By Duncan Johnstone
Alexander Ustinov's camp say the delay in fighting David Tua has done them no favours as they fine-tune their preparations for the heavyweight clash in Hamilton on November 16.
The 2.02m Belarusian is back in New Zealand, entering his final sparring phase and making adjustments after the fight was postponed from its original August 31 date after Tua injured a calf muscle.
All the plusses seem to be in the Tua corner with the two-and-a-half month delay.
Ustinov was confronted by a completely different Tua when they showed up for a press conference in Auckland today.
Tua has used the extra time well, working hard on his fitness to be decidedly smaller and fitter than the Kiwi-Samoan that Ustinov had eyed on his first trip here before returning home when the fight was postponed.
Ustinov's coach Vladimir Zaderan made no secret of the fact that he would have preferred to fight on the original date, avoiding the subsequent travel and the need to reset the training button when he already had his fighter primed.
"I can't say it (the delay) was a bonus for us. I would rather have done the fight then because you plan and prepare for that certain date," Zaderan said.
"We have had to start all over again. There's a big difference in time zones and climates as well, so he is still recovering. It would have been easier to fight back then.
"But we are all about winning this. I wouldn't be Alexander's coach if I didn't believe in him."
Ustinov appeared relaxed about the circumstances although he acknowledged the new-look Tua.
"I'm really looking forward to finally having this fight. David has obviously worked really hard and I have worked just as hard. We're both serious about this."
Ustinov struck problems with his first sparring session yesterday.
Opponent Alex Luapai arrived from Australia carrying an injury that prevented him getting in the ring though Zaderan was hopeful of some ring-work tonight.
He liked Luapai's dimensions which are similar to Tua's.
But Luapai is on a mission of his own that will limit his sparring availability.
The Brisbane delivery driver is in transit to Germany where he fights Russian WBO No1 heavyweight Denis Boystov in a crucial eliminator in Oldenburg on November 23.
The winner will fight Wladimir Klitschko for the world heavyweight title.
Tua and Ustinov are on a similar path. Ustinov is managed by the same company that looks after the Klitschkos and there is a strong possibility that the winner of the Hamilton fight could be fast-tracked towards a world title fight.
The 36-year-old Ustinov has won 28 of his 29 fights, including 21 by knockout.