The fight against Russian Alexander Ustinov is probably David Tua's last shot at the big time and he has been training like it - revealing today that he has reached new levels of "darkness and emptiness'' during his gruelling preparations.
"There's darkness and emptiness that I've never experienced in my whole career and I'm quite humbled that I've experienced it this time,'' Tua said.
The 40-year-old has been under the direction of Lee Parore, the trainer who got him into career-best shape for his demolition of Shane Cameron in 2009.
His conditioning dropped away once he parted ways with Parore - his wins over Friday Ahunanya and Demetrice King counterbalanced by a draw and a loss to Monte Barrett - but now the link has been renewed Tua said he was in better shape than before the Cameron fight. Tua's last fight was the loss to American Barrett in August 2011.
"This is probably the hardest I've ever trained in my whole career. It's been a very tough road back. I've never experienced any pain like I've experienced on this camp.I've been in decent shape for a couple of fights, like the Shane Cameron fight, but I've never been in fighting shape.
"The training camp has been very very ugly, but I've enjoyed every moment of it.''
Tua, who met Ustinov for the first time this morning at a media conference in central Auckland, was asked what Parore's toughest direction had been. "Show up,'' Tua replied.
"I'm very happy that some of my team members and some of my close friends aren't there to witness some of the training sessions. I never thought that I could breathe as many ways as I did. When we used to hit the roads at 4 in the morning I'm sure the birds in the trees probably got sick and tired of me breathing hard...
"I'm in a great place mentally, physically, emotionally. I really believe the last part will be the spiritual wellbeing and in time that will come.''
Watching proceedings this morning was Tua's giant sparring partner Julius Long, the American brought over specifically to get the 1.78m Tua used to Ustinov's big 2.02m frame.
The Russian, who arrived in New Zealand on Friday and has yet to start training properly for the fight at Hamilton's Claudelands Arena on August 31, will be a big test for Tua and not only because of his size. At 36, he has youth on his side, along with a very good record - 28 wins and only one loss.
While Tua's record is also very good - 52-4-2 - he has had to work much harder to get into shape. Ustinov, greeted by Tua in Russian this morning, has the advantage of fighting as recently as April - a unanimous points decision over Croatian journeyman Ivica Perkovic.