David Tua's decade-long dream of becoming world heavyweight champion was significantly shaken yesterday when he was dropped to the canvas for the first time in his 56-fight professional career.
Tua emerged with a draw and retained his WBO Oriental and Asia-Pacific regional titles despite being knocked down in the final round of his bout against veteran Monte Barrett in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Tua was also penalised a point in the final round when he wrestled Barrett to the canvas.
The locals booed the draw decision and a disappointed Barrett, who confirmed his retirement after the fight, said he deserved to win: "This is one of the things that caused me to retire. The sport is not pure like the fighters."
Tua admitted: "It was one of those nights, I did the best I could I was trying to get the guy, I was trying to work on my speed ... but it seemed like nothing was going my way.
"But I kept my heart and kept fighting to the end."
Tua, who said he was returning home in the next couple of days, felt the result, although short of what he was looking for, had not damaged his hopes of building up for another title fight.
"It was one of those tough fights that got away - you just have to look at other things rather than concentrating on just one thing,'' he told NZPA.
Tua said he had thrown Barrett in frustration, but thought he should have just got a warning.
"It was frustrating because the referee had warned him about the way he was grabbing and holding my hands down... and that's why I did it," Tua told NZPA from Atlantic City.
"It (throwing Barrett down) was one of those natural instinctive things and it just came normal... I told the referee the best thing was for him to warn me but that's how it goes sometimes.
"I thought I had done enough to win - that point they took away was really the defining decision of the fight and that's they way it came out."
Barrett, who had previously announced his retirement from the sport after this fight, was shocked by the decision.
"Everybody knows I was the winner. I fought with heart," he said afterwards.
"This is my last fight and I was retiring anyway but this is the sort of thing that makes a man retire, because the sport of boxing is not pure like the fighters."
Tua said he knew he could have done a lot better.
"But it's important not to dwell on it. It's important to look at how we can improve from this performance."
Losing his record of not having been knocked down was not something to regret.
"It was just one of those things - boxers just got to protect themselves, you know. I'm human being like another man.
"Sometimes you get caught by a good shot and you got to get back up and keep going."
Barrett, who entered the fight with a 34-9 record, had lost six of his last nine outings, and suffered defeats in his last three to rated contenders Odlanier Solis, Alexander Ustinov and WBA champion David Haye.
Fighting a fading Barrett seemed designed to continue Tua's gradual buildup to a major fight and help him complete a restrictive three-fight broadcast deal with Maori TV.
Another rematch with three-time champion Hasim Rahman was shaping as a likely proposition before the year was out, but the draw puts that into some doubt.
Tua began brightly, stalking a tentative Barrett in the early rounds, and seeking an early finish which seemed likely when he rocked the New Yorker with a string of powerful rights in the fourth.
Barrett was admonished by his corner that "you want to win this fight, you don't want to go out with a decision," and improved his workrate and footwork from the fifth round onwards.
Fighting cleverly if defensively, he frustrated Tua's attempts to position him for a winning combination and the bout appeared evenly matched as the final round began and Tua, uncertain whether he was ahead on the scorecards, pressed desperately for a knockout.
In his frustration, he wrestled Barrett to the canvas at the start of the 12th and had a point deducted by referee Randy Neuman. As Tua pressed again, Barrett counter-punched off the ropes and dropped him.
That 10-7 round seemed certain to have cost Tua dearly, but judge Joe Pasqual scored it 115-111 to Tua and the other two 113-113.
Tua's professional record stands at 51-3-2.
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