By Jake Donovan
David Tua's ring return proved to be false hope for those expecting anything to come of the 41-year old's comeback tour. A two-year hiatus picked up where he left off, as Tua was outworked by visiting Alexander Ustinov over 12 rounds Saturday evening in Auckland, New Zealand.
Scores were 119-110 and 119-109 (twice) in a bout that had no business being scheduled for 12 rounds, but which came at that rate with a regional title at stake.
Tua made headlines, first for agreeing to return to the ring two years after a points loss to Monte Barrett in their July '11 rematch - also in New Zealand - but more notably for dropping more than 110 lb. heading into the contest. What he didn't drop, was his knack for wasting large portions of a fight waiting for a single knockout blow.
Ustinov rightfully exploited the house fighter's minimal workrate, peppering the much shorter Tua with jabs from the outside. An occasional long right hand was mixed in for good measure as Tua struggled mightily to work his way inside.
Detrimental to Ustinov's cause was referee Brad Vocale setting the bar for other officials to follow by disallowing any form of clinching. The tactic is common for taller heavyweights of present and past, but the 6'7" Ustinov was denied the strategy, which meant searching for other means to preserve his energy.
His shaky performance in the final four or so rounds of the fight suggested an inability to ever come up with that Plan B.
Tua was more willing to engage at that point of the fight, hurting Ustinov on a few occasions. However, it came at a time when he badly needed a knockout. One punch wasn't going to do the trick, not for a 41-year old version of Tua, whose only hope by fight's end was extreme hometown cooking.
The judges actually did their job on this occasion, all grading wide in favor of Ustinov. The win is his second straight as he improves to 29-1 (21KO). The lone loss came in a heavyweight eliminator bout, in which Ustinov was battered and eventually stopped in 10 rounds by unbeaten Kubrat Pulev last September.
While Ustinov seeks another run towards heavyweight contention, Tua is most likely looking at another forced exit from the sport. There was little hope of his ever making a run at a heavyweight title, with the best case scenario ever being a B-side role in an action fight with any given top heavyweight contender.
Instead, a return to retirement is most likely in the cards after a second consecutive loss - spray-painted over two years - sends his record reeling to 52-5-2 (43KO. Tua announced as such after the fight, claiming his heart is no longer in boxing, which calls into question why he even returned in the first place.
The defeat comes 13 years - almost to the day - following his lone world title shot, a lopsided 12-round points loss to Lennox Lewis in November '00.
Robert Berridge walked through hell and beyond to keep alive his current knockout streak. The light heavyweight prospect survived one knockdown to score three of his own in a thrilling 10th round stoppage win over Daniel McKinnon.
There was no shortage of drama at any point in the regional light heavyweight title fight. Berridge overcame a cut sustained in the seventh round to drop McKinnon one round later. Not to be outdone, McKinnon dusted himself off and sent Berridge to the canvas in the ninth, but found himself back on the deck courtesy of a body shot towards round's end.
Berridge ramped up the intensity in the 10th round, which resulted in closure to a wild slugfest. A flurry of power shots put McKinnon down and nearly out of the ring as he was battered into submission.
The official time was 2:51 of round ten.
Berridge improves to 22-1-1 (18KO), having now scored seven straight knockouts since his heartbreaking loss to Blake Caparello last May. McKinnon drops his second straight, having also come up short to Caparello in his previous fight, as he falls to 21-8-1 (9KO).
Lauryn Eagle escaped with a split decision over Nicki Bigwood in a six-round lightweight matchup of familiar foes. The event marked the third fight between them, with Eagle scoring victory each time out, including a shutout win just six weeks ago.
Saturday's affair proved more troubling, both in the ring and for the judges to decipher. Eagle (8-3-1, 3KO) was the rightful winner, but scores of 60-54 and 60-55 suggest that at least two judges in New Zealand are badly in need of a refresher course. The dissenting card among the group - 58-57 in favor of Bigwood (0-5-1) - was the closest to reality.
Vaise "Bubba" Tuigamala enjoyed a successful pro debut, knocking out Clint Faoi (0-4, 3KO) in two rounds. A right hook was enough to get the job done for Tuigamala (1-0, 0KO), whose father is rugby legend Inga Tuigamala.
The pro debut was a long time coming for the second-generation athlete, who was supposed to first fight in June. The fight was canceled mere minutes before the bell, however, when opponent Perry Shane Waenga fainted in the dressing room while having his hands wrapped.
Nikolas Charalampous was forced to go the distance for the first time in his young career, but still remained unbeaten after scoring a unanimous decision over Rico Chong Nee (11-10-2, 6KO). The 20-year old super middleweight prospect, who just turned pro in late June, advances to 6-0 (5KO) and is scheduled to return to the ring in two weeks.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox