AFTER HIS clinical eighth-round stoppage of America Brian Mendoza on the weekend, the question has to be posed: how far can Tim Tszyu go?
Having defended his junior middleweight title in imperious fashion for the third time this year, Tszyu clearly feels he is ready for a bigger stage, calling out Jermell Charlo, the former undisputed super-welterweight world champion, who avoided a mandatory undisputed title defence against Tszyu to pursue a payday against the great Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in September.
“Chaaaaaaarlo, hello! Yeah buddy,” said Tszyu in his post-fight interview, later adding, “That’s the name I’ve wanted before.”
While we’ll have to wait and see if that fight materialises, there is a chance Tszyu will fight in Las Vegas next March as a showcase fight alongside the NRL’s blockbuster double-header opener to the 2024 season at Allegiant Stadium.
“Let them get their chequebook out and get it sorted,” Tszyu said. “It’s not for me, it’s more for the people, to go over and watch the rugby. But to finish up on a boxing fight, that’s a holiday right there for any Aussie sporting fan.”
Tszyu began his third title defence cautiously, wary of the punching power Mendoza used to level his last two opponents, Jeison Rosario and Sebastian Fundora. But Tszyu, who’s known as the “Soul Taker”, began to make inroads in the seventh round, with a series of vicious uppercuts, before finishing the American off in the eighth.
With his name, pedigree, obvious class and good looks, Tszyu is the total package. Indeed, he’s now achieved all there is to achieve in the Australian boxing scene. America beckons and Charlo is the kind of scalp Tszyu needs to put himself on the same level as the current kings of the ring: Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jnr. and, of course, Alvarez, who easily defeated Charlo on points in Vegas.
But there are some who think Tszyu has a ways to go before he can be mentioned in such elite company, including American boxing great-turned analyst Shawn Porter, who was circumspect about Tszyu’s current standing.
“That Tim Tszyu does not beat Terence Crawford. He needs more defence and a little more footwork. Those are intangibles you’ve just got to have against Terence Crawford,” Porter said.
“And he’s not on Canelo’s radar, so we don’t really need to talk about that fight. But (with Canelo fighting) at 168 (pounds) … if Tim goes up to 168, he’s going to lack the power and strength needed to fend off a Canelo for 12 consecutive rounds. But outside of that though, you guys have got a real champion here.”
While something of a verbal uppercut, Porter is probably right and Tszyu, for his part isn’t getting ahead of himself. Confident without being brash, the 28-year-old knows that despite his unblemished record, he still has important steps to climb. “That would be disrespectful to the immortals,” Tszyu said of those who’ve come before him, including his father.
“I’m a realist and by winning a world title, that doesn’t compare to nothing to what my dad did. He was a three-time world champion for 10 years. No other man has done that. Him and Jeff Fenech are the two [at the] top, that’s immortality for me. There’s a long way to go, but I’m on the path to immortality.”
That’s a hell of a path to walk. Let’s take a look at Tszyu’s career so far and examine how far along that path he might go.
Who is Tim Tszyu?
Tszyu is the son of one of Australia’s all-time great boxers, Kostya Tszyu, who hailed from the former Soviet Union, before emigrating to Australia in 1992 after fighting here as an amateur the year before. Kostya would win three world titles at light-welterweight, beginning with the IBF title in 1995, when he stopped Jake Rodriguez. He then made five successful title defences until an upset loss to Vince Phillips in 1997, his first professional defeat.
That defeat was a shock but having been humbled, Kostya would go on one of the great runs in Australian boxing, remaining undefeated for the next eight years, winning the vacant WBC title in 1999 and the WBA (Super) title in 2001. Perhaps Kostya’s most famous win also came that year, when he knocked out Zab Judah to reclaim the IBF title, becoming the first undisputed light-welterweight champion in over 30 years. His final fight was in 2005, when he was stopped by English bruiser Ricky Hatton.
Tim was born in Sydney in 1994 and growing up favoured football, making rep teams before turning to his father’s sport as a 15-year-old. He went 33-1 as an amateur, before turning pro at 22. His defeat of former WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn, (who famously defeated Manny Pacquaio), via an eighth-round corner stoppage in August 2020, showed the younger Tszyu’s class.
He won the WBO interim junior middleweight title in January this year by defeating Tony Harrison in a nine-round TKO. He then destroyed Carlos Ocampo in a 77-second first round KO in June and was elevated to full champion in the junior middleweight division after Charlo opted to face Alvarez for his undisputed supermiddle weight title in September. Given Alvarez made short work of Charlo, the hope is that the American will now return to junior middleweight and fight Tszyu.
Has Kostya Tszyu been in Tim’s corner during his rise to the top?
Interestingly, Kostya, hasn’t really been a member of Tim’s camp since he turned pro. This is largely due to the fact that after splitting with Tim’s mother, Natalia, Kostya moved back to Russia and started a new family. He was in Tim’s corner before his professional debut against Zorran Cassady in December 2016, but proved to be more of a hindrance than a help.
“My dad is a hard man, especially when he comes to watch my fights,” Tim said. “He’s only watched one of my fights and let me say it was … chaotic. My first pro fight. It was hard to deal with. It was just out of control. Because he’s a control freak, it’s hard for him to watch someone he loves fight in the ring. Especially for him.”
What kind of fighter is Tim Tszyu?
An uncomplicated one. Tszyu is a stand-up, hard-hitting slugger, with a solid chin. As he showed against Mendoza, he’s got a nice uppercut, handy to have in close quarters, which Tszyu does tend to find himself perhaps a little too often for some analysts’ liking. He’s gets hit a lot and there are many that believe if he really wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Crawford and Spence Jnr., he needs to tighten up. Still, Mendoza is a renowned knockout merchant and Tszyu showed he could be watchful, not really opening up against the American until round seven. But if he wants a long career, a tighter defence is a must.
Could Tim Tszyu become our next sporting hero?
It’s all there waiting for Tszyu but like any boxer with designs on ‘immortality’, he needs to make it in America. A scalp like Charlo in Vegas would be ideal. A victory there would make him box-office in the States and there’s nothing the Australian sporting public likes more than one of our own making their name in the land of the free. As successful as his father and the likes of Jeff Fenech were, neither can claim to have really captured the imagination of the American public. If Tim is looking for a way to surpass his father, winning big fights in Nevada is the way to do it.