Kostya Tszyu is back. And could it be that he is better than ever? Sharmba Mitchell is gone. And how could we have ever believed he had a chance in the first place?
The undisputed junior welterweight king, Tszyu had been out of action since an unimpressive Jan. 18, 2003 victory over Jesse James Leija. And he was expected to struggle with old nemesis Mitchell Saturday in Phoenix. After all, Mitchell had provided Tszyu some problems in their first fight on Feb. 3, 2001, though not nearly as many problems as members of the Mitchell camp would have you believe.
Still, if not for a bum knee, it seemed reasonable to suspect that Mitchell's considerable boxing ability, and more importantly his recent activity level, would be too much for Tszyu to overcome.
So what happens? Tszyu goes out and dominates a petrified Mitchell, knocking him out in three easy rounds as if he'd never been away. With the win, Tszyu reestablished himself as the man at 140 pounds.
As for Mitchell, who really cares? After a performance that made Buster Douglas' 1990 effort against Evander Holyfield appear Herculean by comparison, most of us hope the big-fight bust just goes away. Put simply, Mitchell's fear didn't allow him to do the things he needed to do to win. It didn't even allow him to make a competitive fight out of it.
Where was that right jab and that lateral movement that makes punchers like Tszyu crazy? Where was the razor-sharpness that was supposedly the result of a two-and-a-half-year Tszyu preparation course? Where was the guts to execute his gameplan?
All we saw was a constant backward retreat. And a look of terror, as Mitchell appeared scared to the point of paralysis.
The lack of execution, and even the lack of fight, is one thing. But Mitchell's insistence that it was a bum wheel that did him in in the first fight is what made Saturday's result all the more aggravating. But maybe we all should have known better.
The first indication that Mitchell was perhaps out of touch with reality was the actual stoppage of the first fight. He insisted his cornermen stopped it, despite video evidence between rounds that suggested he quit. But he said the knee hurt him, and affected his performance. And a gullible boxing press believed him.
With Mitchell standing directly in Tszyu's punching range, however, Mitchell didn't even give himself a chance, making the fight's winner almost assured. Sure, Tszyu started out fast. But shouldn't MItchell have been prepared for an early, all-out assault from a guy who hadn't fought in almost two years?
What else would you expect?
Yeah, he should've been ready. And he wasn't. He reacted to Tszyu's charges as if making his pro debut. He didn't try to dance to his left, away from Tszyu's deadly right hand. He didn't try to establish his own jab in a way of frustrating Tszyu and gain some distance. All he could do was awkwardly lunge at Tszyu and hold him, which was more of a desperate act of survival than a strategic plan of attack.
It appeared as if the first time Mitchell felt Tszyu's power, he figuratively packed his bags, resigned to the fact that he'd never beat this tank of a man. His expression after the fight wasn't disappointment. It was relief. As if to say, “Thank God that's over with.”
You can bet the Showtime audience wasn't thinking the same thing. Rather than admit to the world that Tszyu was the better man three years ago, Mitchell partook in some strange charade and wasted everybody's time. He insisted on lying to himself, and lying to his fans and public. Truth is, he was pretty much manhandled that first time. He probably had no business getting a rematch. But he sure talked a good game. And it made those of us who thought he actually had a chance want to take up bowling.
As for Tszyu, he is a warrior's warrior. In retrospect, the thought of Mitchell defeating him seems ludicrious. It will take a warrior of Tszyu's ilk to provide the tough Aussie-Russian with any kind of a fight.
So bring on Mayweather. Bring on Gatti. We can look forward to some real fights now that the Mitchell farce is out of the way.