Tszyu trainer Johnny Lewis speaks to Doghouse Boxing
By Ty Cerminara, Boxing.net.au (October 11, 2004) 
Photo © Boxing.net.au
IBF super lightweight champion Kostya 'The Thunder Down Under' Tszyu, 30-1, 1NC (24), faces IBF Interim super lightweight champion Sharmba 'Little Big Man' Mitchell, 55-3 (30), at the brand new 17,000-seat capacity Glendale Arena, in Phoenix, Arizona, USA on November 6th 2004. Tszyu is trained by the legendary Johnny Lewis, who also took other Australian luminaries Jeff Fenech and Jeff Harding to world titles. Doghouse Boxing recently spoke to Lewis over the phone to get the lowdown on the former undisputed champion's preparation for the Mitchell rematch, the possibility of Tszyu moving up to welterweight, his thoughts on his former pupil Gairy St. Clair's forthcoming fight with Manny Pacquiao, and all things boxing.

TC: How is Kostya's training coming along after his shoulder surgery?

JL: Everything's been really good, very positive. His input has been tremendous and I'm sure the desire is there to once again show everyone that his still the best 140lb in the world.

TC: To any future fighters wanting to be a future Kostya Tszyu, what do you believe would be the key factors to success?

JL: I think that if someone can do something there's always a chance that somebody else can. It would be a hard task but you would like to think one day that there will be another such fighter. I think that a lot of what Kostya's got is a bit freakish – I hate to use that word – but he's just been gifted with so much from day one, and realistically he had a great amateur grounding in the Soviet Union. With all that his got, he has to work hard to utilize it all and that's certainly been the big plus for Kostya.

TC: Do you think Kostya's 22 month layoff has had a negative effect or positive effect on KT's current condition?

I would really prefer him not to have had such a long layoff, but out of the negative you have to get something positive and the positive is he has been able to rest up real good and in saying that with his gym work the spell has done him good.

TC: Kostya has mentioned he doesn't wish to fight nobodies and he's stated he only wants the big fights. Who do you think we will see KT face in the near future?

JL: Well, from my point of view I haven't even thought of anybody but Sharmba Mitchell and I certainly don't want to hear of anything in the pipeline. I think we should give Sharmba the respect he deserves, we've just got to channel in on him and no body else, and I think that if we all do that then success will certainly come. After the fight, well, we've all got little ideas I suppose on which way to go, and will throw them around but certainly not before hand.

TC: Any predictions for the Sharmba Mitchell vs KT rematch on November 6th?

The only predication I'd say is that we are very, very confident because of what Kostya's done in preparation. I don't like making predictions with my own fighters, as I said we are very confident and I'm sure that Kostya will once again stand supreme at 140lb.

TC: Sharmba has been doing a little bit of trash talking regarding the upcoming fight with KT on November 6th, an example of this was an interview he conducted for another website in which Sharmba predicts he will knock out Kostya on November 6th. He also adds that a man who's had a 22 month layoff has no business being in the same ring as Sharmba Mitchell, what are your thoughts or comments on this?

JL: There's going to come a time over the next couple of weeks where Sharmba's got to back up all that his said, we don't have to back up anything. We just got to back up what we have done in training and I think that's a very good thing. With Kostya Tszyu he's always respectful, if you don't get it back, well, that's bad luck. Time will tell. I'd rather train the fighter that says nothing then the fighter who says a lot and delivers little.

TC: How well do you think KT would do if he moved up to the welterweight division?

I think he would do very good, while he's done very well to make 140lb again, with the right 147lb in the opposite side of the ring it would certainly be good for Kostya. I do still think that he would have a very big chance of winning the welterweight championship.

TC: At 35 years of age how long do you think it will be before KT retires?

I really can't answer that. I think once again after the fight you asses the performance. I think Kostya holds the trump card there, as far as retirement goes, but his certainly shown a great desire again and that's still got to come through. He's hit himself with very hard preparation again, but it's just a matter of whether he really wants to do it again. For me personally, if I didn't think this fight was up to his standards then I would seriously think about what we should do. At the moment his doing exceptionally well with his sparing partners, Damian Fuller (24-4), Richard Quiles (36-6), Sam Soliman (27-7), and the way his going with all of them is reassuring us to the fullest that we've got a very good fighter still on our hands. But everything comes off each performance that we do have in the future, as to whether or not we go again.

TC: Favorite fighter of all-time?

When I was a kid growing up, I had a great rapport with George Barnes. I just thought he was terrific, I thought he epitomized the good old Aussie fighter who got in with anybody, was very unassuming and whenever he fought you got value for money. I suppose realistically old George was the one bloke that really got me excited about the fight game, but there's been many mate, everybody that I've trained I've enjoyed it with them and when it's over for me I'll be able to sit back and have no regrets and say that I was very, very fortunate to have some of the people I did have.

TC: Most admired fighter?

All of them mate. I think that anybody whether he's a four round boy or a six rounder, if he's had the guts to get in there and have a go, well then I admire him. In some ways you have to admire the bloke who has the least amount of abilities because he is certainly taking a bigger risk then those that can fight, but I think that anybody, whether their an amateur or professional, whether they have had one fight or one hundred, to me I respect them and admire them for having the guts to get in and have a go.

TC: In your opinion, regarding the state of boxing, what improvements are needed?

JL: I think its pretty healthy. I do think that the way the fight game is today there is so many different world champions and everything, I don't think that's good for the sport, I think that while that structure is operating were going to be denied a lot of good fights but at the same token with that comes more chances for Australian boxers. I speak of George Barnes before, today he would be a superstar, but Australian being a long way away, and the people not wanting to come here in those days, with so many world champions it does open the chances for our fighters here. The negative to that is you might have fighters who are never ever going to meet because they are in different bodies.

TC: Who do you think will be Australian's next world champions?

JL: I think you have to look at little Vic Darchinyan, he was very unlucky. I think he would certainly have been a big chance. I think that both Anthony Mundine and Danny Green are a chance to win a world championship. We've also got young Skinny Hussein who's fighting shortly and on his night he can be up there with the best, as well as Hussein Hussein, and there's a kid that fights out Melbourne I watched last week called Porky Lovett, his only going to keep on improving and you can see a kid like him going alright. I still think that young Paul Miller has a lot of skill. There's quite a few who are a chance in the future.

TC: Which boxers are your currently training?

JL: Just Kostya mate, that's all I've got at the moment. Mate, I'm on the end of it you know, I think after Kostya I'll will be giving it away and perusing other activities in my life mate. I do think there comes a time in your life were you have to move on and I really do feel like its time to move on. I wouldn't like to have a gym full of young fighters again because I don't think I'd be able to do the job the way I'd want to do it.

TC: When is the KT Crew scheduled to depart Australia for USA?

Sunday the 24th October.

TC: What are your thoughts on the up-coming fight between Manny Pacquiao and Gairy St. Clair?

JL: I think Gairy St. Clair is a superb boxer. It wouldn't surprise me if Gairy pulls off an upset. The only thing that worries me is that you're going into their backyard. But I do think that the better the bloke on the other side of the ring, the better Gairy St. Clair will go, and I really am eagerly awaiting that one, I've had a great respect of the skills in Gairy St. Clair. I think he's a very good fighter over the distance, and I think that he's got a very good chin, he's very tough, he's not a big puncher, but I do believe he's a chance in this fight, I really do. I think he's a big chance.

TC: Anything you would like to say to the fans, Johnny?

JL: It's good that the fans are the ones who make the fight game what it is. I've always been one myself and it's still good that they're all hanging in there. I think the main thing is that we support the local guys and if we continue to do this, then we will always be in a healthy state.

TC: Thanks for your time, Johnny. Its been a pleasure mate and good luck in USA on November 6th.

No problem mate, thanks.

The fight between Kostya Tszyu and Sharmba Mitchell for the IBF super lightweight championship will be broadcast on SHOWTIME Championship Boxing in the USA at 9.00pm Eastern/Pacific on Saturday, November 6 and LIVE around Australia from 12.00pm on Sunday, November 7 AEST.
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