A slimline super-fit David Tua is just six sleeps away from a fight that could propel him back into world heavyweight boxing title contention.
The knockout Kiwi and Samoan legend will have shed up to 50kg by the time he steps into the ring with Belarusian giant Alexander Ustinov in Hamilton on Saturday.
Tua, 40, says his training camp for the bout has probably been his hardest ever and he has undergone a "humbling transformation" in "the mind, the body and soul".
Looking lean and confidently relaxed when Sunday News spoke to him at his Kamp Tuaman gym in Auckland's Onehunga on Friday, Tua said he thought he had weighed up to 155kg before star trainer Lee Parore had begun his intense fitness regime eight months ago.
He aims to tip the scales as light as 105kg on Saturday. He came in at around 107kg for the 2009 Fight of the Century, when he destroyed Shane Cameron.
Tua says he hasn't been on a diet so much as eating clean.
"Smoked salmon, salad. A lot of kumara. Organic porridge in the morning, and then a few [protein] shakes during the day."
One of the most demanding parts of his shape-up programme has been daily Rocky-like runs around the Auckland Domain from as early as 4.30am.
"It's quite intense, anywhere from 45 [minutes] to an hour. Up hill, down hill, up hill, down hill. I'm not a runner, my structure shows that. But I do try."
Tua says because he has undergone a gradual weight loss he hasn't lost the brutal power which has made him one of the most-feared knockout exponents in world boxing history. But he would bring an all-round game plan on Saturday night.
With the bout billed as David vs Goliath - Ustinov is 2.02m, Tua 1.78m - the New Zealand great knows he has to have more than just his devastating left hook in his "slingshot".
"It's there . . . but I can't be concentrating on just throwing a hook. I'm a two-handed fighter, so . . . there's got to be more than one way to skin a cat, respectfully."
He has been sparring with two giant imported fighters, one at long range, one coming in close.
There has been no trash-talking in the build-up to Saturday's fight, and Tua plans to show his respect for Ustinov's respectfulness by trying his absolute best in the ring.
Tua is aware of the significance of the bout to his boxing future.
"And I think about everything that has been poured into this fight from the promoters, from the fans, the families, everybody that's worked hard in this gym, to prepare me well for this fight."
A win would potentially put him back in the top 10 heavyweight rankings, and one dream scenario would have him fighting next year for the world title. Tua, beaten on points by Lennox Lewis in his 2000 world title tilt, still hopes he may get the chance to fulfill his "destiny".
"Absolutely. There's always hope in the back of my mind that I'm hoping to get another opportunity.
"However, I'm a realist. This [Saturday's] is the only fight that matters [at the moment]."
A climb back up the rankings would mean bigger, maybe multi-million dollar, fight purses. But a philosophical Tua says "there's other ways to be financially secure as well. I'm the head cleaner here at Kamp Tuaman. So I have no worries.
"It's a blessing, it's a miracle I'm still involved with the sport of boxing."
He added jokingly: "And more importantly it's a miracle I can still spell my name."
Tua, who lives in his gym, knows there are more important things in life than money.
"I've got a roof over my head and a place to sleep.
"There are kids in [Auckland's] Starship Hospital who are fighting for their lives every day.
"There are a lot of unsung heroes out there who have done greater things than me. I'm just a fighter that's been given [the] opportunity to do what I love.
"And at the end of the day my real success [is] my two boys [sons Klein, 18, and Kaynan, 15]."
Tua would "love to get into the political arena" to help others and continue the legacy of Polynesian role models.
Asked his long-term goals, he said they were "to live life to the fullest and just trying to be a decent person every day".
- © Fairfax NZ News