David Tua's comeback remains very much alive after a hard-fought but deserved points decision over Friday Ahunanya in west Auckland on Wednesday night.
Tua got good reward for being the constant aggressor in the fight although he couldn't land his trademark knockout with Ahunanya fulfilling his promise of durability.
Tua landed constant shots although struggled to get through the tight defence of the big Nigerian for the killer blow.
The card gave it to Tua 109-119, 111-117 and 108-120 for a unanimous decision.
Tua holds on to his WBO Asia Pacific and Oriental heavyweight belts.
This was seen as a dangerous fight for Tua but he was rarely troubled.
He was busy throughout, he went hunting Ahunanya and he ultimately gained a comfortable win.
This was a clean fight with Australian referee Gary Dean reduced to being another spectator at the sold out venue at Trusts Stadium.
Tua might be disappointed at failing to floor his opponent but his corner had spoken of the value of getting some rounds in and he certainly got that.
He worked hard with his right, particularly to the body of Ahunanya and he also managed to score with his hook occasionally.
Coming on top of his two-round demolition of Shane Cameron last October this was a solid performance from the New Zealand heavyweight.
The win left Tua's record at 51 wins (43 by KO), a draw and three losses.
The big question is where to from here for a 37-year-old fighter who still has major ambitions for a world title but is stalled by a prohibitive deal with Maori Television.
There could be calls for a rematch which would be an easy option given the persistent struggles to provide opponents.
But there will be pressure for his global promoter Cedric Kushner to work around this and come up with a different and worthy opponent.
Kushner believes Hawaii remains a workable venue and wants to see Tua in action again within two months. But the search now starts in earnest to find a willing and credible fighter who will help manoeuvre Tua into a better position for a tilt at a title.
One that could provide a pay-per-view audience in the lucrative United States market would also help.
Tua earned $200,000 for this win - peanuts in global terms.
But this latest result will have done Tua no harm in terms of his important WBO ranking which is No 3 on a list headed by champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Ahunanya is left with a his sixth loss from 33 fights and after two years in the wilderness it will be interesting to see if he can rebuild his career from here at the age of 38.
His handlers are adamant their man remains marketable.
Earlier, Tua's sparring partner Israel Garcia won an ugly fight on the main undercard event.
Garcia's Australian opponent Brett Smith was disqualified in the third round of their scheduled eight-round heavyweight bout for persistent fouling.
Referee Lance Revill warned Smith several times as the outclassed Australian struggled to stay with Garcia, at one stage virtually rugby tackling him.
Smith, in appalling shape after being called up late to make the fight, was no match for Garcia who appeared to be toying with the Australian who was fighting outside of his country for the first time.
Garcia was well toned and well in charge, showing the sort of form that seemed to justify his desire to fight Shane Cameron.
It was a disappointing end to the preliminaries.
The other heavyweight contest on the undercard saw giant American Clarence Tillman win a split decision against rugged Wellington fighter Leamy Taito.
They fought over four rounds with Taito producing a gallant effort despite being seriously out-sized.
Tillman entered the ring at 130.2kg compared to Taito at 108.1kg.
The difference was too much in the end although Taito, a former New Zealand cage-fighting champion, did trouble Tillman in the final round.
- © Fairfax NZ News