Let's fast forward to the year 2000. You're a boxer and the only man standing between you and a potential crack at the heavyweight championship is a strong, stocky powerhouse of a heavyweight named David Tua. (52-5-2, 43 Knockouts)
Tua may be on the small side standing at 5'10 and wearing a "Kid N' Play" haircut, but it doesn't matter. You've seen what his devastating left hook can do. He basically hits you with the entire island of Samoa. Tua has his Polynesian dancers drumming and dancing as he makes his way to the ring. As he climbs through the ropes, he shoots you the meanest look you've ever seen in your life. He has knocked out his last ten opponents in a devastating fashion and looks to add you to his list. You visibly shudder at the thought.
David Tua is arguably the greatest heavyweight never to win the title. But he was blessed with pure dynamite in his fists and had one of the best chins of all time. His left hook was pure blunt force trauma.
Primo Carnera was also a warrior gifted with almost supernatural physical strength. He is one of the biggest heavyweight champions to ever fight in the ring. What would happen if these two mammoths clashed in the center of the ring? Who controls the action? Who goes down? Who has the better legacy? Let's discuss.
The Ambling Alp
Known as the Ambling Alp (What kind of name is that?!?!) Primo was the biggest heavyweight champion in history until the arrival of the 7-foot tall Nikolai Valuev. Carnera was incredibly strong, even working as a strongman and professional wrestler at one point.
Primo naturally had an intimating presence because of his size, but his scary reputation increased when he fatally knocked out Ernie Schaaf in February 1933. In the 13th round, a jab from the giant sent Schaaf sprawling to the canvas, and he never entirely woke up. He briefly awoke paralyzed in the hospital, but lapsed back into a coma and passed away 4 days later. Here is a clip of the knockout.
Primo was not heavyweight champion for long. He was absolutely destroyed by Max Baer a year later, hitting the canvas 11 times. The referee mercifully stopped the massacre in the 11th round.
The following year, Primo was again humiliated...this time by a young up and coming Joe Louis. The Brown Bomber unloaded his dynamite and put Carnera on the floor three times. By the 6th round, it was over. This fight was the first major milestone in Louis' career. When he showed that he could knock out the massive Primo Carnera, people knew he had a future. Here is what Louis had to say about fighting Primo, brilliantly walking us through the fight.
There are many rumors that Primo was controlled by the mob. I don't know the details of this, but if true, Louis' statements ring even more true. Primo was huge, but couldn't fight. His size and mob connections are what led to his success. But that's all a matter of opinion.
That 19-second demolition you just witnessed is the entire David Tua-John Ruiz fight. Many of Tua's early fights went like this, and he was referred to by many as "The Samoan Mike Tyson." Like his hero Mike Tyson, David Tua often ended fights early in an explosive fashion.
After turning pro in 1992, David gained a reputation for being one of boxing's most feared sluggers. His trainers were Lou Duva, Ronnie Shields and Kevin Barry. Duva was friends with Rocky Marciano and said during one of Tua's post-fight interviews that he gave his pupil a “Rocky Marciano style.” That may have been Duva's intent, but in my opinion David combined Tyson's aggressive approach with Joe Frazier's explosive left hook and stamina. Throw in a granite chin, and the result is David Tua.
David had a reputation for destroying guys within the first round, but he was also dangerous because he could go the distance no problem. There were many fights where David was behind on the scorecards but his bomb of a left hook bailed him out at the last second. Well, I guess you could compare him to Marciano in that regard. Marciano and Tua both had fights where their one-punch power saved the day at the last second.
Tua also had a chin of absolute granite. He was rarely hurt or staggered. Those huge tree trunk legs kept him sturdy.
Tua's first loss came to Ike Ibeabuchi in one of the best fights of all time. The battle was close. I had it 6-4-2 for Ike Ibeabuchi. Tua had issues adjusting to Ike's jab during the first four rounds, and Ike fought like hell to survive the last round, outpointing Tua. If not for his late start, Tua would have won.
Despite losing, this was Tua's best performance. He threw devastating combinations of hooks and uppercuts, he threw dozens of punches to the head and body almost consistently. Both guys wanted the win badly, and wound up having the highest number of punches thrown in a heavyweight fight.
A Clash Of Styles
Primo fought as an upright, outside boxer. He used his long 85-inch reach and jab to fight from the distance.
Tua, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. He charged right at you and launched his thudding hooks and uppercuts in close range.
If we go by what Louis said, Primo had a “pretty decent jab” and pushed with his right. What we know is that when sluggers slipped under his guard and landed on Primo's chin, he went down in a heap.
Max Baer and Joe Louis are the hardest punchers Primo fought, and they both shattered him easily once they landed their first significant punch. Louis wisely concentrated on a body attack during the early rounds to "soften" Primo up. Once Primo was visibly getting fatigued and began to drop his guard to protect his ribs, that's when Louis got aggressive and went for the kill.
But Max Baer? He was a wild swinging madman. No finesse, no grace, no setup, just wild crazy random swings. If he could connect on Baer, I'm almost sure anyone could.
The difference between their victories against Primo is that Louis started setting Primo up as early as the first round, so it took less knockdowns to finish him later. Primo was broken down and ready to go by round 6. Baer hurt Primo earlier, but because he didn't "weaken" him the way Louis did, it took him a lot longer for Baer to finish the giant. (11 rounds).
Tua's defense was so bad that he made Hasim Rahman almost look as good as Joe Louis. Similarly, Chris Bryd had a field day humiliating Tua for 12 rounds. Bryd's awkward, pawing jab and slick mobility kept Tua befuddled and allowed Bryd to stay out of danger. Tua never learned how to sufficiently cut the ring either. If he had, then he would have mowed down Rahman and Bryd and pulverized them. But he had no idea how to close the gap if his opponent kept their jab in his face.
Tua might attack aggressively like a Frazier or Marciano, but he had no idea how to trap and corner guys the way they did.
During their heavyweight championship fight in November 2000, Lennox Lewis basically treated Tua like a sparring partner in one of his easiest title defenses.
But Primo Carnera was even bigger than Lennox Lewis, and we saw what happened when Tua fought Lewis. Does this mean Carnera would automatically beat Tua? Not necessarily.
Tua had knocked out guys as big as Lewis before, but none of them had Lewis' defense and skill. It was difficult getting around Lewis' reach, especially with him constantly shooting that jab.
Lewis also had his right hand prepared to surprise Tua with a straight right or uppercut. Once Tua felt the uppercut during the early rounds, he stopped attacking as much, knowing that this was the punch that awaited him if he got too close.
Tua also had a rib injury that was aggravated early in the fight when Lewis struck him with a body shot. Whether it was the uppercut or the body punch to the rib (or both) Tua mentally submitted and followed Lewis around for the remainder of the fight in a trance, hoping to smash him with an explosive left hook that never connected. He had no plan B.
Despite being bigger than Lewis, Primo didn't jab nearly as much, nor was his right hand as vicious. I also don't think he'd employ any set strategy to keep Tua off of him. Because Primo lacked proper defense, it's more than possible that Tua would sneak through and blast his jaw the way Louis and Baer did.
Then again, Tua could be a lazy fighter at times. There were many fights he had against big guys with minimal talent similar to Carnera – David Izon, Oleg Maskaev, and Danell Nicholson immediately spring to mind. These guys were far from great fighters but they were having a fun time dismantling Tua until he suddenly landed that big left hook that put them to sleep.
Another reason why these two probably don't get the recognition they deserve is because their biggest victories in the ring are somewhat tainted. Primo's biggest win was over the much smaller and absolutely terrified Jack Sharkey.
As for David Tua, he knocked out four former heavyweight champions – Hasim Rahman, Michael Moorer, Oleg Maskaev, and John Ruiz. Ruiz was destroyed in 19 seconds and Moorer was blasted out in 30 seconds. But at the time Tua knocked out these men, none of them were the heavyweight champion.
Tua's biggest loss was to a peak Lennox Lewis, and his second biggest loss was to a young Chris Bryd.
Carnera's biggest losses were to Max Baer and Joe Louis. Primo's losses can be forgiven. Baer was one of the most dangerous punchers of all time. Joe Louis is arguably the greatest heavyweight champion of all time, so there isn't any shame in getting knocked out by those men.
Lennox Lewis was too good for Tua, but Tua could have given himself a chance if he'd thrown more punches. In Lewis' next fight, Hasim Rahman destroyed him with one punch and took his championships. Tua is a much harder puncher than Rahman. The difference between the two is that Rahman actually threw punches in his title fight with Lewis, and Tua didn't.
Tua lost his fight against Bryd for similar reasons. He spent the whole fight looking to smash the elusive Bryd with his fierce left hook. Bryd has a great chin and could roll well with a punch if he saw it coming. Tua landed plenty of body punches throughout the fight, but by the time Bryd started to slow down because of it, it was round 11 and the fight was nearly over.
Lennox Lewis said it best. “It takes a whole arsenal to beat Lennox Lewis, not just a left hook and a haircut.” A cocky statement, but true.
If I had to rank Carnera and Tua, I'd rank Carnera ahead. For starters, Primo actually won the heavyweight title, something Tua never did. Even sadder for Tua is that there were four heavyweight titles during his era and he never picked up a single one, while many lesser fighters did.
Secondly, Primo's biggest losses were understandable. Tua, on the other hand, fell in love with his power and had no strategy against Lewis and Bryd aside from smashing them with a huge left hook to the chin.
Tua's hand speed wasn't on the Tyson or Ali level, but when he's in range that left hook could certainly catch you by surprise. Ask Darroll Wilson about that. He and Tua were scuffling up close, and Wilson all of a sudden went down. Tua had snuck a left hook to his chin. 1st round knockout.
People used to compare Tua's left hook to Joe Frazier's, but Joe's was clearly better. Joe could launch that punch from any angle, and you often couldn't see it coming.
Joe would “double” his hook, throwing one left hook to the body and then another one to the head. BANG! BANG! It was this combination that sent Muhammad Ali staggering into the ropes during round 11 of the fight of the century in 1971.
Sometimes Frazier threw the left hook after a jab in one motion, and sometimes he threw the left hook after a right hand set-up.
Tua was more predictable, often leaning a bit to his left just before launching the punch. Generally, you could see his hook coming if he were more than a foot and half away. But up close? You'd never see it coming.... and wake up in the locker room.
Here's what you've been waiting for. One guy (Tua) had awesome power, a concrete chin and no problem going the distance. The other (Carnera) was one of the biggest men to ever lace up the gloves and even killed a man in the ring. How does the fight go?
Well, it depends on Tua. The 1994-97 version of David Tua would attempt to smash Carnera immediately. It took Louis and Baer a few knockdowns to keep the giant down for good, but they succeeded. They also connected their blows rather easily.
If Louis said he had issues getting under Primo's guard during the first few rounds, so would Tua, who lacked Louis' defense and was even shorter. Louis broke Primo down with his jab and counters to the body, waiting for the perfect time to strike. That moment finally arrived in round 6.
The '90s version of Tua still had issues adjusting to jabs, but because Primo didn't throw that many and Tua kept attacking, he'd land that big left hook midway through the fight after struggling a few rounds to close the gap. A surprised and outgunned Carnera would be repeatedly put on the canvas.
If it's the overweight David Tua that lost to Lennox Lewis, Carnera may stay in the game a bit longer, but it'd be the same result – Carnera tries to survive, but the referee stops the fight after the big man takes one left hook too many.
David Tua Wins By Sensational Knockout in Round 5.
Agree? Disagree? Duke it out in the comments!