Will David Tua get old going up the steps?

After a nine-month build-up, that's what it would all seem to boil down to when the talking stops and the punching starts at Mystery Creek tonight against Shane Cameron.

Tua has been a revelation in the build-up to a fight that will be either a first step towards a return to the big time or one more stagger on the road to boxing's backwaters.

The one-time genuine contender has come out of his shell. A personality that had been submerged by professional boxing's relentless blather and a bitter court battle has resurfaced.

No Terminator. No Tuaman. No big hair. And clearly no junk food. His physique, revealed at yesterday's weigh-in, was remarkable.

The tree trunk legs are still there, the belly isn't. Nor are about 25kg of the old Tua. At 107.8kg, he appears to be in the shape of his life.

Clearly, he has the conditioning. He has the experience. He has the power. But still the question remains - at 37, will he get old going up the steps? Will his nerve finally desert him?

"Of course it happens, they are human beings," his trainer Roger Bloodworth said when he touched down in New Zealand 10 weeks ago.

"That's why people like boxing - the human factor. What can he take? What can he give. Will he quit? It's the ultimate game show."

Tua insists he wants it. Wants it bad. Wants it back. Wants it all.

He's hardly the first ageing fighter to say that. The joy of boxing is driving him, he says.

But the stories that he is fighting out of financial desperation won't go away. It all boils down to desire.

"That is something I don't think you can ever judge in a person," Bloodworth said.

"I've seen guys prepare for a fight and get old going up the steps. It is really an individual thing.

"If it gets to the point where you can't get him to train then you pretty much know he is done. But if a guy is training hard you usually don't find that out until they get to the fight."

Tua has trained hard. So hard in fact that Cameron's camp have changed their tune, gone full circle.

Originally they taunted Tua as a fat man on the verge of a heart attack. Now they say he is too light, will lack power, and that Cameron will "punch holes in him".

"Everybody has their opinion of me," Tua said. "Whether it is the old me or the new me, I just had to go through some stuff in my life to get to the other side. But I feel good."

As good as Tua looks and feels, Cameron looks better. There is hardly an ounce of fat on his 103.5kg frame. He is more muscular than Tua, taller, younger and has more tattoos. He is also, he insists, fitter.

"He has lost all that weight but I know that it is going to affect him," Cameron said.

"I don't care what shape he is in, he is not going to be in as good a shape as me. I know I'd still out-run him, out-do anything with him. As for the boxing, I am going to out-punch him, out-work him and out-score him.

"If it goes 12 rounds it is definitely my win. The only way he can beat me is by knocking me out."

Or by cuts. Or if Cameron's twice-broken right hand gives out again.

Cameron may have had surgery designed to reduce his proneness to cutting, but that hasn't stopped the issue resurfacing.

Referee Bruce McTavish was at pains to point out the rules if serious blood is spilled. If a cut stops the fight before the fourth round it's a draw. After that, it goes to the judges' cards.

It's not a scenario Cameron is even contemplating. Nor is his recently healed hand on his mind.

"No pain. No more. Every now and then through the camp, but she is solid now."

And he won't be staying on his stool, even if it shatters.

"You'll never see me give up. There is no way I'll ever give up. You never know how the fight is going to turn out in terms of injuries or whatever but I have broken my hand twice and come through. If it happens again, I'll do the same thing again.

"I've got the belts. I am the champion. I am going to hold these belts. Come [tomorrow] I am still going to have these belts."

SHANE CAMERON

AGE: 31
BORN: Gisborne
HEIGHT: 1.88m
WEIGHT: 103.5kg
REACH: 1.87m
RECORD: 24 fights, 23 wins (20 by KO), one loss
(by KO); heavyweight bronze medal at the 2002
Manchester Commonwealth Games.
KEY BOUT: v Friday Ahunanya (Nigeria), November 2,
2007, Auckland. A bloodied Cameron loses his 100 per
cent record as Ahunanya scores a final-round TKO.

DAVID TUA

AGE: 37
BORN: Apia, Samoa
HEIGHT: 1.78m
WEIGHT: 107.8kg
REACH: 1.78m
RECORD: 53 fights, 49 wins (42 by KO), three losses,
one draw; heavyweight bronze medal at 1992
Barcelona Olympics.
KEY BOUT: v Lennox Lewis (Britain), Las Vegas,
November 11, 2000, for the world title. Defending
champion Lewis uses his height and reach
advantage to secure a unanimous points decision.