In the end, it lived up to its billing. Two men met in the ring, and conspired to let the talk become action. That it was over in scarcely more then a round, and rendered much of the pre-bout prognostication moot – none of that mattered so much as the sheer brutal truth rendered in Tua’s blows.
But as much as the fight itself confounded and lived up to expectations, the entire process was a perfect piece of modern boxing lore. In a lot of ways that was down to pitch perfect promotion. David Higgins was, for the most part, a shadowy figure in the lead up to the fight. He was quoted in the papers, interviewed on the radio… he was very present in the build up. But for most he lacked a physical presence until he appeared in front of a nation just prior to his main event.
His arrival on screen was perhaps the biggest revelation of the entire card. Certainly bigger than Tua’s demoltion of Cameron, which was a possibility in the back of the mind of even the most ardent Cameron supporters, who had surely factored into their considerations the eventual outcome. I mean, how could that skinny, nervy looking 29-year-old be responsible for all this, right? But it fits perfectly with contemporary boxing’s quasi-sporting theatre of the absurd that the main event was the entire spectacle itself, and its most shocking moment the unveiling of the promoter, rather than the actual fight. Which is to say that the tumultuous build up, the volume of which eventually engulfed the nation, far outpaced the pugilistic quality of what was sold.
From the first this was an event for the the romantics. Not those who love the idea of man versus man with only gloves between them. Instead this was for those who wanted to believe the hype. Who could buy into the idea that these were two exceptional fighters, either of which could contend for the heavyweight championship of the world; either of which would be a worthy opponent of the other. That Cameron turned out to be a stunned, weak-jawed parody of a heavyweight mattered not so much as the fact that New Zealand as a nation believed Higgins’ story. And a good part of that belief, particularly with hindsight, rested on the purported strength of the undercard.
FIGHT ONE: HEREMAIA VS LO PORTO
In the second least-significant of a comedically silly undercard, Steve ‘Chur’ (seriously) Heremaia fought Australian Frank Lo Porto. Heremaia prevailed in a fairly contestable points decision. All of you with eyes that see will already know my favourite element of the fight. The unalloyed genius of Heremaia’s alteration of his tattoo of NWA’s famous ‘Fuck the Police’ to the far more benign ‘trick the police’ is one thing. But the fact that it was so last minute that it was in blue (not black) vivid is something else entirely, such a great example of behind-the-scenes panic intruding into the event.
Anyway, Heremaia looked like an total prison-bred beast. Especially due to the still faintly-visble home-made tattoos (see above, between his pecs) present beneath the main counterparts. He fought strong and hard against an opponent who amazingly stayed upright, before giving a little back. In the end eventually the decision was pretty difficult, and Heremaia prevailed in what was probably the third best fight of the night.
FIGHTS TWO & THREE: MOYOYO MENSAK VS ALEXANDER / TUASA VS AMMAN
Mensak/Alexander was one of the least memorable fights of the night, and provided the mid-card lull along with that which followed. It’s one saving grace was Alexander’s Latino gangster look providing us with the best pair of tits we saw in the ring all night:
Tuasa and Amman was slightly better, the contrast between Tuasa’s speed and compact frame versus Amman’s rangey reach. Like the opening bout, this one was highlighted by some comically bad body-art, this time the black smear across Tuasa’s back (see below). It may once have said something meaningful or crass, but we’ll never know. Both these fights plodded to the distance, and meant that we were annoyingly behind schedule. And in each of the first three fights, the thinnest boxer won, which might have been an omen for what was to come. Except it wasn’t.
We then suffered through another of the diabolically inane interviews conducted by The Rock’s Tracy Donaldson. I think she’s what Rock listener’s view as the ideal woman: a bad blond dye job; flatly pale skin and a pair of meek, servile eyes. She chatted with Junior Malili Muliaina ahead of Soulan Pownceby’s return (go check out the latter’s Sensible Sentencing Trust page if you want to lose your lunch). It was, even by All Black interview standards, a truly empty piece of television.
FIGHT FOUR: CHAPMAN VS POWNCEBY
Shane ‘Choppa’ Chapman… The name sounds oddly familiar. I could’ve sworn I’ve heard Shane Cameron referred to as ‘chopper’ before. I know ‘Mountain Warrior’ is probably cooler, but if he’s ever been associated with the name Chapman should’ve dropped it for the night. Retaining it would be like like the support band covering one of the headliner’s hit singles. Just not done. He does get points for a quasi-black metal logo though, which makes me think he deserves to keep it.
Pownceby had a little height and reach, but these were probably he most well-matched fighters physically the whole night. Chapman had an extremely irritating habit of tapping his glove against his face in a ‘hit me’ style, whereupon Pownceby would hit him. Seriously, every goddamn time. Ali’s showmanship has a lot to answer for, but if you lack his evasive ability and your opponent can tag you at will, maybe leave that tool in the shed.
The fight ended with Pownceby unintentionally headbutting Chapman, opening a huge cut over his left eye, forcing a no contest. The whole thing was a little suspicious, with the the gentle grazing of the heads hardly looking like enough to open a wound of that size. And we needed a quick fight after the first three. It’s a just a conspiracy theory, you know?
FIGHT FIVE: HOPOATE VS WILSON
To my mind, and the mind of most of those who watched the fight alongside me, this was the fight of the night. Literally everything about it was hilarious. In one corner you had John Hopoate, a man so vile even rugby league, with its sewer rat morality, couldn’t tolerate him. He somehow resisted the urge to call himself ‘the black hand’ or ‘the bad finger’, instead settling on the far more prosaic ‘Hoppa’.
His opponent was, if anything, more entertaining. Colin Wilson is a three time Australian heavyweight champ, apparently, but his record is an abysmal 34/25/1. I think most of us saw this as a procession when their truly sublime profile images came up on screen:
Wilson looks like an accountant with a drinking problem. Then you saw his ‘physique’, and it became even more laughable. It felt slightly unfair, even cruel, to make the guy remove his shirt, but he thoughtfully provided glittering highlighter green shorts to distract us. All style, all class: Colin ‘the Coalminer’ Wilson.
He was knocked down early in the third, but it felt like it was fatigue as much as the punch which got to him. This seemed to ‘unleash the lion’ in Wilson, though, and he rocked Hopoate with a good right haymaker, and the penetrator was down (see fig. 1) and looking very bloody disturbed (see fig. 2) by this turn of events.
After that the fight degenerated into a good old-fashioned face-punching competition, with neither side playing much defence, and both fighters were knocked down again before Wilson took advantage of Hopoate standing motionless with his face wide open for a moment and punched the living shit out of him. This was by far the best fun of the night. It had all the skill of a drunken pub brawl, but with better camera work.
FIGHT SIX: THE MAIN EVENT: TUA VS CAMERON
This was what we shelled out our big bucks to see. Tua came out looking more calm and purposeful then ever before, and in better shape. I began to think maybe all his humble talk in pre-bout interviews was more than just good PR. The way he destroyed Cameron was so methodical that you’d be surprised if the Mountain Warrior can ever recover. Tua just walked around the ring like a serial killer, with no joy or electricity in his actions. But there was terrible power in his punches, and it was over by the first round’s end. A combination of Cameron’s pride, the collective desire to see ‘the fight of the century’ (lest we forget) last more than three minutes and a referee who looked to be in his early eighties (the dye job alone was worth $39.95) got us into the second round, when a second hail of punches ended one career and maybe rejuvenated another.
Ultimately, as much as the ‘fight of the century’ stuff was manifestly ridiculous (and Higgins’ protestations about him calling it ‘New Zealand’s’ Fight of the Century’ rang very false), it worked, as a spectacle, and as an event. There was something endearingly New Zealand and smalltime about it, from James Reid and his loathsome moustache in the ring at one stage, to it being staged in a venue famous for its agriculture fair, to the very ornery celebs interviewed between bouts (Shortland St stars, winemakers, Dean ‘mortgage’ Lonergan). There was some reasonable boxing, some comically bad brawling, and one superstar back to his best. And that, in the end, was enough.