Nicknamed the "Tuamanator", his fast-paced bob and weave pressure fighting style has often drawn comparisons to Mike Tyson. Tua fought many of the best fighters of his era and challenged for the WBC, IBF and IBO heavyweight titles. In his five losses he was never subject to a technical knockout, and possessed one of the best chins of his time.
Tua said that he lived with four brothers, four sisters and ten other relatives while growing up. Tua said that his mother worked three jobs, and Tua said that his father worked long hours. Tua said that his father forced him to start boxing when he was seven years old, and Tua said that he is grateful to his father for introducing him to boxing.
In his early career, Tua trained three days a week at a small gym in Mangere Bridge, under boxing trainer Gerry Preston. Tua became New Zealand national heavyweight champion in 1988 at age 15.
At the 1991 World Amateur Boxing Championships, he was surprisingly knocked out in the first round by three-time Olympic gold medalist Félix Savón. At age 19 he won a Bronze Medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. He lost his semi-final to David Izonritei, whom he would later defeat as a professional. Tua turned professional later the same year.1992 Summer Olympics Heavyweight (– 91kg)
1992 Oceanian Amateur Boxing Championships (Heavyweight)
1991 World Amateur Boxing Championships (Heavyweight)
1990 Oceanian Amateur Boxing Championships (Heavyweight)
1988 New Zealand Amateur Heavyweight champion
Tua debuted in December 1992. Of his first 27 fights, 23 were won by knockout.
Tua is known for his devastating knockouts. In his 1997 fight with Ike Ibeabuchi, the two fighters combined to set the record for most punches thrown in a heavyweight fight on record. Ibeabuchi won the decision, handing Tua his first pro defeat. Prior to the loss, Tua had devastating KO wins against future titlist John Ruiz (via 1st-round KO, in only 19 seconds) and Darroll Wilson. Tua also beat David Izon and future champion Oleg Maskaev to set up the fight with Ibeabuchi. After the loss to Ibeabuchi, Tua took on future champ Hasim Rahman and TKO'd Rahman in the 10th round. The victory over Rahman marked the beginning of Tua's struggles with his weight. He ballooned up to 253 pounds when he defeated Obed Sullivan in 2000 by KO. Later that year, he weighed 245 pounds in the loss to Lennox Lewis. Tua was disappointing in the fight, with both fighters avoiding each other and Tua not throwing combinations. Tua lost a clear-cut decision.
Tua fought for the WBC, IBF, & IBO heavyweight titles in November 2000 – and went the distance in a 12-round bout – but lost on points by a wide margin to defending champion Lennox Lewis.
Following the Lewis loss, Tua regained steam with a KO over Danell Nicholson but lost by a close decision in his next fight to future champion Chris Byrd. In 2002 he beat prospect Fres Oquendo and demolished Michael Moorer in his next fight with a powerful shot 30 seconds into the first round, which put Moorer out cold. In 2003 he drew in a 12-round rematch with Rahman.
Tua was inactive for over two years before he stepped into the ring on 31 March 2005 and bested Talmadge Griffis in a 10-round bout — ending the match and earning a TKO victory with 26 seconds remaining. Tua's next contest in October 2005 ended in a split decision over Cisse Salif with Tua dominating in the late rounds.
Tua defeated Edward Gutierrez by knockout in the fourth round of a scheduled 10-rounder on 26 July 2006. The fight was held at the Manhattan Center ballroom in New York City, and featured on ESPN2. Tua started slowly, scored a knockdown with his famous left hook in the second round, and put Gutierrez down for the count in the fourth round with a combination of two left hooks, one to the head and the decisive one to the body.
In November 2006 Tua defeated Maurice Wheeler in the seventh round of a scheduled 10-rounder by knockout. Tua ended the bout with a solid left uppercut to the body which immediately sent the howling Wheeler to the canvas.
Tua continued his comeback in February 2007 with a unanimous decision over Robert Hawkins in a 10-round bout. Tua ended the match being the aggressor and hurt Hawkins in both the ninth and tenth rounds with body punches, but was unable to end the match with a knockout.
Tua, looking in good shape and weighing in at 237½ lbs (his lightest fight weight since 2001), was featured as the main event of a Pay Per View show on 18 August 2007 in Sandy, Utah and ended the bout quickly with a first-round knockout of Mexican champion Saul Montana. Tua threw two powerful left hooks to the head that sent Montana sprawling to the canvas giving Tua his sixth win in a row.
Tua, again looking in good shape and weighing in at 234 lbs, fought the unheralded Cerrone Fox at the Soaring Eagle Casino, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan on 7 September 2007. Tua made short work of his over matched opponent ending the bout at 1:41 of the second round.
While Tua's promoter, Cedric Kushner, stated Tua was scheduled to fight an opponent on 18 October 2007, the fight never materialized.
Tua fought fellow New Zealander Shane Cameron at Mystery Creek, Hamilton on 3 October 2009 with Tua knocking Cameron out seven seconds into the second round to pick up the WBO Asia Pacific and Oriental Heavyweight titles. The promoters for the fight were John McRae and David Higgins of Duco Events. The fight had been scheduled for an earlier date, but was delayed due to Cameron having surgery on a fractured hand.
On 31 March 2010 Tua fought Friday Ahunanya, winning on points after 12 rounds. The fight promoters for this fight were again John McRae and David Higgins of Duco Events.
The Tua-Barrett fight had been tentatively scheduled for 26 June in São Paulo, Brazil. However, the fight was moved to 17 July at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City in a bid to promote David Tua's career in the United States. At 38 years old, Monte Barrett (34-9, 20 KOs) was viewed by some as an easy opponent for Tua as he had lost his previous three fights. The match was a controversial draw with Tua being knocked down for the first time in his professional career late in the 12th round.
Tua fought Demetrice King on 19 March 2011. Tua defeated King by unanimous decision with the scores: 100-91, 100-91 & 100-90.
Tua's rematch against Monte Barrett on 13 August 2011 resulted in a unanimous points decision going in favour of Barrett. The judges scored the bout 113-112 115-112 115-112.
In December 2011, it emerged that Monte Barrett tested positive for banned stimulant methylhex-anemine following a urine test after his 13 August points decision over Tua. Tua's lawyer, Blair Edwards, called for action against the 40-year-old New Yorker requesting the return of Tua's WBO Asia-Pacific and Oriental titles and the restoration of ranking points.
In June 2013 it was confirmed that Tua was once again getting back into the ring. Belarusian Alexander Ustinov defeated him by unanimous points decision, following which he announced his retirement from professional boxing. Ringside Report were mixed in their evaluation of his career, referring to him as "one of the best heavyweights never to win a world title".
On 10 October 1992 Tua appeared on the New Zealand version of the gameshow Wheel of Fortune. He asked for an "O for Olsen" (a reference to Olsen Filipaina) but this was heard by some as "O for awesome". He requested "P" when buying a vowel on the same episode. He was also heard to ask if he could buy a "constonant" during the same show.
From 1992 to 2003, Tua was managed by former boxer Kevin Barry, who also trained him from 2001. But in 2003, Tua ended his business relationship with Barry and financial manager Martin Pugh. Though Barry accepted his dismissal as trainer, he resisted Tua's decision to end their contract, which still had two years to go. In 2004, Tua's accountant learned that the boxer's finances with his boxing company, Tuaman Inc. Ltd., were tangled with company expenses; Tua no longer had most of his $NZ 20 million in purses from his professional matches, and important assets Tua thought he owned alone were anything but, including a piece of coastal land at Pakiri. Tuaman Inc. Ltd had business expenses flowing in various directions, involving companies and clients Tua had no knowledge of. Tua's own home was purchased with borrowed money, and the boxer's purses were linked to renovation costs for Martin Pugh's property. These findings were based on documents from Pugh's offices.
In 2005 Tua took Kevin Barry and Martin Pugh to court over their business arrangements. Barry and Pugh accused Tua of manipulating them to collect revenue, yet Tua maintained that he knew little of the men's affairs and did what they told him to do out of trust. The dispute gave both sides legal victories: over the issue of the coastal land property, the court ruled in favor of Barry and Pugh, since Tua failed to properly clarify his ownership over the land; on the issue of the terminated 2003 contract, the court ruled in Tua's favour, concluding he clearly owed no expenses to his former management from that contract. In October 2009, it was reported in The New Zealand Herald that the parties had settled all previously unresolved matters arising from the protracted litigation.
In May 2007, Cedric Kushner, president of Gotham Boxing Inc. and Tua's promoter, filed a $5 million lawsuit against IBF heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko and promoter Shelly Finkel among others – and while the lawsuit is unrelated to Tua, Kushner has stated he will drop the lawsuit if Tua is given a title bout against Klitschko in 2008, which ultimately failed to materialize.
In September 2009 Tua lost an aunt in the Samoa tsunami. In early October he travelled to Samoa with cousin Va'aiga Tuigamala to see how they could help.Tua is mentioned in an episode of the animated series Family Guy, when character Stewie draws Tua's likeness on a wall.