Tszyu set to make comeback
After spending the majority of the last 22 months rehabilitating from two surgeries, world junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu will find out Saturday if he can still operate in the ring.
Tszyu, 30-1, with 24 knockouts and one no-contest, will defend his IBF belt against IBF interim titlist Sharmba Mitchell, 55-3 (30), at Glendale Arena in Phoenix, Ariz. The bout, which will be televised at 9 p.m. on SHOWTIME, is a rematch of their Jan. 2, 2001, bout in which then-WBC titlist Tszyu stopped then-WBA beltholder Mitchell in the seventh round of a unification match.
Tszyu, of Sydney, Australia via Serov, Russia, was ahead on two of the three cards at the time of the stoppage, when a knee injury forced Mitchell to quit on his stool. Mitchell subsequently underwent surgery after the fight.
Against the 34-year-old Mitchell, of Washington, D.C., the 35-year-old Tszyu will be forced to shake off the rust against a talented southpaw with tremendous speed and who has been busier and healthier than Tszyu, who is coming off surgery for a torn Achilles’ tendon and torn rotator cuff.
“I have been in the gym all the time and I can say I have had good preparation and good fighting preparation with great sparring,” Tszyu said in a conference call last week. “I am sharp. I am living a very healthy life and I do not think I need any tune-up fights.”
This will be Tszyu’s first bout since he stopped “Jesse” James Leija on Jan. 19, 2003. And although Tszyu officially holds only the IBF title, which he took via second-round TKO over Zab Judah in Nov. 2003, unification match, Tszyu is considered the true 140-pound world champion, having been stripped of his WBC and WBA titles while he was injured.
Asked how he felt about the IBF recognizing Mitchell as its interim champion, Tszyu said he didn’t have a problem with it.
“In some way, I can see (where) it would be a little unfair because I did not fight for a long time and the organization did not have a champion,” Tszyu said. “I believe they put the Interim Champion in knowing that when the real champion was ready, they could meet and find out who the real champ is. I do not mind this. But with all this other stuff, like the Super Champion, it is difficult to understand. I think we need to go to only one champion. And at the end of the day, I am who I am and Nov. 6 we will see completely who the champion in this division is.”
In only his 14th pro fight Tszyu won his first belt, scoring a sixth-round TKO over Jake “The Snake” Rodriguez in Jan. 1995 to claim the IBF 140-pound title. He defended the strap five times before he was upset by “Cool” Vince Phillips in May 1997. Tszyu claimed the vacant WBC title when he stopped Miguel Angel Gonzalez in Aug. 1999.
When asked if Mitchell’s inability to finish their first contest would play a role from mental standpoint in this fight, Tszyu said he wasn’t looking at what happened in the past.
“I am just hoping that he is in great form and this particular time we will have no questions and that the best man is going to win,” Tszyu said. “There will not be any excuses for either of us. I know I will not have any excuses for me. I am in the best form. I believe he is in the best form. Now, we need to see who the best fighter in the world is now.”
Tszyu also downplayed his own inactivity.
“I do not need to prove anything by talking,” Tszyu said. “I will prove to (the critics) by doing something (in the ring). That is why all the critics will change their view after the fight. I will tell them that the layoff does not concern me. Actually, it was not a layoff. It was an unfortunate happening. Everything happens for a reason in life and even though I did not fight, I have been in the gym.
“Whatever is going to be will be. It will be (my) plan against (his) plan and I am very confident with myself. We will see what will happen on the day of the fight.”
If anything, Tszyu said, the layoff and the support of his family have reduced some of the wear and tear on a fighter his age.
“Even at 35, I am still fresh,” Tszyu said. “I only had 32 fights as a professional. I am living a healthy life. I have a family. And that is why my career can go so long without any problem. It has helped me to maintain my training regime. I am 35 and I am still fighting without any problem.”
Or at least sparring without any problem. Saturday will be the real thing.
“I am ready,” Tszyu said. “Twenty-two months has been very long for me and I just cannot wait to step in the ring and try to do my best. I am a prizefighter who is willing to show all my best things in the ring. I do not want to talk too much. I want to show my business in the ring.”