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Is Tszyu Through and What's Left To Do?

Feb 27, 2004  By Ben Franco
Anyone who participates in sport from the elite professional athlete to the weekend hacker have usually managed to pick themselves up an injury ranging from a mild muscle strain to broken bones or even a serious reconstruction operation. So when a professional boxer suffers not one, but two back to back career ending injuries late in his career fans and media start to wonder if he is finished? They start to wonder if he still “has it”? This seems to be the situation that undisputed Junior Welterweight Champion Kostya Tszyu has currently found himself in. Is he finished? Has he had enough? Or is there unfinished business out there that only Kostya knows about?

Let’s have a quick look at the damage he has done to himself and his career. About six months ago Kostya was playing indoor soccer at Sydney Community Centre when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. For those of us who haven’t gone to the school to study the anatomy it is the big tendon that starts at the back of your foot and attaches all the important stuff to your calf muscle. This injury in itself is career threatening. It impedes your ability to walk, run, skip, shadow box, spar and eventually fight let alone just day to day normal life.

I found it really ironic recently when James Toney suffered the same injury that Kostya had just recovered from and they were both due to fight on the same telecast, Kostya from Russia, Toney from the U.S.

This ruptured shoulder tendons is of course the second injury Kostya has endured recently. While sparring in his Rockdale gym for his up coming and now cancelled rematch with Sharmba Mitchell Kostya ruptured the tendons of his left shoulder. He was taken into Sydney’s Royal north shore hospital and the procedure he required was performed by Prof.David Sonnabend who later stated “The operation was a complete success, it was a routine tear and don’t anticipate any future problems. The shoulder will heal 100% with full strength and movement.”

That’s all good for everyday life, but what about still having the ability to pump that sucker out there for twelve rounds. Now I don’t need to tell anyone how important the hand and arm that sets the table for you to sit down and eat are. The two immediate phrases that come to mind are “Absolutely Vital” or “Fundamentally Essential.” Your hand that you jab with has to be perfect as it sets all the other punches up and keeps your opponent off balance, not to mention getting rolled over into the hook. Along with combination punching, Kostya had his jab as one of his strengths as well as his hook.

Maybe now they will become a liability. Without the old power he had in there to haul his left hand all the way back to his face or on top of his ear he might become even more susceptible to the overhand right and a smart fighter who can bang a bit might expose this a la Vince Phillips circa May 31st, 1997. Also after his most recent performance against ‘Jesse’ James Leija where his jab was slower than usual, his combinations weren’t finding the range and the power shots weren’t banging home with the alarming accuracy of his last few fights either. As a fighter gets older and the more times he enters the ring the combination can do one of two things. He will either kick on and become a menace to all the young Turks looking for a shot at his crown (a la The Executioner) or he slows down drastically and is pecked apart by the next generation until the only place he can rest is in retirement.

Having a quick look at how many times he has got between the ropes can even get the reader tired. He was born on September 19th, 1969 in Serov, Bogslovsk, Russia, entered the amateur ranks and went on to have an astounding 270 amateur fights with 259 wins and 11 defeats. During this time he was a Goodwill Games winner 1990 and European champ 1989 and 1991 culminating in him beating former IBF and WBC welterweight champ Vernon Forrest in the World Championships in Sydney in 1991.

He turned pro on March 1st, 1992 against Darrel Hiles and scored a first round KO and since than, has had 32 professional fights with a loss and a draw along with 24 knockouts which translates into an 80% knockout ratio having boxed 113 world championship rounds. With all that work it was only a matter of time before he had to have an injury. He was riding the law of averages for a while, just like Red Pollard on Seabiscuit and his luck ran out, twice. As one of my favorite Physics teachers, I think his name was Dr. David Tua, K.O.S. (Knock Out Specialist) who was once heard to remark, “Speed times mass equals destruction.” I think it fits nicely with what has happened and unfortunately for Kostya the boxing calendar doesn’t stand still and some crucial decisions need to be made whether to go one or two more or hang ‘em up for good.

Is this where Kostya is? Only the man himself can truly tell you what the answer will be, when he comes to the decision himself. In the past few months I’m sure he has gone over all the tangibles and weighed up his options in his own mind, God knows he’s had the time. Just say he doesn’t retire and comes back with a vengeance. What more out there could get his juices flowing again for a superfight or two? Let’s examine who’s out there.

First things first he should fight a rematch with Sharmba Mitchell (53-3 30 KO’s). Mitchell has beaten 6 world class opponents over the last 12-18 months with victory’s over Vince ‘Cool’ Phillips and Ben ‘Wonder’ Tackie included as well as a tough, well deserved points win over Lovemore N’Dou (36-6-1 20 KO’s.) who, as it turns out used to be one of Kostya’s sparring partners years ago. ‘Little Big Man’ was going o.k. until his knee collapsed on him and deserves the first shot.

I also feel that Zab Judah (30-1 22 KO’s) deserves another shot. His dummy spit and tantrum aside Zab provides a stern test for Kostya with his speed and power, has gone 4-0 with one knockout since his loss and was winning their fight until Kostya sent a heat seeking missile close to where most of the hot air was coming from. And if he beats Cory Spinks maybe a rematch for all the welterweight straps could be on the cards. I know Zab would be itching for it. Speaking of Cory Spinks, (32-2 11KO’s) he could also provide a couple of major headaches for Kostya if he can dispose of Zab.

Which brings me to the last on my list, but by nowhere close to the least, Arturo ‘Thunder’ Gatti. If Kostya decides to fight on he must face Arturo. This fight is a must make, must see fight that could be one of the biggest bloodfilled brawls ever seen in the junior welterweight division that would be a guaranteed out and out war. Can Kostya handle Arturo’s pressure and new found boxing ability or would Kostya have too many bombs for Arturo to diffuse? Especially after his mighty trilogy with ol’ foe Mickey Ward. Both guys won’t have much trouble finding the other and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I can’t wait for it, should they ever sign the contracts.

So is Tszyu through? Who knows? He has been a gracious and dignified world champion who doesn’t really have anything to prove and can ride off into the sunset to his castle in paradise to spend old age wisely, among family and loved ones.

But on the other side of the coin the same thing that pushed him to fight all those years ago, the competitive bug, might take one more nibble on the ear lobe and say “Just one more for the road buddy, please.” And suddenly all the old juices come flooding back with new found vigor.

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