IBF junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu (31-1, 25 KOs, 1 ND) will defend his title against Ricky Hatton (38-0, 28 KOs) in the most hostile of environments – the challenger’s backyard – at MEN Arena in Manchester, England on Saturday, June 4, on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast).
In anticipation of the fight, Kostya Tszyu spoke with the press.
Tszyu: It is great to be here in England. As expected, it has been raining four or five times a day, but I feel so great because I have not competed in Europe for so many years. I am so excited to be here and cannot wait to step in the ring and show all my skills to the great fans in England.
Question: What is your mindset as you prepare for a fight that starts at 2 AM in England?
Tszyu: It does not matter what time it starts because if you are ready. If you are a professional, you have to be ready to fight any time and that is what I am doing. I am fighting at 2:00 in the morning in a different country in the backyard of Ricky Hatton and I am very confident of my ability to do the job.
Question: Have you ever fought in anyone’s backyard or ever faced anything close to the kind of atmosphere you are going into?
Tszyu: Julio Cesar Chavez in Arizona. You have to remember 15,000 Mexican fans were in the stadium and it was unbelievable. I think I won lots of fans in that fight. I even had to jump from the ring right after the victory and walk away because there were so many mad people there, but after some time, they did realize that I am the champion of the people and I want to look for Mexican fans there. I am sure if I decide to go to Mexico, I will have a great welcome there.
Question: Can you talk about what went into your decision making process of not only taking the fight with Hatton but agreeing to do so in England?
Tszyu: First, he is the No. 1 contender for my IBF title. Secondly, he is a great physical and mental challenge. Sooner or later, I would have to defend the title against him anyway and the circumstances came that I had to fight here in England. Because I do love great challenges for myself all the time, I am excited to come here to England and show my skills to all the English and European people. So I decided that this fight was good for me.
Question: How much longer do you want to fight? If you beat Ricky Hatton, what else is there for you to accomplish?
Tszyu: I will just take fights one at a time. I have been clinging to my title for the last five years. I just cannot walk away from the ring because I still have something to prove to myself, something to do with me. It is something that I love to do.
Question: What could you possibly still have to prove to yourself?
Tszyu: I do not know, honestly. I always take it one fight at a time. After this fight, we will see what the next challenge will be for me.
Question: How much did you have to adjust your schedule because of the 2 AM start?
Tszyu: I decided to not adjust anything. Right now, I am very comfortable for what I am doing and I have had lots of discussions with different advisers about it. One bit of advice I have got is if I am 100 percent ready and prepare really hard and am in good condition, I do not need to change anything really because when it comes to the day of the fight, you are going to be ready. If you train at 2:00 in the morning every single day, it is like a night shift, you are going to get tired eventually.
Question: What is the latest time that you fought until now?
Tszyu: I think it is around 12:00 and I did not have any problem. Everyone, under special circumstances, can stay up overnight without any problems. But if you do it over and over again, eventually you will start to get tired. That is one of the reasons why I decided to not adjust my schedule. I decided to live normally, train normally, be ready normally and when it is time, be ready only once.
Question: Why do you remain so confident despite your age and inactivity in the last couple of years?
Tszyu: I think it has played a good role for me, my inactivity. I am 35 and I am fresh. I am very confident because I am much better now at 35 than I was at 25. I could destroy the 25-year-old Kostya Tszyu right now with the 35-year-old Kostya Tszyu. That is how confident I am right now.
Question: Ricky has been a sensation in England and he has got a swarming, very high volume punch style, but that is probably something that you like – guys who come to fight?
Tszyu: Of course, I love it. Every time somebody is throwing the punch, there is a good chance that they open up themselves. I am an accurate boxer myself and I know that every time you try to punch in flurries, you have time to leave yourself open. For me, it is all about split seconds. I do not make mistakes myself and when other people make mistakes, when they are throwing the punch, it is usually time to go. That is why I am happy with anyone coming to me.
Question: In your last fight with Sharmba Mitchell, you basically came out and destroyed him. Is that the same plan with Ricky Hatton?
Tszyu: Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I am preparing myself for any tactic. Whether it is going to be a brawl or it is going to be a tactical game, I am ready for anything. I will not need to look for Ricky. He will come on me and that is the great thing about this fight.
Question: Do you feel that it could just turn into a war right when the bell sounds?
Tszyu: We are not here to do the ballet. Of course, there is going to be war. That is what people want to see and that is what they are going to see.
Question: How do you punch the way you punch; no one in the game punches like you?
Tszyu: I will give my secrets when I retire.
Question: How you are going to deal with Ricky just looking for that one shot, the right hand?
Tszyu: Even right handers have got so many different angles. It can go from the top, in the middle, from the bottom or in between. There are many different ways of throwing the right hand. The beginning of the end of Sharmba Mitchell came from the left hand. I am glad whenever people think I am a one-handed fighter because that is when they make mistakes.
Question: Are you concerned with Hatton’s hand speed or are you concerned that he might be a little quick for you?
Tszyu: Why should I put any doubt in Ricky’s mind that I am faster than him? Let him think this way. Just ask Sharmba Mitchell how slow I am.
Question: You are fighting somebody who is at the top of his game. Will you enjoy going over to England and beating Ricky Hatton in his back yard?
Tszyu: That is why I am here. That is why I am very confident in myself. I never took any shortcuts in training and I never did any mistakes in the preparation. That is the difference between me and any other fighter who has been in the game for a long time.
Question: Do you prefer to fight a boxing technician like Sharmba Mitchell or a brawler like Ricky Hatton? If you had to pick, which do you prefer?
Tszyu: I think it is easier for me to fight the guys who are coming to me because I do not need to look for them. It is not easy to fight fighters like Sharmba because you have to chase and chase them. The guys who will come at you, throw the punches and, like I said, when they start throwing punches, they start making mistakes.
Question: When did you get to England from Australia and when are you going on to night schedule before the fight?
Tszyu: We came on Saturday. Two weeks usually is my time to come into a different country. I have done this many times and I think it has worked well. As I already said, I will stay in normal routines through all my days here and not adjust to the night schedule.
Question: How have you prepared for Ricky differently from your other fights?
Tszyu: It is all about mental, I believe. I prepare for Ricky Hatton the same way I prepare for any other fighter. I visualize him when I am doing sparring, when I am doing shadow boxing, when I am working on the bags. I do know exactly what Ricky is going to throw. I know exactly how he is going to come to me. He is going to come to me. I will not need to look for him. He will come into the danger zone which is good for me.
Question: What goes through your mind when you hear that Ricky Hatton is so focused and so up for this fight?
Tszyu: He should be ready. This is a chance for him to prove to himself that he is a genuine fighter. He has lots of pressure on his young shoulders, something that he never had before. I have been in these circumstances a good 10 years. It is not unusual for me. He has to deal with lots of pressure, not just during training, but through the media. That is why he is excited.
Question: Would you ever change your routine that drastically before a major fight?
Tszyu: I always stay in my routine. Why should I change something that has worked well for me? That is why I decided to stay in the same schedule as I usually do. The only thing that I am changing in my training in preparation is I am adjusting my training technique for a particular fighter. But other than that, everything is exactly the same.
Question: In your training session, what did you do specifically to prepare yourself for Hatton’s body punches?
Tszyu: I prepare my body punch just as well. I have great sparring partners who do a lot of body punches all the time. You can ask my sparring partners how they feel when I throw my punches.
Question: Now that you are 35, do you find yourself training harder in your fights as opposed to when you were 25?
Tszyu: I amaze myself all the time because every time I am doing training, I feel even better than when I was younger.
Question: Do you plan on moving up in weight or are you just going to stay at 140?
Tszyu: I take it a fight at a time. We will see after this fight what the next challenge can be and what excitement there can be for the next one and then we will talk.
Question: What kind of feedback have you been getting from your wife and kids for you going to Ricky Hatton’s back yard and fighting him?
Tszyu: Come back home soon.
Question: So they are not with you on this fight?
Tszyu: They are home. It is a great thing for my wife to look after three kids. That is not an easy job to do. As a father, I want to come home as quickly as possible and share my time with my kids.
Question: You have been boxing for 27 years and you are probably one of the most consistent fighters ever. How can you stay so consistent for so many years?
Tszyu: I honestly do not know. I believe my family. I try to be a good example for my kids and how can I explain to them if I am not going to be a good example for them? I have to be consistent with anything I do in life to show them as a personal example.
Question: Are you still going to continue training right after this fight?
Tszyu: I believe so. It is a good thing that I have great kids. Both of my kids are playing soccer right now and I have to be in shape to show them that they cannot beat me.
Question: Going into Ricky’s back yard, do you feel you need a knockout to win or are you confident enough in your boxing that you feel you can win a decision in his hometown?
Tszyu: I believe so. I never go into a fight to try to knock anyone out. I come into the fight to show my skills. I have fought in different territory all the time. I do not have any problem with this because I know that everybody will appreciate the skills I have and I know what I am capable of doing.
Question: Do you think that going for the knockout would be playing right into Hatton’s hands?
Tszyu: When you go for a knockout, you can make mistakes. I do not like to make mistakes myself. If you always consciously want to knock somebody out, you can knock yourself out and that is why when the punches come, they come. It does not matter.
Question: With all the big-name fights that could be made at 140, do you think you will finish your career at 140 pounds or do you feel a move up to 147 would be inevitable?
Tszyu: I think it is up to you guys to decide what you want me to do. I am a people’s champion and what the people want me to do, I will do it. We are prizefighters and we have to entertain the people and enjoy ourselves as well at the same time.
Question: Could you take a second and look back on all the big wins you have had and tell us what you think was the most satisfying victory so far in your career?
Tszyu: I can describe a few of them. Of course, the last one against Sharmba Mitchell was pretty important and an enjoyable win. Zab Judah was an important win and I think the fight against (Miguel Angel) Gonzales was a very sensational win for me. There are so many good fighters, I cannot pick just one.
Question: Is this fight going the distance?
Tszyu: I do not care. If it is going to be the distance, it will be the distance. I am ready for 12 rounds. I have trained like a maniac and usually my training regime goes for more than three hours all the time anyway. If somebody thinks I am not able to do 12 rounds at the age of 35, I think they are mistaken.
Question: Do you think it is harder to fight or to beat an undefeated fighter as opposed to someone that has lost one or more times?
Tszyu: I think it is most enjoyable and satisfying when you are fighting against an undefeated fighter and making the first loss.
Tszyu: I want to thank everyone here in England who are coming to the fight. There are 22,000 tickets that have been sold and it has sold out in record time. What this showed to me is that I, as a person, have a great interest here in Europe and England and I am sure that everyone who is going to come to the fight is going to enjoy themselves. May the best man win.