Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Count Bowie Tupou, the unbeaten Las Vegas heavyweight, among those who are underwhelmed by the current state of his weight class, once upon a time boxing’s marquee division.
Neither of the Klitschko brothers (Vitali and Wladimir), who control parts of the eternally fractured heavyweight championship, has captured Tupou’s imagination.
Forgive Tupou if he’s also less than enthralled by Ruslan Chagaev, designated by one sanctioning body as something called the “champion in recess.” (No kidding.)
When Tupou discusses his future as a heavyweight, he leaves out the bluster so often embraced by his peers in boxing. He won’t “call out” any prospective opponent. Tupou wants to become the world heavyweight champion, and he’ll tell you so in a manner that’s open, thoughtful and matter-of-fact.
“No one in the heavyweights really impresses me,” Tupou said. “If you want to talk about someone who impressed me, you have to go back to Lennox Lewis when he was the champion or Mike Tyson when he was the champion, back then.
“Today, it looks to me like no one out there really has that kind of passion about boxing.”
Tupou, who has won 18 fights (14 by knockout) since turning pro in 2006, sees himself as the man who can bring new life to the division.
Tupou is training at the International MMA Fight Club gym on West Spring Mountain Road in preparation for a July 31 bout in Temecula, Calif. The fight, a scheduled 8-rounder against Demetrice King, shapes up as another stop on the road to a world title shot that Tupou hopes to secure by 2011.
“I want to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world; that’s what I really want,” Tupou said. “To do that you have to have the passion and the game. It’s what I want the most.”
Trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, who began working with Tupou last year, thinks he has his fighter on track for a world title bout within a year and a half to two years.
“Bowie’s strength is his phenomenal speed for a heavyweight, for a man his size,” Mustafa Muhammad said. “He has a great jab, and we’re developing and working on that jab every day. Some heavyweights, they’re ponderous with their jabs.
“Bowie has a jab that reminds me of a Muhammad Ali jab, because it’s fast and it hurts. He can throw two or three or four of them in a row, all with the same velocity, and they’re all very effective.”
An opportunity to fight for a world title belt would be the payoff to a calculated risk Tupou took by moving to the United States late in 2006.
A native of the South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga, Tupou grew up in Australia, where he played professional rugby and had his first nine professional boxing matches.
He also fell in with the “wrong crowd” as a young man, Tupou said, and ended up prowling the streets, drinking and looking for trouble as a teenager. His conversion to the Mormon religion in 2004 turned his life around, Tupou said.
“I realized I needed to change,” Tupou, 26, said. “I was a troubled little kid. I had turned my back on school, and I thought hanging out and running around all the time was the right thing to do.
“Becoming a Mormon straightened my life out. No drinking, no partying. Since then, I’ve felt a spirituality around me and in my life. It’s helped me focus and become a better person.”
After first arriving in Los Angeles from Australia, Tupou and his wife, Georgia, have lived in Las Vegas for more than a year. His departure to the United States caused a stir Down Under, Tupou said, because he had been generating excitement in boxing circles.
“There was a lot of stuff in the media when I left, but it was a decision I had to make,” Tupou said. “I knew coming here would allow me to learn more about boxing and give me more opportunities in the sport. It was a sacrifice, but I wanted to make that sacrifice for my boxing career.”
Tupou, who stands 6-foot-2 1/2 and whose weight has fluctuated throughout his career, weighed 256 pounds in his last fight, a third-round stoppage of Chris Koval in May at the Hard Rock Hotel. He figures he’ll weigh about 260 pounds for his next bout.
“With his size, I want Bowie to be a great body puncher, and that’s what he’s been doing,” Mustafa Muhammad said. “He’s sitting down on his punches and going right to the body and breaking these guys down. If you stand in front of him, he’s going to knock you out, that’s the bottom line.
“I see him working his way to the point where he’s on the same playing field as the Klitschko brothers, because they’re not invincible. They can be hurt. But you have to have the right athlete to hurt them, and I believe in Bowie I have the right athlete.”