The guy on the conference call sounds like someone you'd trust to take care of your dog or baby-sit your kids or date your sister. He sounds normal and honest, Ward Cleaver with an accent.
So how'd this guy become one of the best prizefighters in the world? Aren't world champions required to have a little swagger, offer a little lip, show an attitude? Where's the braggadocio and the conceit? Where are the threats and the name calling and the bold predictions?
Maybe you won't find any of that in junior-welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu (30-1, 24 KOs). Maybe it's never been there, never been a part of who he is or what he does.
When he puts his IBF title on the line against interim champion Sharmba Mitchell (55-3, 30 KOs) on Nov. 6 at the Glendale Arena in Phoenix, we'll find out if Tszyu is the fighter we remember, if he still has the gifts that made him one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
It's been 22 months since Tszyu had a fight, and he didn't exactly pick a tomato can for his return engagement. While Tszyu nursed a bad shoulder and spent time with his family, Mitchell kept busy winning fights, keeping the edge. He hopes it's enough to swing the fight over to his side, a rematch of their February, 2001 fight that ended after the seventh round when Mitchell had to quit because of a bad knee.
“I'm 35 and I don't want a tune-up fight,” Tszyu said. “I've always been in top form mentally and physically, and I'm sharp. I lead a healthy life.”
He says that's a big part of it, staying near the gym and being a family man.
Against Mitchell, he'll be facing a guy who has been waiting for this fight for more than three years. And someone who has been busy working on his career.
“I just hope he's in great form,” Tszyu said. “I hope this time there are no questions, that the best man wins. I have no excuses. We just need to see who the best man is.”
According to a survey of boxing writers conducted by boxing publicist Fred Sternburg, the best man on Nov. 6 will be Mitchell, who got 44 votes to 33 by Tszyu.
But don't bet on it.
“I'm ready for anything,” Tszyu said. “If he wants to mix it up, great. If he wants to run from me, excellent. If he wants to move me back, again, beautiful. What ever he plans to do, I have some plans against it. I'm prepared for war or a chess game, everything.”
That was about as confrontational as Tszyu got on the conference call, though he did imply that talk comes a little too easy for some guys, and it doesn't pack any weight.
“The best way to do it is to not talk about it, but go out and prove it,” he said. “I want to hear what they (his opponents) have to say after the fight. Usually, they're quiet.
“I'm a prizefighter and I usually don't want to talk too much. I want to show my business in the ring.”
Still, it all seems to come down to the 22 months away from the ring. Some say he came up with excuses not to fight, some say he was smart in staying away until everything was right.
But Tszyu isn't worried.
“The layoff doesn't concern me at all,” he said. “Though I haven't been fighting, I've been in the gym.
“It (the layoff) was frustrating, but everything that happens in life, I try to turn into a positive. I spent a lot of time with my kids.
Now my little daughter knows who her father is.”
Beats the hell of fighting.