Can David Tua stage a comeback?
Have we seen the last of David Tua as a genuine factor on the world heavyweight boxing scene? That's the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from his decision to withdraw from a fight with Lamon Brewster in February for the World Boxing Organisation heavyweight crown.
It's not so much the standing of the bout - the World Boxing Organisation is a joke group anyway, and Brewster isn't exactly Lennox Lewis or Roy Jones - but the fact that Tua has again declined to resume his boxing career.
It all looked so good for Tua last year when he knocked out former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer in just a few seconds. Last March he gained a draw with former world champion Hasim Rahman to keep himself in the heavyweight picture. But his comeback is now stalled, maybe permanently.
Since his shock split with manager/mentor Kevin Barry a few months ago, Tua's career has gone into steep decline. He did not go through with a deciding third match against Rahman, a fight set up by Barry. Now he has elected not to face even Brewster, whose credentials would hardly strike fear into a Tua who was near his peak.
Tua says he wants to sort out his finances first, and he can't be blamed for that. If he feels he is owed millions of dollars by Barry and his offsider, Martin Pugh, then he surely has the right to take action.
Barry and Pugh have gone to court to seek the return of documents taken by Tua and passed on to his accountant and lawyer. Counter claims have been filed.
All this is fine, but sometimes the wheels of justice can turn slowly, especially for a heavyweight boxer already on the wrong side of 30. Tua is losing valuable boxing time. Recent photos indicate that he is well above his best fighting weight and, although he is fortunate to have a quality person such as Inga Tuigamala involved in his life, Tua the boxer has been pushed well into the background.
The English are, not surprisingly, treating triumphant rugby captain Martin Johnson like a god. If he was Indian, he would be gifted a mansion, if not an entire state. As he is English, at the very least a knighthood looms.
Jonny Wilkinson received the pop star adulation when England returned home with the Webb Ellis Trophy, but Johnson was the man who marshalled his troops at a critical moment in the World Cup final against Australia. He is a leader of genuine standing, who commands respect by his play and his personality.
England's Sunday Times recently ranked the 10 best England sports captains. Their list: 1 Bobby Moore (soccer), 2 Johnson (rugby), 3 Douglas Jardine (cricket), 4 Tony Jacklin (golf), 5 Billy Wright (soccer), 6 Ellen MacArthur (yachting), 7 Mike Brearley (cricket), 8 Richard Dodds (hockey), 9 Will Carling (rugby), 10 David Beckham (soccer).
This set me thinking about New Zealand captains. Here is my list of New Zealand's top sports captains.
1 Wilson Whineray (rugby), 2 Geoff Howarth (cricket), 3 Peter Blake (yachting), 4 Graham Mourie (rugby), 5 Leigh Gibbs (netball), 6 Walter Hadlee (cricket), 7 Steve Sumner (soccer), 8 Mark Graham (rugby league), 9 Sean Fitzpatrick
(rugby), 10 Pero Cameron (basketball), 11 Wayne Shelford (rugby), 12 Russell Coutts (yachting).
Who have I missed? Give me your thoughts. I will pass on feedback in a future issue.
Speaking of the Sunday Times, I've always enjoyed the writing of the paper's chief rugby writer, Stephen Jones. He absolutely refuses to give the All Blacks, New Zealand rugby, or even southern hemisphere rugby, any credit, which in itself can be amusing. Along the way, he dispenses some home truths that are spot on, even if we don't like to admit it.
After the World Cup, Jones named his tournament XV. It was: Mat Rogers (Australia), Jason Robinson (England), Elton Flatley (Australia), Stirling Mortlock (Australia), Shane Williams (Wales), Steve Larkham (Australia), Fabien Galthie (France), David Lyons (Australia), Richie McCaw (NZ), George Smith (Australia), Malcolm O'Kelly (Ireland), Martin Johnson (England), Phil Vickery (England), Steve Thompson (England) and Jean-Jacques Crenca (France).
Just one New Zealander, but who could argue with that?
Under a heading of "Kiwi legacy betrayed by fools", Jones ripped into New Zealand rugby. There was a sense of smugness and I-told-you-so about the article, but among the points Jones made:
• "Mitchell was saddled with the legacy of fools. The seeds of defeat were sown years ago, when the Kiwis decided that rugby was basketball and that physical crunch was some quaint northern hemisphere concept which had no place in the modern game."
• "Phil Vickery might be a great running prop in midfield, but he doesn't run half as well as Will Greenwood, who is meant to be there." (Message: get the forwards back into lineouts, scrums, rucks and mauls, where they belong.)
• "New Zealand arrived at this tournament without a single tight forward of world class. Chris Jack apart, they hardly brought one who was even international class."
• "The All Blacks clung to the fairytale that you can mount a holding operation in the forwards and produce winning rugby with brilliant backs, although the number of truly brilliant backs in this squad has been grossly overestimated."
• He wrote of "those marketing fools who insisted that the scrum was merely a means of restarting the game, when it is actually rugby's engine".
• "They [the All Blacks] have been swept away on a tide of their own garbage."
• "New Zealand have installed a truly atrocious line of captains to succeed the great Sean Fitzpatrick, investing heavily in mediocre good old boys who never really cut it at international level and were, therefore, nowhere near well enough equipped to join the lineage of great All Black captains."
• "The whole country fell far too much in love with All Blacks Incorporated, the business machine that entices businesses and the jersey-buying public. And too much in love with the All Black aura."
• "To admire some of the current All Blacks is to admire wrapping at the expense of content."
As the end of the year approaches, there are the usual annual reviews as pundits try to sort out the good, the bad and the ugly of 2003.
Even though some of our highest-profile sports teams - the All Blacks, the Warriors, the New Zealand cricketers - flattered to deceive, it has still been a stellar year. Scott Dixon, the Evers-Swindell sisters, Ben Fouhy, the Silver Ferns, Stephen Fleming, Melissa Moon, Joe Rokocoko, Irene van Dyk and others have given us plenty to celebrate this year.
But my New Zealand sports personality of the year is Russell Coutts. I'm not saying he should necessarily win the Halberg Award, because questions need to be asked about the role of Coutts compared to other key figures such as Brad Butterworth in Alinghi's America's Cup triumph. However, I greatly admired the professional way Coutts went about building a syndicate capable of winning the America's Cup.
Coutts's Alinghi team not only cleaned out Team New Zealand comprehensively in the final in Auckland, but Coutts had to put up with all sorts of personal abuse of the type that was previously reserved for John Hart after the All Blacks lost the World Cup semi-final in 1999.
To be able to put aside all the vitriol and the threats and focus on performing so brilliantly on the water, Coutts earned my admiration. He was not happy about the circumstances of his leaving Team New Zealand after having successfully defended the Cup, and he certainly proved his point.
Congratulations to Richard Palmer and his crew at Auckland Tennis for the fantastic field they have assembled for the $US400,000 2004 Heineken Open. I've always thought the best field assembled was in 1969 when the top four seeds were Rod Laver, Tony Roche, John Newcombe and Pancho Gonzales. (It was a mixed tournament that year, and the two leading women, Billie Jean King and Ann Jones, were fairly useful as well.) That would be like luring Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Andre Agassi to Auckland.
However, for depth of quality, the field for the forthcoming open takes some beating. Guillermo Coria, Jiri Novak, Gustavo Kuerten and Sjeng Schalken are all in the top 20 and the field also includes the dynamic Chilean Fernando Gonzalez and the prodigiously talented Spanish teenager Rafael Nadal. The lowest-ranked player directly into the main draw is Luis Horna of Peru, who is ranked 64th.
AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND BOXERS TO HAVE WON OLYMPIC MEDALS
Ted Morgan (NZ), welterweight, Amsterdam, 1928
Reginald Baker (Aust), middleweight, London
Kevin Barry (NZ), light-heavyweight, Los Angeles, 1984
Grahame Cheney (Aust), light-welterweight, 1988
Kevin Hogarth (Aust), welterweight, Melbourne, 1956
Tony Madigan (Aust), light-heavyweight, Rome, 1960
Ollie Taylor (Aust), bantamweight, Rome, 1960
David Tua (NZ), heavyweight, Barcelona, 1992