Tszyu wants Mitchell, not tuneup
It's been 22 months since we last saw Kostya Tszyu, who faces Sharmba Mitchell on Showtime this Saturday night in Phoenix, Ariz.
A lot has happened since Tszyu stopped Jesse James Leija in six rounds in January of 2003. Britney Spears has gone through another marriage or two, Jessica Simpson was considered the more foolish of the two Simpson sisters, we all believed that weapons of mass destruction were hidden somewhere in Iraq and "The Curse of the Bambino" was still alive and kicking in Beantown.
Yeah, it's been awhile since Tszyu has gotten into a real fight.
And he has eschewed the traditional tuneup fight to face a guy many consider to be no worse than the second-best junior welterweight in the world, behind himself. It's a rematch of a competitive fight that took place in February of 2001, one that was stopped after seven rounds due to a knee injury suffered by Mitchell.
"I never planed to take any tuneup fight because my preparation is going to be exactly the same for a tuneup fight or for this fight," Tszyu explained, via phone from his training facility in Phoenix. "If you're confident in yourself, with your ability, you can fight anybody."
And from the onset of his career in 1992, nobody has had as much confidence in himself as Tszyu. In March of that year he kicked things off by stopping Darrell Hiles in one round. Just four months later, in his fourth paid outing, he decisioned former world champion Juan LaPorte over 10 heats. Before the year was out, he stopped Sammy Fuentes in one.
Soon he notched wins over familiar names like Livingstone Bramble and Hector Lopez, and by his 14th fight in 1995, he was winning the IBF 140-pound championship by bludgeoning Jake Rodriguez in six rounds.
So it should be no surprise to anybody that even after his extended layoff -- which was caused by injuries to his Achilles tendon and shoulder -- he goes right back into a fight with Mitchell, who has performed five times since the last time we saw Tszyu.
The first affair was a competitive one that saw both men land their share of leather, as well as the rough tactics of Tszyu, who was penalized a point by referee Joe Cortez in round four for pushing Mitchell down to the canvas.
"What I remember is that he held me a lot," recalled Tszyu. "I tried to fight, he didn't. And of course, I believe he had a problem with his leg because every time I moved myself in one direction, he couldn't stand on the leg; he was falling."
With the physical style he employed versus Mitchell, it was clear that Tszyu realized he had a wounded animal in front of him. Eventually, Mitchell halted the fight as the discomfort in his knee became too much to bear.
Tszyu doesn't question the injury, but he does dispute Mitchell's claims about who stopped their first fight.
"I don't think he made it up," Tszyu states, but he adds, "I know he quit. He quit himself, not the corner."
In the aftermath of the fight, Mitchell stated that he was on his way to being victorious, if not for his injury. To Tszyu, that talk was a sign of disrespect, something that the native of Sydney, Australia, doesn't take lightly. Tszyu, who vowed never to grant Zab Judah a rematch because of his juvenile behavior after their fight, made the same statements regarding Mitchell.
So what changed?
"He proved that he's the No. 1 contender; he proved it, not by his talk, but by the way he fought against good fighters," he explained. "And that's the reason why he's the No. 1 contender. He turned into a world champion, and that's why he deserves a rematch."
Like many other prizefighters, it wasn't just the sport or the competition that Tszyu missed.
"I miss the feelings and one of the reasons why I'm still here is because you can not find the excitement of this anywhere in normal life."
And "The Thunder" could be here for a while longer, as he says he still has a lot more to accomplish.
"I missed the sport; that's why I'm still here. When you're still in it, you know you haven't done enough in this sport."