Some great action slugfests can, for whatever reason or reasons, dip below the radar somewhat, and get largely forgotten. One such superb, all-action battle took place 25 years ago today, in the 140 pound division. The great Kostya Tszyu, a former IBF light-welterweight champion at the time (Tszyu having been shocked by underdog Vince Phillips in May of the previous year, this another fine action fight), met former WBC welterweight title challenger Diosbelys Hurtado in November of 1998. The fight contested the WBC interim title at 140.
The two men met at The Convention Hall in Atlantic City, and they put on a fight the legendary Arturo Gatti would have been proud to have been in. Tszyu, aged 29 and sporting a 21-1 record, went to war with Hurtado, who was four years younger and was 28-1. Cuban Hurtado, not known as a slugger or an especially hard hitter, came close to shocking Tszyu in what has to rank as one of the greatest opening rounds of any fight.
Unlike many of his fellow Cuban boxers, Hurtado was not a southpaw. Hurtado – who had given the sublime Pernell Whitaker a tough time of things in January of 1997, with “Sweet Pea” being knocked down and having to work hard to figure Hurtado out, with Whitaker eventually getting an 11th round TKO win – was under immediate fire from the Russian-born Tszyu, and a fierce dog fight was underway.
Tszyu, the shorter man, was on the attack but it was Hurtado who landed the fight’s first big shot, the Cuban belting Tszyu with a stiff right hand to the head. Tszyu then uncorked a right hand of his own that had Hurtado on wobbly legs, with Tszyu then landing another right and a left as his rival barely held himself up by the ropes. Knockdown number-one.
Hurtado got up and Tszyu went at him again, but Hurtado landed a flashing right hand counter to the head and down went Kostya. Knockdown number-two. After taking his eight-count, Tszyu continued to be the aggressor, and the crowd was loving the action. His back to the ropes, Hurtado then sent Tszyu down again with another right to the head. Knockdown number-three. Tszyu, his right eye swelling, continued to go looking for Hurtado. The two men then slugged it out in a very real attempt at knocking one another’s head off! It was terrific stuff. In the middle of the trading, Tszyu slung Hurtado to the mat, this temporarily breaking the red-hot action. Tszyu rocked Hurtado with two rights at the end of the round.
How to score the round? HBO’s Harold Lederman had it 10-10.
The fight raged on into the fifth, and though Hurtado had his moments, his fast hands and his counters serving him well, Tszyu slowly but surely made it his fight and he got on top. Tszyu, seemingly hell-bent on scoring a KO, was dishing out some real rocks for punches, with Hurtado’s chin soaking them all up. Tszyu also targeted the body on occasion and it was amazing how much Hurtado could take.
In round five, Hurtado could take no more.
Tszyu, unleashing a constant barrage of leather to both head and body, landed a wicked left hand to the midsection that dropped Hurtado the split-second it landed. Hurtado showed real heart in getting back up, before another Tszyu left to the body dropped Hurtado again. It was over. A swollen, possessed Kostya Tszyu had got the knockout he had craved all night long.
You can certainly file this one in the ‘closet classic’ section of the boxing library.