David Tua's jaw of steel

David Tua never won a world heavyweight title, but in his era, there wasn't a better left hook or a better set of whiskers in the division.

Virtually all of the top heavyweights of the last 15 years have been dropped or stopped, some more than once. Not Tua.

Lennox Lewis, at the top of his game, was twice knocked out. Hasim Rahman has been stopped four times; Wladimir Klitschko, three. Ditto Chris Byrd.

Even Evander Holyfield's famously-stubborn chin failed him as he got older, as did the whiskers belonging to Michael Moorer, Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Andrew Golota and John Ruiz. All were knocked out or significantly hurt at one time or another.

Oleg Maskaev's been stopped in all five of his losses. Highly rated Sam Peter was dumped three times by Jameel McCline (thrice a KO loser himself) in their recent meeting; though he did hang on to win a decision.

Tua, who turned pro in 1992 and is in the midst of a comeback, not only has never been stopped while compiling a pro record of 49-3-1 (42), he's never been dropped (though Cuban legend Felix Savon stopped him in 1991 in Sydney, Australia -- as an amateur). The closest anyone came was when Rahman knocked him down after the bell sounded to end their rematch in 2003.

"[Tua] would get hit with big shots that just didn't seem to faze him. I never saw him stunned or hurt," said Ronnie Shields, who trained Tua for much of his career. "The only time he came close was in the first round of his fight with Lennox Lewis when Lennox hit him with a big right hand. That changed David. But otherwise, I never saw him hurt."

That includes the thrilling brawl Tua waged with bomb-throwing Ike Ibeabuchi in 1997. The close decision loss was the first defeat of Tua's career, but did nothing to detract from his reputation as owner of arguably the best chin in the business.

"Ike never hurt David, and he caught him with some really big shots," Shields recalled. The brawl set a record for most punches thrown in a heavyweight fight since records were compiled and established both Ibeabuchi and Tua as future heavyweight stars.

Tua's ability to take punches didn't always work in his favor. According to Shields, Tua's main problem was he would start slowly and then wait to land a big punch rather than staying busy. His ability to walk through his opponent's shots abetted that tendency. It also led to some interesting sparring sessions in the early days, when both Tua and Golota were promoted by Main Events.

"We were training down in Vero Beach, Florida and we let David and Andrew spar together," Shields remembered. "I was training David and Roger Bloodworth was training Andrew. It was like a real fight, back and forth. And then Andrew started hitting David low. David went back at him, hitting Andrew low.

"They just went back and forth hitting each other low. It was crazy. We had to jump in there and stop them. Andrew was a big, strong guy who could really hit. I think it angered him that he couldn't hurt David even though David was so much smaller than he was. That's why he started hitting him low."

Ironically, Bloodworth now trains Tua and has been in the corner for all of the seven wins Tua has scored over limited opposition following a two-year layoff. He sees no degradation in Tua's ability to take big shots without feeling the effects.

"He never seems to get rattled or hurt in the gym," Bloodworth said. "He has an exceptional chin. It's because of the way he's built. He's got the genetics for it. His neck is as big around as my thigh. And the neck is a fighter's shock absorber."

Bloodworth was surprised when Tua, who is now 35 years old, prepared to spar against a 6-foot-10 heavyweight early on in the comeback, and his fighter said he preferred not to wear headgear.

"[Tua] said 'I don't want to wear it,'" Bloodworth recalled. "He said when he's got headgear on he gets too comfortable and doesn't move his head as much."

A little attention to defense is never a bad idea for a guy who's walked through punches the way Tua has for 15 years. Even the best shock absorbers wear out eventually.

The Ring's senior writer William Dettloff co-wrote the book "Box Like The Pros" with Joe Frazier.