|Well, I hate to say I told you so, but, well, I did tell you. Before we consign Kostya Tszyu’s magnificent victory over Sharmba Mitchell, a “comeback’ in its own right although he was never officially retired, to the history books before looking forward, it is time to pay homage to a fighter whom has rendered himself undeniable of our collective appreciation. Tszyu is a name|
that stands alone and not only because it is comprised of letters that combine in the most uncompromising of fashions. The name has become a representative of a force in itself, highly distinguished and entirely relentless. Tszyu has eclipsed the modern-day meddling of supposed superstars that came to challenge him. In his own quiet, dignified manner, he endured the mindless meanderings of headline-hogging glory boys such as Zab Judah and Mitchell, tightly concealing his raging passions before exploding them in the ring.
Succeeding where so many have recently failed, Tszyu’s victory is a fierce denial that his generation is one that is finally acquiescing before the ravages of time. With the prognostications of his doom thoroughly vanquished and the definitive answer as to whose territory the light welterweight division truly is, a single question waits to be answered: who’s next? Surveying the current ranks of the 140-pound class, that question is one that will struggle to find an unsatisfactory answer. Ironically, Tszyu’s championship representation has come full-circle as he holds only the IBF portion of the title, the very one he first claimed as a young phenomenon all those years ago against Jake “The Snake’ Rodriguez; he fully reinstates his claim to it now, older and so much wiser and yet, with the same youthful intensity.
Political parlays spawned such ego-gratifying symbols as the “super champion’ status, the “interim’ champion status and even the “champion emeritus’ badge bestowed upon Tszyu himself and they are frequently exposed by sheer dominance as displayed by Tszyu over Mitchell. Their irrelevance, excruciatingly obvious in the wake of such a devastating demonstration highlights those honorable things fought for and achieved by Tszyu in the eyes of the fans, and imperceptible to those who find their motivation in money manipulation through such tawdry baubles. Fighters such as Tszyu, Bernard Hopkins, Lennox Lewis and Marco Antonio Barrera are examples to those young fighters that will rule in their stead. At their best, they are, or were in Lewis’s case, the measure of their peers, the true champion in the eyes of the fans, needing no justification through an inanimate object made of gold and leather. Titles are bargaining properties and the successes of the aforementioned fighters are condemnations of their legitimacy; being acknowledged by the people is the ultimate prize.
Since the masses have not displayed the readiness to thoroughly absorb concepts such as the dissolution of sanctioning organizations, we come to the first logical conclusion of whom Tszyu might battle next: IBF mandatory challenger Ricky “Hitman’ Hatton. In theory, Tszyu has just honored his IBF mandatory obligation by fighting Mitchell who was the interim champion of the same organization, supposedly giving him what is routinely a year until he is due to face the IBF’s number one contender. Hatton, fighting out of the United Kingdom and his promoter Frank Warren have built a veritable fortress in Hatton’s home city of Manchester and Hatton’s drawing power was deemed sufficient enough for Warren to tempt WBA champion Vivian Harris to England earlier this year. Lengthy negotiations failed to secure the bout and the language between the two camps degenerated quickly with Harris’s championship status versus Hatton’s marketability being the key issue in their battle of how the money pot would be split.
A Tszyu-Hatton bout is tentatively mooted for the New Year; Tszyu sounds decidedly indifferent at the prospect of fighting Hatton but of course, a sizeable financial bonus can be extremely persuasive. Hatton’s best course of action would be to concede terms to Tszyu if he truly believes he can win. To defeat Tszyu would be akin to reconciling the Harris negotiations and the disappointments of his mediocre opposition level this year. Hatton’s tenacious ring style is begging to be displayed in front of a capacity Las Vegas audience, especially in what would almost certainly be a brilliant and bloody battle with Tszyu. However, Warren must spare nothing to make the fight happen and Tszyu will have none of any attempts to treat him in an inferior fashion. Harris himself might make for an attractive alternative for Tszyu, but similarly, he must respect Tszyu and concede ground to the champion. Fighters at Tszyu’s level are sought by all and Harris would do well to make himself a viable option if he is to even attempt an historic victory.
WBC champion Arturo Gatti would likely provide the most entertaining confrontation with Tszyu. Whether you are a connoisseur of the noble art and wish to see it portrayed with grace and skill or if you prefer sheer instinctive aggression, Tszyu-Gatti is a fight that could produce a scintillating display of both. My prediction would be that Gatti would be unable to match Tszyu in either department and would be stopped well before the duration. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is my personal selection to rule boxing as pound for pound the best fighter in the world when Bernard Hopkins retires. But even Mayweather, with skills and fluidity of motion that most fighters can only dream about would have to have more than luck on his side to escape twelve rounds without tasting some of Tszyu’s awesome power, and once he did, “Pretty Boy’ would no longer be capable of living up to his alias.
Lastly, and perhaps most lethally in the light welterweight division, we must discuss the possibility of Tszyu-Cotto. And in doing so, I give you the brutally honest evaluation of one of our dedicated forum-goers here at saddoboxing.com: “I love Cotto and his skill and he’s a future pound for pound great but I wouldn’t put a strong puppy against a full grown animal like Tszyu yet.” Cotto is a precocious talent but he is one fight removed from struggling to assert himself at certain points and to breathe in the later rounds under the pressure of a marvelous effort from Tszyu sparring partner Lovemore N’dou. The gifted student is not ready for the master just yet.
Compounding the brilliance of Tszyu’s achievements is the fact that he has maintained himself at the same weight as a professional fighter for twelve years, an incredible feat, and when you factor into the equation his outstanding exploits at the same weight as an amateur fighter, you begin to understand what an unbelievably disciplined fighter Tszyu is. Understandably, Tszyu enjoys his downtime from the ring and the culinary delights in which he can indulge during it. No secrets are made of his considerable weight gain between his fights and at thirty-five years of age, the task of removing up to fifteen kilograms of weight must be monumental. It is natural to wonder then, how Tszyu would fare in the welterweight division without the necessity to exert a massive effort to remove his excess poundage. Ricardo Mayorga and Zab Judah walked into fights with undisputed welterweight champion Cory Spinks expecting to plough through him on their way to more significant fights, what they actually did was to walk away with an additional loss on their records with their tails between their legs. Kostya Tszyu does not make such mistakes.
An Australian friend of mine sent me a copy of Kostya Tszyu: My Story, a biographical account of Tszyu’s life signed by the man himself. Even though it has no personal significance for him, I am proud to have that for myself, a small inscription from the hand that is still shaking the boxing world today. Regardless of what Kostya Tszyu does from now on, he has been a great champion, he will continue to be one and he deserves to stand proudly where he is today, on top of the boxing world.
Jim Cawkwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org