Interview by Paul Upham: WBC and WBA junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu (right) faces the toughest test of his career when he faces undefeated IBF champion Zab Judah on November 3. The rewards will be substantial for the winner, who will be able to call themself the undisputed champion of the world.
For Kostya Tszyu, 27-1-1 (22), this fight will be an opportunity to regain the IBF belt he once held, and add to his WBC and WBA crowns. A win will establish him as one of the best boxers in the world pound-for-pound and may lead to more big money super fights with other pound-for-pound contenders Floyd Mayweather Jr and Sugar Shane Mosley. “Finally it is on and yes, I am very excited about it,” said Tszyu, who despite the significance of the fight doesn’t feel he has anything to prove to critics.
“I don’t need to prove anything right now. It might prove to some what I have done throughout my career. It is just another challenge for me, a big challenge which I look forward to. It is to prove to myself more than anyone else.”
Despite his two reigns as a champion and successful unification win over fellow title-holder Sharmba Mitchell last February, Tszyu knows there are many people in the USA who see southpaw Judah, 23, as favourite going into the fight.
“Many critics believe that. For them, they never like me there in the USA and they never will. I don’t care what they are saying. The critics just help me to go and do things better,” said Tszyu.
As an undefeated world champion, Tszyu respects the ability of Judah (left) and sees this as one of his toughest fights. “He is a good thinker. He has good speed, very good physical power and he is young,” said Tszyu. “Yes, it is going to be a good challenge to me. I have fought against other big champions. He is the youngest world champion that I have fought and I want him to be a good challenge for me.”
When the best face the best with physical gifts being equal, Tszyu believes that his mental toughness will be the difference in this fight and help him to victory. “I believe I do have an advantage in this regard because I have got more experience and I am still young. I have fought against guys like Julio Cesar Chavez who had more experience than I had, but he didn’t have the desire that I had on the day of the fight. In this situation, in these circumstances, I am hungry for the fight and I am hungry to win,” said Tszyu, who says he feels at home in the ring and does not feel any pressure.
“It’s a learning process and it is experience again. When you live in this kind of pressure for many years, you get used to it. You get used to knowing that millions of people are going to watch you and it won’t affect your preparation, training or fighting. You get used to feeling this pressure. In my case I have been living with this pressure for many years and I don’t feel it any more. For me, it is normal to feel the excitement of the big fights and I have been in many big fights many times already.”
Prior to his last title defence against Oktay Urkal in Connecticut in June, there were concerns from Team Tszyu that unfair media demands were being placed on the power-punching Russian in an attempt to put him off his game. Tszyu denies being disappointed with the way he was handled.
“It was not a disappointment. They have done it on purpose to distract me and I believe again this is the mental games they try to unbalance me with. But I took this and said it was perfectly all right for me. If you want me to be there, I’ll come. It’s not a problem it won’t unbalance me at all,” said Tszyu, who expects it to be very different in his next fight where everything will be planned and confirmed in advance.
“When you have control of the situation, what we will do this time is plan ahead all of our steps, all of the media control, when we are going to be in each place. For me, it is easier to go to the West Coast than the East Coast because there is much less travelling than to New York. It is more comfortable for me to fight there.”
There has been no official announcement of the Tszyu-Judah fight yet, but inside speculation is that the fight will be on November 3 in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Events Center.
“We have not been able to announce it yet. I am in contact with Vlad Warton who is in the USA and hopefully it will be very soon,” said Tszyu.
There were many people in the USA and Australia who pointed to Tszyu’s failure to stop Oktay Urkal as a sign that he is on the way down. Tszyu, however, was very pleased with his performance and gives credit to the toughness of his opponent.
“Oh yes, I was happy with everything that I had done. One of the things that I did in this fight was to not rush. One common mistake I have done in the past is to rush and try to finish them off. This particular time in my last fight I was very cool and knew what I was doing. I said to myself that if it does go the distance, ‘Don’t be disappointed, be happy with this’. I am sure no one would knock Oktay down because he was so determined if to not win the fight, to finish the fight on his feet,” said Tszyu, who actually broke the Turk’s jaw in the seventh round.
“Yes, imagine the guy fighting five rounds with a broken jaw. What heart he has. I was really happy for him to give me a good fight.”
Before the fight Tszyu rightly predicted that Urkal would be one of his toughest opponents. “Sometimes I am right. I do know boxing a bit and have been in this business for a few years and when you have an undefeated guy fighting against you, an undefeated European champion, intercontinental champion and a silver medallist at the Olympic Games, it means something. This guy has not come from nowhere. He has got experience and he is a hard to beat champion,” said Tszyu.
“I had seen a few fights of his and I knew to expect a very hard fight. He probably never fought the experienced guys I fought, but 27 or 28 fights undefeated it’s a big effort.”
Now 31 years of age, Tszyu is always very critical of his performances and always sees ways that he can improve inside the ring. “Of course. If there was no place for improvement then I would probably hang my gloves up on the wall. It is not that time yet. I feel that I have got something to improve on and something to go ahead with,” said Tszyu.
“The important thing for anybody in their career is not to finish on top. It doesn’t mean anything. It is to finish on the finish line, because sometimes you finish and you are not on the finish line. If you do this you are going to be disappointed for yourself because you haven’t gone to the end of your career. I believe in my case I have to go till the time that I feel that it is time to retire.”
To be at his absolute best, Tszyu insists on a 12 week preparation for each fight. Now into his third preparation this year, it doesn’t leave much time for his family, wife and two young sons.
“I haven’t got much time. It is already my third preparation this year. It has meant nine months over the 12 that I have been in hard preparation. It’s already six months down and three to go. I have already started preparing myself over the last couple of weeks. I have got no time to see my family as often as I want to. They understand this well and they are just good supporters of me,” said Tszyu.
It is hard to believe that it is now 10 years since a young Russian with a ponytail and power punch, first came to Sydney, Australia in 1991 for the World Amateur Championships and prove to be so popular. He took away the gold medal in the super-lightweight division, but more importantly, the dream of living in Australia and becoming a professional world champion.
“I always thought if I were to fight as a professional that I would be successful and would be world champion. It’s only one of my ambitions when I started my professional career, because I always thought I would be world champion,” said Tszyu.
“As for being popular, I already was popular at that time in Russia, because I was living there and I was like a celebrity at 21. In Australia after 10 years in the country where I live now and this is my home, I am lucky enough to get this support. It is not only because of my ability to be a champion, it is how people have adopted me and this is why I like the country so much.”
Kostya Tszyu has a loyal band of supporters around the world and now they will be able to purchase their own piece of Tszyu as he launches a range of merchandise
“I like to do quality but not quantity and quality is important. I will have a lot of t-shirts and training gear. I will be looking to sponsor some young kids who will really enjoy wearing my range. The merchandise will be available through my website KTboxing.com and special merchandising for the members of the Tszyu Crew who will have their own line for this fight, good t-shirts and leather jackets,” said Tszyu.
A man who does not allow himself to speculate on the future, preferring to only see the next fight in front of him, Tszyu knows that he will retire one day, but not just yet.
“I really can’t see myself without this sport. I really want to push ahead the sport I love in this country. I want to change the system if possible, looking at how they organise the amateur competition. I will probably be in some administrative role at some time,” said Tszyu.
“I’m sure I will be competing in 2002 because as I said, it is not the finish of my career yet.”