Rejuvenated Tszyu plans to prove his critics wrong
Interview by Anthony Cocks, Site Editor (September 28, 2004)
Universally recognized junior welterweight kingpin Kostya Tszyu is looking forward to proving his critics wrong when he returns to the ring on November 6 to defend his WBC and IBF world championships against IBF number one contender and former world champion Sharmba Mitchell at the Glendale Arena in Phoenix, Arizona on a Showtime televised card.
Tszyu, who defeated Mitchell for his WBA strap in 2001 to partially unify the titles, was forced to twice postpone the rematch due to back-to-back Achilles and shoulder injuries. But the Russian-born Sydneysider, who turned 35 a little over a week ago, believes that the forced break from the ring was a blessing in disguise that helped him rediscover his hunger for the sport.
"No question, of course," Tszyu told Doghouse Boxing via his cell phone. "Big time. When you are missing boxing so much, you want to produce better shows and that's what I will do. I am hungry. I want to fight and I want to fight good."
In light of his recent brace of injuries, Tszyu says that his body is holding up well under the grueling conditions of his training regime.
"Actually not bad, I thought it was going to be a little bit harder," he admitted. "This time I never had not one cramp in my body, which is good. Usually in the beginning of preparation like this when you are putting your body under stress, stress, stress, you start feeling the cramps in your body but this time was good."
By the time Tszyu steps into the ring it will be almost 22 months since his last bout, a sixth round TKO of veteran 'Jesse' James Leija at the Telstra Dome in Melbourne, Australia. But while the prolonged break may be viewed as a setback by some, it is worth noting that activity has never been one of Tszyu's hallmarks. Since winning the interim WBC junior welterweight title in 1998 he has fought just eight times.
Tszyu, 30-1-1NC (24), remains unfazed by the critics who have been predicting his imminent demise for years.
"Critics are always critics," he explained. "It's good. It's extra motivation for me to prove the critics are wrong. You've been in the boxing for some time, you know all these predictions they give are failing, and I did this so many times myself these are predictions against me in a different fight same thing is going to happen with Sharmba Mitchell."
There is a certain sense of unfinished business between Tszyu and Mitchell. In their first encounter the Washington DC native retired on his stool at the end of the seventh round citing a knee injury after a scrappy affair that included lots of clinching and wrestling. At the time of the stoppage Tszyu was ahead on two of the cards by scores of 68-65 and 68-64, while the third card had it even at 66-66.
After a year off to recover from surgery on his injured knee, Mitchell, 55-3 (30), has fought his way back to the top with eight consecutive victories over solid opposition.
"He's one of the best," Tszyu said of the 34-year-old southpaw. "That is why I give him the shot. I don't need to prove anything to myself, but because he proved he's number one contender, it's very reasonable for me to give a shot to the best boxer in the world right now."
Tszyu says that it is too early to tell if the rematch will play out like to their initial encounter.
"Can be the same, can be different," he said, "depending what exactly I'm planning to do. I haven't really worked on my game plan yet or my strategy. I want to see the level of my feeling, and then when I feel very good we'll start producing some tactic or strategy for the fight."
While there are still members of the media who hold on to the antiquated myth that Tszyu is a one-dimensional banger, nothing could be further from the truth.
"I've got great power in my hands," explained Tszyu. "It's always a big advantage, but since I do have great skills which I did show on a fight say against [Ben] Tackie or Oktay Urkal or my fight against 'Jesse' James Leija, I fought them smartly. And it's proof that I can do this as well. It's all depending on what exactly you need to do, because you do whatever you need to do to win the fight."
Since the loss to Tszyu, Mitchell has used every opportunity to berate, badmouth and harangue his conqueror into granting him a rematch. Yet when Tszyu appeared ringside for Mitchell's last fight on the undercard of the WBO lightweight title fight between Acelino Freitas and Diego Corrales, Mitchell surprisingly had very little to say.
"You noticed this too, huh?" laughed Tszyu.
When pressed if he thought Mitchell feared him, Tszyu responded: "No, I don't think he's scared. We're all boxers and I don't think anyone is scared of each other. But at the same time he knows what I'm able to do and what I'm not. In the beginning he thought that I will never give him a chance to fight. Now he knows that he needs to face me."
After spending his customary two weeks at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra to work on his strength and conditioning prior to commencing his boxing training proper, Tszyu is now back in Sydney and has just begun the third week of this stage of his preparation. After starting with four round sparring sessions a fortnight ago, the former undisputed champion is already working through ten round sessions.
His main sparring partners for this camp include IBF #1 middleweight Sam Soliman, lightweight contender Damian Fuller and talented southpaw prospect Anton Solopov. Although he admits that his timing is a little off, Tszyu says that he can feel himself improving with every day in the gym.
"Look, it's all boxers are going to help me because they are all very individual, all very unique in their own way," he said. "I not only spar with one guy at a time, I spar with a minimum two a day, which means when they're fresh I still have to adjust and fight very well.
"I think to myself I've got plenty of time. If I make sure that I don't rush and do everything properly, everything is going to be fine."
It is this measured and calculated approach that has made Tszyu one of the most feared assassins in the history of the 140lb division.
"When I go to training camp, everything is hard everything," said Tszyu. "When you go there you usually train for six hours a day, very intensive training. Very hard, hard, hard, where some people can give up because there is constant pressure from the morning until the night. It's very hard, very heavy."
Tszyu's ability to grab the bull by the horns and ignore the other end is what sets him apart from many of his contemporaries.
When asked what aspect of training he enjoys the most, he responds: "Putting your body in a challenge and beating the challenge. And you prove it to yourself and everyone else not to take this limitation as your ability. You can do unbelievable things and I did prove it over and over again."
While many fighters seem to resent the necessary sacrifices that come with training for a prize fight, the hard work strikes a chord in Tszyu who seems to genuinely relish the challenge.
"I'm not missing really, because in the training camp I'm very focused on my job," he said. "And that's the reason why I'm going to a training camp, to walk away from all the distractions normal life gives to you. And distraction is the family, even though it's a good distraction."
When asked if there was any truth to media reports that Mitchell's promoter Gary Shaw had offered him a lucrative deal to take the fight to Atlantic City, New Jersey, near Mitchell's hometown of Washington DC, Tszyu was emphatic in his response.
"[There's] no details there. It's all rubbish. No-one ever talked to me about this. As I said, it's all rubbish.
"Look," he continued, "I'm telling you that if somebody would come to me and say we'll give you $750,000 to fight in Atlantic City, I said look, I plan to fight in Atlantic City for nothing, send the money to this account and we'll do the business. It never happened."
After twelve years in the pay-for-punch ranks and with so many accolades and achievements littering his career, Tszyu has become resigned to the fact that he will never receive the recognition he so justly deserves from certain members of the media.
"I can't change the mentality of the people," explained Tszyu. "Because, look, I'm watching at this guy who lives in Australia right now who's coming across to America and beating American fighters. I do have a great fan base in the States, but in general people don't know me and all the critics don't like me, and again, I can't change this. But I'm doing my job and I'm doing my job the best that I can and I know in my heart who I am, and I'm a very committed fighter in what I do."
© Copyright / All Rights reserved: Doghouse Boxing 1998-2004