The worldwide hiatus brought about by the coronavirus pandemic has forced fans of all sports to seek different forms of entertainment and debates, particularly on social media, about which athlete or team was the best.

Few sports divide opinions regarding achievement or greatness like boxing, and it's here that an old favourite has re-surfaced: Who was the greatest heavyweight to not win a world title?

Many believe it was Kiwi-Samoan David Tua. He has always been near the top of the list for his durability and incredible stopping power and as recently as the past weekend the now 47-year-old found himself at the centre of a debate given prominence by well-known ESPN commentator Max Kellerman and finished (well, he would like to think so anyway) by ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael.

To a question about who was the greatest heavyweight to not win a world title since 1980, Kellerman asserted that it was Ike Ibeabuchi, who defeated Tua in Sacramento in 1997, a fight which, according to CompuBox, set a record in terms of punches thrown in a bout between heavyweights – 1,730 over 12 rounds. Rafael believes Tua deserves the title as the greatest heavyweight to miss out on a world title.


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In the all-action slugfest between the pair, Nigerian-born Ibeabuchi landed 332 of 975 punches, while Tua landed 282 of 755 punches.

The unanimous points defeat ended Tua's streak of 27 victories, but may have come at a cost for Ibeabuchi, who was taken to hospital complaining of headaches. Scans found no abnormalities but afterwards he complained about being plagued by evil spirits, suffered from mental health issues, and was in and out of jail. He is due to complete supervision by April this year.

Tua retired in 2013 with a 52-5-2 professional record. He registered an incredible 43 knockout victories. He had only one world title shot – a one-sided defeat to Lennox Lewis in Las Vegas in 2000 – but was never stopped, put down or obviously hurt in the ring.

Ranked the No 1 challenger by the IBF and WBC, Tua had lost only one fight in 38 by the time he met Lewis at the Mandalay Bay arena and was ranked alongside Mike Tyson as the most powerful puncher of the era. Unfortunately, Tua and Tyson, two aggressive men of a similar stature who fought on the front foot, never met in the ring.

While relatively short at 1.78m, Tua had another weapon to go with his legendary chin; a leaping left hook which could finish opponents at any stage of the fight. In the fight prior to his defeat to Ibeabuchi, Tua was down on points to Oleg Maskaev, but caught his Russian opponent with a left hook in the 11th round and concluded the fight in typically devastating style.

It was a similar story in his stoppage victory over Hasim Rahman in Florida in 1998. Down on all three judges' cards, Tua win the scheduled 12-round fight in the 10th. It was Rahman's first loss in 29 professional fights.

Tua, an inspiration for Kiwi-Samoan heavyweight Joseph Parker, who won the WBO world title in 2016, could also finish fights very early. Tua's fight against the well-regarded John Ruiz in Atlantic City was over within about 17 seconds after Tua caught him with a left hand after eight seconds of the opening bell.


Asked by the Herald in 2017 whether his signature punch was natural or coached, Tua said: "A bit of both. It started way back when I was young in Samoa. When I was asked to go and cut the grass I did it with my left [hand]. Even though I was right-handed, dad would say 'no, no, use the left'. So for some crazy reason it would have developed some kind of strength through it. Going into boxing, the left hook seemed natural, but the timing and to perfect it, how to throw it properly, was another matter."

The undefeated Ibeabuchi had his career cut short at 20 professional fights. His other most notable win was against the previously undefeated Chris Byrd. It was Ibeabuchi's last fight. Byrd beat Tua in 2001.

In a tweet to his 240,000 followers, Rafael said: "In a span of 13 months Tua fought five times and in four of the bouts knocked out Ruiz, Wilson, Izon and Maskaev. In next fight lost decision to Ike that could have easily gone his way."

Rafael added of Tua's entitlement for the dubious award: "Not even close."