David Tua
Officer of the NZ Order of Merit

He was known as one of the hardest punchers in boxing's heavyweight division.

But now Kiwi-Samoan David Tua is also known for helping others, an attitude over several years that has seen him recognised as an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Tua, 46, was appointed a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to boxing in 2001. Retired from professional boxing since 2013, "The Tuaman" has since attempted to help those not as fortunate via his Onehunga gym.

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He has been a frequent guest speaker at events addressing issues such as family and violence, suicide, depression and homelessness, and he was an ambassador for the Salvation Army's Homelessness Crusade in 2015 and 2016.

"I feel very honoured and very humbled," Tua told the Herald. "You do the best you can with what you have… when you're acknowledged and awarded with something it's an awesome feeling."

Asked whether he made a conscious decision to help those less fortunate when he gave up boxing as a professional, Tua replied: "It's always been my life. We had relatives living with us who didn't have much, so it was normal for us to follow what mum and dad did. I'm only living through the legacy of what they left. Now it's my turn to do the same.

"It's very rewarding," he said of helping others. "It's the greatest feeling in the world. We don't have much but we have a lot to give. If you can help someone or make them realise that they can do it themselves then it's an awesome feeling."

Regarded as having a big heart, Tua was also seen as unfortunate, given his ability, not to be a heavyweight world champion. Tua, known to have one of the most devastating left hooks in the sport, had only one world title challenge, a bout against undisputed champion Lennox Lewis at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Casino in November, 2000.

In an interview with the Herald two years ago, Tua said catching a glimpse of his father Tuavale when he walked to the ring for the fight made it all worthwhile despite the unanimous points decision defeat.

As a boy in his village of Faletiu, which still celebrates its favourite son with a sign announcing it as the "home of the Tuaman", David watched old fights on television with his father, including those featuring heavyweights such as Rocky Marciano and George Foreman, and Tuavale once told him: "I hope one day that I get the chance to be at a world heavyweight title fight."

Tuavale and Noela, David's mother, passed away a couple of months apart in 2017, but the legacy they left remains with him.

"They were wonderful people. Amazing parents. As far as them encouraging me through the tough times in training - it was a positive thing at that time.

"We didn't have much. Dad had to work at times 14-16 hours a day just to support me and my older brother Andrew at the time. Training camps weren't cheap. They both worked tirelessly to make sure I didn't miss any camps."

Those camps and fights in the US - he was almost exclusively based Stateside during his 21 years as a professional - took him away from his family for months, but the sacrifices made by him and his parents honed Tua into a 1.78m wrecking ball.

He never won a world title but he won a lot of support around the world, a gift he wants to continue for others.