Tszyu on Fire

02.06.05 - By Tony Fondacaro: Listen to Kostya Tszyu (photo: Tom Casino/Showtime) talk lately, and you can tell he’s all business these days. That being said, you can lump me in with the soothsayers who believe this fight will be all Kostya, and very little Hatton.. Kostya Tszyu on the fight: “We will not be here to do the ballet—this will be a war.” Kostya Tszyu on Rick Hatton: “Ricky has fought some great fighters, but he will find I am a level above them… he has got guts to step up and take it.”

Kostya Tszyu on training: “I believe it is all about the mental part and I prepare for Ricky the same way I prepare for any other fighter… I visualize him when I am sparring, when I am shadow-boxing, when I am working on the bags.”

Finally, Kostya Tszyu on himself: “I do not make mistakes and when other people make mistakes, when they are throwing the punch, it is usually time to go." Uh oh!

I hope Ricky Hatton hears all this, because he’s in for a very long night on June 4th. I can tell you what this kind of talk is not. It is not bullshit—when Tszyu says that he’s a level above Hatton’s previous opponents, believe it. Take these quotes as one and what you have is a supremely confident Tszyu who is not about to risk anything by being dismissive or apathetic when it comes to preparation. I also think it is safe to say that Tszyu is in his prime; he came back from a very long layoff to manhandle Sharmba Mitchell inside three rounds last year. He took care of Zab Judah (controversial stoppage or not) in two rounds. He solved Julio Caesar Chavez in six rounds (the only other person to beat him more quickly was Oscar de la Hoya). Not to mention Oktay Urkal, and Jesse James Leija, both worthy opponents. Make no mistake, Kostya Tszyu is this era’s Julio Caesar Chavez. When it’s time for Tszyu-Mayweather, Floyd better diversify his bonds…

And yet at the ripe old age of 35, Tszyu shows no signs of slowing down, waning talent, or crumbling confidence. He’s everything the champion should be—so far above the rest of the crowd that not only does he have the belts, but he’s got them under lock and key. Anyone trying to get close is going to have an absolute, all-out battle on their hands.

Ricky Hatton is not up to the task, and I’ll tell you why—because he hasn’t fought the kind of opponents he needs in order to get up to Tszyu’s level. Why not Hatton-Mitchell? Or Hatton-Gatti? Or Cotto? What’s Vivian Harris doing these days? He’s padding his record with guys like Carlos Maussa. Who? Hatton’s record doesn’t really give you the kind of experience you need to take on the cream of the crop. He, Hatton, needs to bulldoze a few top fighters before he thinks about Tszyu, then perhaps he gets a shot, undefeated record or not. But the trend in boxing is to slip-shot past more immediate opponents for a shot at the title (a-la Danny Williams). Hatton’s doing it, and he’s going to find himself on the bad end of a massacre.
I would say Hatton’s most impressive victory to date is a fifth round TKO of Michael Stewart, but Stewart loses to everyone these days, including Sharmba Mitchell.

Granted, I don’t think it’s going to be a blowout. Hatton is a skilled fighter, and you don’t go for almost 40 fights undefeated without exhibiting some skill. He’s got burgeoning defensive skills, not James-Toney-esque, but certainly respectable. They may or may not be enough to get away from a Tszyu-jabbing clinic, and the later the fight goes, the more and more that jab lands, Hatton will not have the energy to get out of the way.

For Hatton to win, he’d have to come out and establish the pace from round one; no way can he turn things around in round three or four after Tszyu’s been dictating the fight up until then. This is one of Tszyu’s most impressive assets; his ability to keep the fight in his hands for an extended length of time. Some fighters need to stop every few rounds for a breather; not Tszyu. If Hatton lets the fight get into Tszyu’s hands at any point, it’s goodnight Hatton. He’ll have to answer Tszyu’s jab as well, almost punch for punch. If Tszyu gets off three or four good shots, Hatton will need to come right back with his own, and make them convincing as well.

As the fight goes on, he’ll have to fight to stay on top of a well-conditioned Tszyu, and this is where he’ll be tested the most. Tszyu in round six or seven will be the same as in round two or three. Hatton will not have that kind of stamina after his all-out efforts to take the fight to Tszyu. If the fight goes longer than nine rounds, you can kiss Hatton goodbye. The only way he can win is if he does the mid-round TKO thing.

There’s a lot of talent in the welterweights right now; and Tszyu is the pace car. With guys like Mayweather, Cotto, Harris, and let’s face it, Hatton, Tszyu is an absolute cut above. He shocked us all by utterly humiliating Mitchell last year, and on June 4th, you’re going to see the exact same Kostya Tszyu getting down to business. Hatton should be fighting greater opponents to get to that “next level” he claims he’s at right now. Maybe he should stop thinking about that “next level” and what he’s going to do after he beats Tszyu, and focus more on putting on the performance of a lifetime. He’s going to need it.

Tszyu by fifth round TKO.

* Photo: TOM CASINO/SHOWTIME - A serious-minded Kostya Tszyu works out during an open media training session Wednesday in Manchester, England. Tszyu defends his IBF junior welterweight title against unbeaten local favorite and mandatory challenger, Ricky Hatton, Saturday on SHOWTIME (9 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast). The highly anticipated Tszyu-Hatton fight starts at 2 a.m. England time.

Article posted on 02.06.2005

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