10.20.04 – By Chris Acosta: Like fellow undisputed titleholder Bernard Hopkins, Kostya Tszyu is a fighter with no glaring flaw. Like Hopkins, he possesses a work ethic perfectly suited to his demanding trade. Like Hopkins, Tszyu is a fearless competitor with a fierce desire to win and the physical means to apply those characteristics. And like Hopkins, he lives an honest, life disciplined life that leaves no room for excuse.
Unlike Hopkins however, the Australian based Russian does not reside atop a division of moderate talent. In fact, the Jr. Welterweight division is perhaps the deepest division currently going (though there are an equal amount of supporters for Jr. Middleweight and Featherweight, respectively).
The Jr. Welter class is notorious for its rotating showcase of talent. It’s a division filled with more than its share of tough veterans and young prospects whose abilities would be labeled “can’t miss” if not for the fact that they campaign at this weight.
Though he has only one loss on his record, Kostya Tszyu can only keep so many men off the mountain, so to speak, before a combination of age and this depth of those under him manifest themselves.
On November 6th, Tszyu makes a defense against his number one contender, Sharmba Mitchell, a versatile southpaw who gave the champion all he could handle before succumbing to an alleged knee injury that forced the fight to be stopped in the 7th round.
Since then, Mitchell has been extremely active and impressive, honing his skills while awaiting a return match. Tszyu hasn’t been so lucky. He hasn’t fought since January of 2003 when he stopped Jesse James Leija in the 6th round. Negotiations were made for a rematch with Sharmba but consecutive injuries, one to his shoulder and another to an achilles tendon have twice postponed the return bout.
The contrasting levels of activity between the rivals has made for some intriguing expectations: Fighters who perform regularly maintain the level of sharpness required at the world -class level and if there was ever a time that Kostya cannot afford to enter battle with a dull blade, it’s now.
Mitchell is a very strong boxer, despite being more of a counter-puncher with quick hands. His awkwardness and athleticism created many problems for Tszyu’s straight up stance and probing jab the last time around and at this point in their careers, not much is likely to change. But even should Kostya retain his title, there are simply too many threats to reject in smooth succession.
The division is much too competitive to allow a “gimme” title defense before the next major confrontation. Arturo Gatti is a big Jr. Welterweight with natural punching power and under trainer Buddy McGirt, now capable of enforcing that power in a more surprising manner. Vivian Harris is long and lean, with a stylistic similarity to Vince Phillips, the only man to beat Tszyu.
Recently arrived Floyd Mayweather is perhaps the best fighter in boxing with an attack that is so equally balanced between offense and defense that opponents are many times discouraged at the painful puzzle in front of them.
Rumor has it that the winner of Castillo-Casamayor may make a move up and both are a tough assignment. Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto represent the divisions future unless they themselves fall victim to some unknown fighter with the talent to ruin their ascents much like was the case with Panchito Bojado and Mohammed Abdulaev.
With such a mind-boggling list of hungry boxers it’s difficult to envision Tszyu keeping his foothold on the title for maybe a year more despite his stature and class. The champion’s supporters are banking on the idea that the injury-induced rest may have preserved Tszyu for while longer and re-ignited his desire for the sport, something he was recently quoted as having waned a bit.
Conventional wisdom says that at the age of 34 and not having been exposed to the rigors of an actual contest for quite some time that the champion will arrive in outstanding physical condition (as has always been the case) but with a set of reflexes that won’t be able to keep up with his minds’ commands.
I have respected Kostya Tszyu for such a long time and admire how much he has given of himself over the years but boxing so closely mimics the cruelty of nature and its “survival of the fittest” ethos that my hunch tells me that he may no longer be the fittest. I expect an exciting bout and for both men to attack and respond but at the end of the night, Kostya Tszyu will leave the ring as an ex-champ. Mitchell in 10.