'The future is bright': Boxing legend David Tua excited by current crop of Kiwi fighters

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IBO super bantamweight title fight: Mea Motu v Tani Walters. Where: Eventfinda Stadium, Auckland. When: Thursday, April 27, approx 10pm. Coverage: Live on Sky Arena and Sky Sport Now, live updates on Stuff

Boxing legend David Tua has forecast a bright future of the sport in New Zealand after taking two of the country’s top prospects on the pads.

The 50-year-old former heavyweight invited unbeaten duo Mea Motu and Jerome Pampellone along to his south Auckland gym on Wednesday to help them prepare for their upcoming bouts on the annual Fight For Life card at the city’s Eventfinda Stadium on April 27.

Motu (15-0, 6 KOs) headlines a bill which features the usual mix of professional and amateur contests between ex-league and rugby stars, taking on Canada’s Tania Walters (4-1, 0 KOs) for the vacant IBO world super bantamweight title.

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Already a four division champion at national level, the 33-year-old mother-of-five is now aiming to conquer the world. And Tua, who famously came up short in his only shot at world honours back in November 2000, was impressed by what he saw.

“She’s got good movement, Mr Isaac [Peach, Motu’s trainer] has done a great job with Jerome and Mea, getting them where they are at, and he’s producing not only good fighters, but world beaters,” Tua commented after putting Motu through her paces.

“Obviously [Motu’s gym-mate] David Light missed out on the opportunity against a world champion [Lawrence Okolie], but there’s no shame in that.

“The future of our sport here is bright and I’m really looking forward to bigger and better things for them.”

Motu admitted it was a surreal experience to get in the ring with one of her heroes growing up and even throw some leather in his direction.

“I watched him as a kid, I used to get excited watching him on TV,” she said. “It was pretty cool to punch him! Never thought I would punch him in my life.”

Back in his nineties heyday, Samoa-born Tua almost single-handedly flew the flag for New Zealand, becoming one of the country’s best-loved stars as he blazed his way through the heavyweight division, knocking out several former and future world champions.

David Tua was full of praise for Mea Motu and Jerome Pampellone after the pair trained at his facility.

Phil Brooks/Supplied

David Tua was full of praise for Mea Motu and Jerome Pampellone after the pair trained at his facility.

The picture is very different today, with Peach alone having four fighters ranked in the world’s top 10, while Lani Daniels and Alrie Meleisea meet for the vacant IBF world heavyweight crown in May.

Former WBO champion Joseph Parker remains in or around the top 10 heavyweights in the world and Olympic bronze medallist David Nyika is making his way up the cruiserweight ranks.

Tua was delighted to see the sport in such rude health and was only too happy to pass on his wisdom to the next generation. He had been following the progress of both Jerome and Mea as they moved up the rankings.

“It’s a privilege for me, it’s an honour to see where they’re at in their career. I’m more than happy to help out,” Tua said after answering Peach’s plea.

“Jerome is a young talent to be reckoned with, he’s doing well for himself. Mea is getting ready for the big time, fighting for a world title. It’s been good, the boxing scene here in New Zealand is still alive, man.”

Light heavyweight Pampellone (15-0, 8 KOs) faces a stern test of his credentials on the Fight for Life card against the experienced Mose Auimatagi Jr (15-2-2, 10 KOs) someone he is friendly with outside the ropes.

But ‘The Panther’ will put that friendship aside as he looks to work his way into title contention at 175lbs (he is currently ranked 10th by the IBF) with a statement victory.

Known for his powerful body punching, Pampellone certainly left a big impression on Tua – making him grateful that he hung up the gloves almost 10 years ago.

After dominating the domestic scene, Mea Motu hopes to be crowned a world champion on April 27.

Nick Depree/ndepree.com

After dominating the domestic scene, Mea Motu hopes to be crowned a world champion on April 27.

“I’m glad I’m not boxing any more because he hit me with a couple of body shots and I was like, ‘woah’. I think it’s good I stay away from the game,” joked a lean-looking Tua, who later hinted that he’d be open to an exhibition bout with Mike Tyson.

“He’s got some really good power in both hands, good speed as well.”

When asked whether he had given the unbeaten duo any advice from his long and distinguished career, a typically modest Tua suggested there was nothing new that he could teach them.

“They already know how to fight, they know how to jab, they know how to throw a right hand and a hook.”

But he did pass on one familial lesson imparted to him by his beloved father, Tuavale.

“Simple advice my father says to me is, ‘beat them up’. Beat them up, or they will beat you up. Respectfully, right,” he said with a laugh.

While Tua won’t be there to see Motu and Pampellone in action (“a friend of ours is getting married on the same day, we will have to settle for the TV”), having struggled with his own mental demons he voiced his support for the Fight For Life cause, which aims to raise awareness for Mike King’s I Am Hope charity helping young people with depression seek help.

“There’s never enough that boxing can provide for those in need,” he said.

“Every day there is someone struggling with mental health, so it’s really important that if you need help, reach out for help.”