Kostya Tszyu had not fought competitively for 22 months. You never would have known it.
Looking as sharp and as strong and powerful as ever, the Australian superstar called “Thunder From Down Under” pummeled perennial contender and arch-rival Sharmba Mitchell, dropping him four times on the way to registering a third-round technical knockout in this, a rematch of their February 3, 2001 war.
Their initial encounter was won by Tszyu on a seventh-round TKO. It ended when Mitchell, who came into the fight with a painful injury to his left knee, was forced to retire due to the worsening of that injury, making mobility—even standing—virtually impossible. Up until that point, the fight had been extremely close, with both fighters giving and taking tremendous punishment. When the leg injury began affecting Mitchell’s fight, when it became too much for his corner to watch, they all decided Mitchell’s night was over. They figured there would be another night. They began looking toward a rematch. But that rematch would have to wait. And wait.
Victories over Oktay Urkal (W 12), Zab Judah (TKO 2), Ben Tackie (W 12) and Jesse James Leija followed for Tszyu over the next 23 months. But then came a series of physical ailments—the most serious being surgery on his left shoulder—and legal hassles which kept Tszyu on the shelf for nearly two years. During the long layoff, Tszyu contemplated retirement.
The thoughts of retirement didn’t last long. While Tszyu worked out, strengthening his surgically-repaired left shoulder, he also watched the tape of his fight against Mitchell. He watched it over and over.
“I learned a lot from watching it,” said Tszyu, who is now 31-1-1 (25 KO’s). “I studied a lot. I wrote things down. I got smarter.”
He obviously did his homework well. In this fight, which took place in Glendale, Arizona, Tszyu fought without the slightest trace of ring rust. He was overpowering and sharpshooter accurate. That’s an unstoppable combination for any fighter, and even more so for someone who had been away for so long.
Although Mitchell, now 55-4 (31 KO’s) tried to set the pace with speed and movement, Tszyu would have none of it and went right after him. By the end of the round, everyone knew that Mitchell would not be able to keep the champion off of him for long.
An accidental clash of heads in the first round left Tszyu with a vertical gash over his left eyebrow, but, as always, Tszyu was unfazed by the butt.
“This is a rough business,” he said. “These things happen.”
With one minute gone in round two, a crisp right to the head staggered Mitchell. Moments later, a combination sent him down.
“I knew I had him then,” said Tszyu. “All I had to do was take my time.”
Mitchell took some heavy punishment before round two ended, then was dropped in the first 30-seconds of round three by another right. He fought back gamely, then ran into a combination which dropped him again. When he went down a third time in the round with 30-seconds remaining, the stoppage was automatic for referee Raul Caiz, Sr.
When the bout ended, the two fighters had nothing but praise for the other.
“Tszyu is a great champion,” said Mitchell.
“He is a warrior,” Tszyu said of Mitchell.
With this warrior easily dispatched, there are other warriors—most notably Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Vivian Harris, Zab Judah and Arturo Gatti—anxiously awaiting their turn.
With his advancing age (35), you’d think that Tszyu would be slowing down, at least a little bit. Judging by the way he looked against Mitchell, he may have found the “Fountain of Youth” during his 22-month layoff.
PUNCHES IN BUNCHES: Don’t know if you caught it, but Jim Gray did a great job in interviewing Mike Tyson at the Tszyu-Mitchell fight. Tyson also did a great job in the interview. Gone was the anger “Catskill Thunder” has shown in recent years. There was no “I’m gonna’ eat his children” attitude or anything even resembling that Tyson. I was stunned to see the smiling heavyweight I knew back in his days as a contender in the mid-1980’s. When Gray asked Tyson about his financial problems, Tyson merely shrugged them off saying, “I’ll be okay. Hey, I’m Mike Tyson. I always seem to find a way.” When asked about the knee he injured in his loss against Danny Williams, Tyson admitted “I’ve been bad…I haven’t been doing the rehab on it that my doctor wants.” He even joked about his doctor beating him up if he didn’t start to rehab and strengthen the knee soon. It was good to see him in that frame of mind…Don’t know about rehab, but promoter Gary Shaw had better start doing some pushups, as in pushing himself away from the table. Has he ever met a meal he hasn’t devoured?…Zab Judah trying his best to talk his way into a rematch against Tszyu. You may recall the wild ending to their first fight, on November 3, 2001. In that one, Judah was down twice, courtesy of Tszyu’s devastating right. Upon arising from the second knockdown, he staggered like a drunk coming out of a bar at 3:00 a.m., prompting referee Jay Nady to stop their bout in round two. Judah proceeded to go wild, throwing a stool across the ring and placing a fist under the chin of Nady before police and security pulled him off of the veteran ref. For his actions, the Nevada State Athletic Commission fined Judah $75,000 and suspended him six months. Since then, Judah has successfully gotten under the skin of Tszyu. Now that Tszyu is back, you can expect Judah to be one of the names considered as a 2005 opponent for “Thunder from Down Under.”…Before Judah does any more fighting, however, he must first battle Uncle Sam, who has come down on him for some apparent unpaid taxes. Judah also faces a lawsuit from a Long Island businessman who did $35,000 worth of electrical work and installation on Judah’s Hummer, only to watch Judah’s check bounce around like his head did against Tszyu…While on legal issues, the Supreme Court upheld a Third District Court ruling on former IBF Founder/President Bob Lee’s conviction on tax evasion, money laundering and racketeering. Lee was acquitted of taking bribes to fix the ratings. The Supreme Court made their ruling without issuing any statement. Lee is serving a 22-month sentence…You’ve got to applaude promoter Sugar Ray Leonard. While many promoters still reject the idea of putting female boxers on their cards, Sugar Ray loves adding them to his promotions. His next card, on November 18 in San Jose, California, will feature 2-0 junior welterweight Molly McConnell. The talented Ms. McConnell is managed by Jackie Kallen…Former heavyweight king Riddick Bowe will be back in action again on November 27 in Louisville, KY, when he faces Kenny Craven at the Louisville Gardens. This will be Bowe’s second comeback fight. In his last outing, on September 26, he easily dispatched of Marcus Rhode. Part of the proceeds from the Bowe-Craven bout will benefit former heavyweight champ Greg Page, who was severely injured in a March 2001 bout…Congratulations to promoter Joe DeGuardia, who landed excellent light heavyweight title fight between Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, the two men who combined on two punches to possibly end the career of Roy Jones, Jr…Mark your calendar for December 11. On that night, Mike Tyson’s latest conqueror, Danny Williams, will face Vitali Klitschko at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Both are supremely confident and their scheduled 12-rounder should provide plenty of action for as long as the fight lasts (You know this one cannot possibly go the full 12!!!!)…Sorry to hear about the passing of welterweight legend Jimmy McLarnin at the age of 96. More on him in my next column. He was a champion both in and out of the ring.