The new, slim Tua looked a lot like the old, slim Tua ... for about 30 seconds. In the opening moments of the first round, Tua effectively cut off the ring against the circling Byrd and caught the southpaw in a corner. Stepping in close enough to punch, Tua quickly unleashed a left and a right to the body and followed with a solid left hook that caught Byrd as he spun out to center ring.
Unfortunately for Tua, he rarely touched Byrd's face again. Most of the punches landed by Tua in the first round -- and the entire fight -- were body shots. As Byrd repeatedly pawed out with a weak jab (Nady would have to remind him in each of the first five rounds to close his fist), Tua bobbed and weaved with renewed head movement. But despite the fact that Byrd's jab was thrown with no power, Tua could not get close. He simply followed Byrd around, clubbing his heavy fists to Byrd's sides on the few occasions Byrd visited a corner. Byrd was so aware of Tua's power that he rarely threw his left hand behind his jab and his inactivity gave Tua the round.
The pace continued in the second round, with Byrd making Tua follow him across every inch of empty canvas. Tua obviously hoped to cut Byrd's movement down with a body attack, but with Byrd staying off the ropes, Tua was unable to land more than one or two partially blocked shots in a row. Still, with Byrd hardly returning fire, Tua was banking the second round. But as the stanza entered its final minute, Tua began flashing his black mouthpiece at Byrd in one second intervals. All the bobbing and weaving and chasing and missing had Tua sucking air already. It was the beginning of the end.
While Tua still followed Byrd's footwork in the third, his punch output began to drop almost immediately. Tua refused to throw until he got close, which was rare. Worse, Byrd began to finally fire some return punches of his own. Not known for his power, Byrd wasn't exactly stunning Tua with each shot. Instead he was doing his usual job of pecking with the left. Even his jab improved after referee Jay Nady had to halt the action for another reminder to close the punch. But Byrd's pecking had popped the Tua balloon, and the Samoan contender began deflating rapidly.
By the fourth round, Tua's head movement decreased and the fatigue began to move to his legs. Twice Tua successfully trapped Byrd in a corner only to h ave Byrd counter his wild swings with short accurate punches. And while Byrd was never close to knocking Tua unconscious, both blows (the first a left uppercut, the second a short straight left on the button) made Tua take a step backwards.
Tua continued to swing at the body in the fifth, amid low-blow warnings that had begun several rounds earlier. But Byrd was fighting a disciplined game plan. Gone were the lapses of inactivity that plagued his fights against the Klitschkos and absent was Byrd's habit of laying on the ropes and slipping punches. The few times that Byrd found himself with his back to the edge of the ring, he either quickly spun out to the center or blocked Tua's body shots on his arms.
As Tua continued to gulp for air, Chris Byrd continued to outbox Tua at every turn. Even at the end of the sixth round, when Tua _finally_ landed another clean hook to the head, Byrd answered with punches of his own. For a change, the crowd cheered Chris Byrd, and with good reason: he was landing c lean punches on Tua's face instead of simply making him miss and the moving on.
Back in Tua's corner, trainer Joe Goosen was becoming more emphatic with each passing round. His pleas for more offense sent Tua out winging punches in the seventh round, although his first several haymakers caught nothing but air. As Byrd moved around, Tua kept swinging. Lo and behold, a few David Tua right hands found their target. But Byrd was not hurt by Tua's sudden offense.
But the exaggerated, almost desperate, effort that Tua put forth in the seventh round winded him badly. By the end of the round he was loudly wheezing for oxygen, and nearly gave Byrd back the round by allowing him to land a triple left that sent Tua back into the ropes spent, although not hurt. Tua was struggling in the seventh, but things got even worse in the eighth. For the first time, Byrd retreated to the ropes. For the first minute, Byrd slipped away from Tua's head shots from this position. While Byrd did take continued body shots in this period, he masterfully countered Tua after each mini-flurry. This was classic rope-a-dope, and sure enough Tua was out of gas before too long. Byrd's pecking punches easily found their way through Tua's porous defense, and when Tua stopped punching, Byrd simply decided to keep throwing.
With a minute to go in the round, Tua finally took a few steps away from Byrd's constant tapping and dropped his hands. At first it looked as though a frustrated but defiant Tua was showing Byrd that his light blows couldn't hurt him. But as Byrd stepped forward and tattooed some more, it soon became apparent that Tua's hands were down because he simply couldn't hold them up any longer. Byrd now opened up on Tua, pushing him slowly across this ring with a steady diet of bee stings. Tua, unable to lift his gloves and gasping for air in an almost comical fashion, was getting thoroughly worked over by Chris Byrd. Had the round lasted another 30 seconds, Byrd's unanswered flurries might have forced Jay Nady to stop Tua on his feet. It was the biggest round of Chris Byrd's career.
Tua's fatigue rendered him useless for most of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh rounds as well. Unlike past performances, wherein Byrd had dismantled an opponent with his style and then made faces, Byrd now was punching freely. Tua would usually charge out for the first minute of each round, but would repeatedly tire out. At one point in the tenth, Tua even landed another haymaker right hand. But he was so tired that he simply allowed Byrd to answer by stepping to the side and throwing a solid left cross and a whipping right hook that had just as much effect. Tua landed another decent hook in the eleventh when Byrd ended the round resting on the ropes, but that was about it.
Behind on the scorecards, Tua tried to mount a knockout-producing rally in the final round, but it wasn't enough. Byrd continued to touch Tua at will, but was answered with a quick four-punch up-and-down flurry from Tua at center ring. The punches reminded Byrd that Tua's power was lurking beneath his fatigue and Byrd quickly got on his toes and stayed away from his opponent for the rest of the round. Byrd gave Tua the round by running out the clock... and by stopping in a corner with 10 seconds to go and eating several punches from Tua's last ditch flurry. But even a 10-7 round wouldn't have been enough for the win. Tua needed a knockout, and it did not come.
It took awhile for the scores to reach Jimmy Lennon, Jr. (usually a sign of trouble brewing), but when they were read they were correct: 115-113, 116-112 (twice) for Byrd. Boxing Chronicle also scored the bout 116-112.
This fight marks the rebirth of Chris Byrd's career, and a serious setback for David Tua's. Byrd (34-3/19) now claims a mandatory shot at the IBF heavyweight champion, but he'll probably end up fighting for a vacant title. Both Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman are likely to give up the IBF belt after their bout for a lucrative fight against WBC mandatory Mike Tyson. If Tyson isn't available, The Lewis-Rahman winner would probably accept a match from Don King's WBA champ (Ruiz-Holyfield winner) over Byrd in a minute. It will be interesting to see who the IBF installs as #2. Maybe the Goosens will make sure that it's David Tua.
Unless Tua (now 38-3) somehow wins the sanctioning body lottery, he's going to have a long way back to the top. While he may still have the best one-punch power in the division, Tua has shown serious difficulties in getting that power to the target. Even at 233, Tua was exhausted early. He'll likely be forced back into the pattern of fighting the Gary Bells and Shane Sutcliffes of the boxing world. Whether or not Tua can maintain his weight against that level of competition remains to be seen. Either way, he's out of the big-fight picture for the foreseeable future.
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