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Is Tszyu Through?
By Luke Dodemaide (June 25, 2004) 
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Since 1998, Kostya Tszyu has dominated the hottest and strongest division in boxing. Highly talented 140 pounders such as Diosbelys Hurtado, Julio Cesar Chavez, Sharmba Mitchell and Zab Judah are all casualties of Tszyu's incredible power. In fact, all have failed to last the distance with possibly the greatest junior welterweight in the history of boxing.

Tszyu has taken every challenge and conquered all before him. He has one of, if not the, richest and most impressive active résumés in the sport. His legacy is unquestionable.

But at 35 years of age, carrying an injured and suspect shoulder which required surgery and a recent Achilles injury, the question is can Kostya Tszyu's body still withstand the intensity of world championship boxing? He has stepped through the ropes four times in the past three years and has been inactive since January 2003 where, while winning, he looked a shadow of the powerful and accurate assassin the boxing world has come to know and love.

All great things come to an end, as do great champions. Most go out sadly and painfully such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Joe Louis, Thomas Hearns, Evander Holyfield and Muhammad Ali. But the great one's step into retirement like rain falling into an ocean, smoothly and beautifully. Fighters such as Ricardo Lopez, Marvin Hagler and Lennox Lewis all dropped out of the most unforgiving and barbaric sport in the world and into the tranquil pleasures of retirement with their millions with inspiring ease.

I think it's time for Kostya Tszyu to do the same, leave with his legacy, as well as marbles, fully intact.

Tszyu's proposed November 6th fight with Sharmba Mitchell is a fight that spells danger. Since their first meeting three years ago, Mitchell has fought seven times; Tszyu just four. Mitchell is younger, faster, hungrier, healthier and almost twice as active as Tszyu since 2001. Mitchell's in-and-out, hit and run southpaw style is also perfectly designed to give the older champion problems.

Tszyu has a big task before him and beating Mitchell may just be too steep a task for him to overcome at this late stage in his career. It is also a grossly unrewarding climb. Beating Mitchell does not break new ground for the champion, but rather goes over the old. Tszyu has already accomplished this challenge, so what's left to gain besides money? I know boxing is a sport largely run by greed, but Tszyu is a man capable of seeing the light and snaring the rare privilege of retiring on top.

Right now Tszyu is standing above a very shaky 140 pound fish tank. The sharks that are circling are now quicker, younger, scarier and hungrier than ever before. Predators like Ricky Hatton, Francisco Bojado, Arturo Gatti, Kelson Pinto, Vivian Harris, Miguel Cotto, Floyd Mayweather Jnr and Sharmba Mitchell are all licking their lips. They smell ageing world championship blood, and it's ripe for the taking. And if Tszyu dips back into these waters, I think it is highly likely his junior welterweight world championship will be ripped from him and his legacy will be torn.

Tszyu has already been effectively stripped of his WBC title and the WBA last week announced its decision to relieve him of their championship for not fighting mandatory challenger Vivian Harris. With just the IBF title still in his grasp, letting go and retiring may not be as hard for Tszyu as it once was. If he is to call it quits, his final moments in the ring may not have been his most impressive, but the opportunity to showcase his IBF, WBC and WBA championships to the 30,000 strong crowd at the Telstra Dome in Melbourne, Australia in January of last year will be a moment he will remember forever. Rarely do fighters feel the same sheer admiration throughout their career as Tszyu felt that night, even fewer in their final fight.

Tszyu must stop swimming with the sharks in the unsafe 140 waters. His calling is now onto the sand, onto the beaches in Australia, where he is no longer hunted by the world's fiercest fighters, but praised and appreciated by Australians, Russians and boxing lovers the world over. No one wants to see Tszyu write a new chapter in boxing's ever growing book of the sport's tragic champions.

At the end of the day it's Tszyu's decision whether he swims with the sharks or rides into the sunset. But let's hope, just as Lennox Lewis did earlier in the year, Tszyu makes the right call and calls it a day while the light of his legacy is still shining so brightly.

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