Kostya Tszyu, a worthy induction
By Derek Bonnett: Kostya Tszyu reigned as junior welterweight champion for the better part of ten years. He captured his first world championship in his fourteenth bout. Tszyu reigned twice as the IBF champion and also held both the WBC and WBA belts. Between November 2001 and January 2003, he was the undisputed champion. In total, the Russian-born Australian amassed a professional record of 31-2 (25), going 15-2 and one no-contest (13) in world title bouts. After a meteoric rise to the top of his division, it should be no surprise that Tszyu, known as the "Thunder From Down Under", quickly makes his way into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2011.
However, Tszyu is not always embraced for the hall of fame career he built against the best opposition of his time in his thirteen year career. Detractors point to his upset loss to "Cool" Vince Phillips in his prime, his failure to keep a scheduled bout with Oscar De La Hoya, and his surrendering to Ricky Hatton at the close of his career. While those three low points surely hinder Tszyu’s standing in his division for all-time, they do not overshadow the body of work he accrued at the heights of his ability. Always in top condition, always exciting, and ever so humble, Tszyu might be one of the more underappreciated talents of recent time.
At 3-0, Tszyu took on, seasoned former world champion, Juan La Porte just under two years after La Porte challenged Azumah Nelson for the 130 pound title. By the time Tszyu scored a dozen victories, he defeated Sammy Fuentes, Livingstone Bramble, Hector Lopez, and Angel Hernandez, whom all had world title fight experience under their belts. In 1995, Tszyu smashed Jake Rodriguez in six rounds for his first world championship. Rodriguez hit the canvas at least a half a dozen times before he was saved further punishment. Prior to fighting Tszyu, Rodriguez put together the most impressive run of his career defeating Charles Murray, Ray Oliviera, and George Scott in IBF title fights.
Tszyu’s first reign ended in 1997 after five title defenses. His defeat at the hands of Phillips cost him a multi-million dollar showdown with Oscar De La Hoya. Also, Tszyu loss his aura of invincibility as he experienced a thumping at the hands of a rejuvenated title challenger. However, it is often overlooked how the Russian-born world champion responded to his first setback. Tszyu re-acquainted himself with his winning ways by dispatching two safe opponents, one being Calvin Grove. He would then go on to knock out Rafael Ruelas, Diobelys Hurtado, and Miguel Angel Gonzalez in successive bouts. By 2004, Tszyu added the pelts of Julio Cesar Chavez, Sharmba Mitchell (twice), Oktay Urkal, Zab Judah, Ben Tackie, and Jesse James Leija to his dossier. Tszyu was fighting at a level near the pinnacle of the sport; yet, he rarely received the accolades of other contemporary greats.
Between 1998 and 2004, other contemporary greats such as Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. were fighting the top names as well, but there was a whole lot more filler in their reigns which included lightly proven names or old veterans like Richard Frazier, Richard Hall, Derrick Harmon, Glen Kelly, Simon Brown, Syd Vanderpool, and Morrade Hakkar. In that same time, both champions had done very little to excite their fans. Yet, both men held far loftier positions in the pound for pound rankings than Tszyu. He may not have deserved the status of Jones or Hopkins, but he was certainly upper echelon of that elite league of performers based on the merit of his opposition.
The 22nd annual Hall of Fame weekend will be held June 9-12 in Canastota, NY at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Along with Tszyu, contemporary boxing greats Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez will be honored. Posthumous inductees such as Memphis Pal Moore, Jack Root, and David Shade will also be honored among others.
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