Fireworks are expected when Kostya Tszyu steps into the ring on June 4 to defend his IBF junior welterweight title against mandatory contender Ricky Hatton in front of a crowd of 22,000 fans at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England.
The fight, which sold out in a mere two hours, will take place at 2:00am in the morning to accommodate Showtime’s television schedule in the United States where the fight will hit the airwaves at 9pm ET/PT. Both combatants recently spoke to the media on separate conference calls to give their thoughts on the fight and how they plan to win the war.
For Hatton, 38-0 (28), the fight represents the biggest opportunity of his eight year career. Maligned by the media and dismissed by fans as a ‘protected species’, a win over the greatest 140-pound fighter in the world would not only garner him the IBF strap, but also deliver him the respect he feels has been long overdue. A thing like that can really motivate a kid.
Tszyu, on the other hand, has been fighting at the top level for over a decade. After an almost two year layoff due to back-to-back Achilles and shoulder injuries, Tszyu returned to the ring in emphatic fashion last November when he destroyed the highly credentialed Sharmba Mitchell in just three rounds, sending him to the canvas on four occasions.
- “When you think of the best names on my record, I would probably say they are Ben Tackie, Vince Phillips, Ray Oliveira all good names but obviously, there are bigger names out there,” admitted Hatton, who will enjoy home ground advantage for the fight. “Through no fault of Ricky Hatton those fights have not taken place. So I put a little bit more pressure on my promoter to secure those fights because of the criticism I was receiving. I found it was getting me down terribly because I was crying out for those fights and people were starting to believe that I did not want the big fights. But now after securing the biggest fight out there, I can sit back and say that it has all turned out for the best.”
“I think it has played a good role for me, my inactivity,” said Tszyu, 31-1 (25) 1NC. “I am 35 and I am fresh. I am very confident because I am much better now at 35 than I was at 25. I could destroy the 25-year-old Kostya Tszyu right now with the 35-year-old Kostya Tszyu. That is how confident I am right now.”
- Despite Tszyu’s powerhouse performance against the quick fisted and fleet footed Mitchell last year, Hatton believe he has no reason to be intimidated by the 35-year-old’s late career resurgence.
- “Styles make fights,” argued Hatton. “I am not going to go off his age because a lot of fighters get better as they get older and more experienced. Certainly, that seems to be the case with Kostya because he has never looked so good and in his last fight, he looked fantastic. I think a lot of fighters try to give ground to Kostya and so I think with my style of closing the distance, I think it is something different from what Kostya is used to. I know what the dangers are and I know what his strengths are, but I feel I have the tools to do the job.”
Hatton makes a valid point. The last time Tszyu faced a pressure fight in their prime was back in 1998 when Cuban Diosbelys Hurtado sent him to the canvas twice in the first round before the Russian-born Australian eventually prevailed by fifth round stoppage in a rough-and-tumble battle.
Tszyu is equally confident that Hatton’s come forward style will play right into his hands.
- “I think ultimately my style, which is my body punching, my conditioning, my volume of punching, is the style to give Kostya problems,” continued Hatton. “I believe the last time he fought Vince Phillips, Vince set a hot pace, stood his ground more and had it out with Kostya. I think the pace did catch up with Kostya Tszyu and although Kostya has improved immensely since that fight, I think that made him a better fighter. I know he trains meticulously and his training sessions are supposed to be some of the most grueling, but I am confident that I can match him in the stamina. I am going to need a little bit more than just my body punching and my strength to beat Kostya, but I believe I have got that in my armory.”
- “I think it is easier for me to fight the guys who are coming to me because I do not need to look for them,” said Tszyu. “It is not easy to fight fighters like Sharmba because you have to chase and chase them. The guys who will come at you, throw the punches and, like I said, when they start throwing punches, they start making mistakes.”
While Hatton had an extended fourteen week training camp for this fight, Tszyu followed his usual pre-fight preparation for the showdown.
- “It is all about mental, I believe,” Tszyu said of his training. “I prepare for Ricky Hatton the same way I prepare for any other fighter. I visualize him when I am doing sparring, when I am doing shadow boxing, when I am working on the bags. I do know exactly what Ricky is going to throw. I know exactly how he is going to come to me. He is going to come to me. I will not need to look for him. He will come into the danger zone which is good for me.
- “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” continued Tszyu. “I am preparing myself for any tactic. Whether it is going to be a brawl or it is going to be a tactical game, I am ready for anything. I will not need to look for Ricky. He will come on me and that is the great thing about this fight.”
Hatton admitted that he sees Tszyu’s main strength as his vaunted right hand, but it would be a grave mistake for the likeable 26-year-old Billy Graham trained fighter to neglect the power of Tszyu’s revitalized left hook that he used to great effect in the recent Mitchell rematch.
“I decided to not adjust anything,” revealed Tszyu. “Right now, I am very comfortable for what I am doing and I have had lots of discussions with different advisers about it. One bit of advice I have got is if I am 100 percent ready and prepare really hard and am in good condition, I do not need to change anything really because when it comes to the day of the fight, you are going to be ready. If you train at 2:00 in the morning every single day, it is like a night shift, you are going to get tired eventually.”
- “Obviously, that is Kostya’s main strength, so all the training that we have done is geared around that right hand,” said Hatton. “I believe I have a lot more attributes. Obviously, every time I throw that left hook to the body, he is going to look to come over with the right cross. So we have been doing certain things in the gym to try and cancel out that. But I have a good right hook to the body as well and I have got a lot more things in my armory.
- “Well, Kostya is known for his right hand, but he can hit really hard with both hands,” continued Hatton. “He has a good left hook to the body. So it is not one specific thing. We are working on the whole picture. We know what his strengths are and we see what weaknesses that he might have. My favorite punch is the left hook to the body and he is going to come over with right crosses. He likes to throw long right-handers, but I believe my short left hook might get there a little bit quicker. I believe I have an edge in speed. Everybody is open somewhere. I am not afraid of his right hand; I will not be backing away from the right hand. I will be trying to move inside the right hand, which obviously is very dangerous, but fighters who have tried to stay on the outside and keep out of the way of the right hand has not worked. Kostya does not normally have too many people that will stand there and have it out with him. The last person to do that was Vince Phillips who had a lot of success in doing that. I have got several plans.”
- Tszyu also has several plans, one of which is throwing a variety of right hands rather than just your run-of-the-mill right cross.
- “Even right handers have got so many different angles,” said Tszyu. “It can go from the top, in the middle, from the bottom or in between. There are many different ways of throwing the right hand. The beginning of the end of Sharmba Mitchell came from the left hand. I am glad whenever people think I am a one-handed fighter because that is when they make mistakes.
- “I prepare my body punch just as well,” Tszyu continued. “I have great sparring partners who do a lot of body punches all the time. You can ask my sparring partners how they feel when I throw my punches.”
- While he admits he’s not a one punch knockout artist, Hatton says he can match Tszyu in the power and strength departments but believes he holds the edge over him in speed. According to Tszyu, he has no problem if Hatton wants to believe this.
- “Why should I put any doubt in Ricky’s mind that I am faster than him?” asked Tszyu. “Let him think this way. Just ask Sharmba Mitchell how slow I am.”
- Tszyu, who relishes a challenge, is genuinely looking forward to the fight and expects the fireworks to start early.
- “Of course, I love it,” Tszyu admitted. “Every time somebody is throwing the punch, there is a good chance that they open up themselves. I am an accurate boxer myself and I know that every time you try to punch in flurries, you have time to leave yourself open. For me, it is all about split seconds. I do not make mistakes myself and when other people make mistakes, when they are throwing the punch, it is usually time to go. That is why I am happy with anyone coming to me.”
- Hatton, meanwhile, believes his underrated ring craft and defence will surprise a lot of people, including Tszyu.
- “I do,” explained Hatton. “I have to be honest. I understand why they think that because I have beaten some good men, but I have not fought anybody of the class of Kostya yet. Even though I have fought good quality fighters, I have never needed to dig deep and find that extra stuff that I have in the back. Even if you find my best ever performance, you still have not seen half of what I have got. Obviously, Kostya Tszyu is a step up in class and I think I will need everything I have got to win this fight and I believe Kostya will bring it all out of me.”
- While neither fighter appears particularly worried about the unusual starting time, Tszyu said he hasn’t altered his training time to acclimate his body to the early morning start.
The last word deserves to go to Tszyu, who was succinct in summing up what fight fans can expect to see on June 4.
- While Tszyu is notorious for playing his cards close to his chest as far as what his future holds, he didn’t rule out a move up to 147 after the Hatton fight, where some of the biggest names in the sport like Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley are lurking.
- “I think it is up to you guys to decide what you want me to do,” said Tszyu. “I am a people’s champion and what the people want me to do, I will do it. We are prizefighters and we have to entertain the people and enjoy ourselves as well at the same time.”
“We are not here to do the ballet. Of course, there is going to be war. That is what people want to see and that is what they are going to see.”.