IN 1996, a card dubbed “Night Of The Young Heavyweights” was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Shannon Briggs met Darrol Wilson, Andrew Golota met Danell Nicholson and a Samoan slugger by the name of David Tua met John Ruiz. The card proved memorable, for two reasons: firstly, Briggs, dubbed by some as the heir apparent to the heavyweight championship, was shocked by Wilson, being stopped in the 3rd-round.
Briggs claimed asthma problems accounted for the loss but much of the young and previously unbeaten prospect/contender’s credibility and reputation had been damaged. The other reason the card proved memorable was down to Tua’s wickedly powerful fists. Having his first title fight (the WBC International heavyweight belt was at stake) Tua, then unbeaten at 22-0 with 18 KO’s, really did showcase his talents at the expense of the 25-2 and never stopped Ruiz.
Coming out like a cross between Mike Tyson and Rocky Marciano, the 23-year-old wasted absolutely no time in hunting down his prey. With the sound of the bell still an echo, the short (5’10-inch) and solid, wickedly powerful Tua blasted Ruiz with a bomb of a left hook to the head. Instantly in trouble, Ruiz was cracked by vicious follow up hooks, a final left looking like it had almost decapitated him. Down on his back and totally out, Ruiz, know as “The Quiet Man,” was a thoroughly beaten man at just the 19-second mark.
“Nobody has ever done that to Ruiz,” said HBO’s Larry Merchant. Trained by Lou Duva and Ronnie Shields, and also a 1992 Olympic bronze medallist, Tua had made a huge impression on the U.S fight fans and experts. All smiles after his win – and after a badly hurt Ruiz thankfully recovered – Tua looked for all the world like a future world champion. Instead, quite unthinkably at the time of the savage defeat he had suffered, it was Ruiz who would go on to become a major belt holder, not Tua.
Tua would score plenty more thrilling and eye-catching knockouts, beating amongst others, Briggs’ conqueror Wilson, David Izon and Oleg Maskaev. Then, in 1997, Tua went to war with Ike Ibeabuchi, losing a great fight on points. Both men took serious punches in the modern day classic and some say neither fighter was ever quite the same again (with suggestions that Ibeabuchi’s subsequent running foul of the law was the result of mental trauma picked up in the fight). Tua would get one crack at the world title, against Lennox Lewis in 2000; losing via wide 12-round points decision.
Ruiz, after recovering from the loss to Tua, went on to fight a three-fight series with Evander Holyfield, winning the second meeting and capturing the WBA strap in the process – a title Ruiz would actually win twice. Unfortunately for Ruiz, he is best remembered today for another loss – against former middleweight king Roy Jones Junior, who made history by relieving Ruiz of his heavyweight belt in 2003.
Tua, who somewhat briefly but at the same time unforgettably lit up the heavyweight division like a shooting star, retired with a 52-5-2(43) record in 2013. He scored a number of 1st-round KO’s, but never looked quite as devastating as he did against Ruiz two full decades ago. Ruiz, who regained the WBA title in his very next fight after losing to the brilliant Jones Junior, exited with a respectable 44-9-1(30) ledger after being stopped by Britain’s David Haye in 2010.
Ruiz fought a number of big-hitters during his career, yet he is almost certain to tell you today that no-one ever hit him quite as hard as David Tua.