Tim Tszyu was in training camp for the sort of fight he’s long dreamed of, the kind of bout his father, Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu, starred in many times over.
Tszyu would travel to the U.S. for his second stateside fight, a matchup with Jermell Charlo for the undisputed junior middleweight championship on Jan. 28 in Las Vegas. But one month out, Charlo withdrew with a broken left hand.
Instead of waiting around for Charlo to recover, Tszyu (23-0, 17 KOs) wisely chose to stay active. He scored his career-best win in March, a ninth-round TKO of former champion Tony Harrison. Tszyu followed up with a first-round KO of Carlos Ocampo in June.
By the time Charlo was recovered, he was offered the Canelo Alvarez fight, which he soundly lost last month challenging for Alvarez’s undisputed super middleweight championship. If Tszyu remained sidelined to preserve his mandatory title shot and the fight with Charlo, he might have ended up with only one fight this year.
Instead, Tszyu gained valuable experience and momentum heading into what shapes up as a pivotal 2024. Charlo was stripped of his WBO title at 154 pounds last month, a belt that now belongs to Tszyu. The Aussie star will make the first defense of that title on Sunday in Queensland, Australia (Saturday evening in the U.S.) against Brian Mendoza.
Just don’t expect Tszyu to celebrate a championship he never won in the ring.
“There’s no feeling for me to be a world champion yet; it’s just a little trophy I guess,” Tszyu told ESPN on Wednesday. “But for myself, deep down inside, I just want the Charlo belt and I want all four belts wrapped around rather than just have one.”
That mentality is refreshing in a sport with four (or more) titles in 17 weight classes and paper champions aplenty. Tszyu, 28, knows there are far greater achievements ahead if he can just continue his growth.
First, he’ll seek to “stop the momentum” of Mendoza, who is coming off a pair of upset KO wins over Jeison Rosario and Sebastian Fundora and “show that I’m one class above.”
After that? Tszyu said this will be his final fight in his native Australia for the foreseeable future as he sets out for “the big super fights” in the U.S.,” the kind of events his father competed in stateside more than 20 years ago.
Kostya Tszyu, defeated the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez in 2000 and went on to unify 140-pound titles when he scored a second-round TKO of Zab Judah.
All these years later, Tszyu is paving his own path of destruction with his heavy hands, a crowd-pleasing seek-and-destroy style that’s been refined with each passing fight.
But even his father never truly achieved stardom in the U.S. Tszyu has a chance, and it has little to do with his famous last name.
“Dominance and being able to just take over a division just like GGG [Gennadiy Golovkin] did. It was a big impact in the American scene and people loved him,” Tszyu said of the all-time great middleweight from Kazakhstan, who became a box-office attraction with a string of punishing KOs. “I bring that type of action to every fight and passion.
“He’s a big idol of mine. I hope boxing fans really take me on board because that’s my type of style and I like to bring entertaining fights, not boring fights.”
That’s what the fight game is all about after all: entertainment. And Tszyu has delivered each and every time thus far. He’s faced some adversity, too. Tszyu was floored in the opening round of his seventh pro fight and again in Round 1 of his lone U.S. bout, a decision win over Terrell Gausha last year.
“The dedication and desire to be great is in this kid,” said ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr., a Hall of Fame fighter. ” … He’s representing the Tszyu name. He takes that seriously. He’s not playing this game. He’s ready to take over this division.
“So I think he has the right mindset, and I think he knows what he needs to do to become a huge star here is just getting the right dance partners in the ring,” Bradley added. ” … If he can get Charlo into the ring and he can knock him out, of course that’s going to boost his status and recognition in America right away. But I think there’s another guy that he can face, that’s [Terence] Crawford.”
In pursuit of such super fights, Tszyu will soon campaign in America. He hopes the first big one comes against Charlo, who has been harshly criticized for his lackluster performance against Alvarez. Charlo said he would return to 154 pounds to defend his three titles. Tszyu, of course, must first take care of business by turning back Mendoza in spectacular fashion. He’s a 7-1 favorite to win the bout outright.
If Tszyu can emerge with his hand raised, then talk of a rescheduled Charlo-Tszyu matchup can commence, and the Australian believes the matchup is even bigger now after Charlo shared the ring with boxing’s top star.
“His performance [against Alvarez] was shocking,” Tszyu said. “That’s just him. … I felt like it was just a survival tactic. If you look at Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, at least Errol Spence went out on his shield. He was trying to dig deep and was listening to his coach. … And that’s respect to a fighter.
“But the way Charlo performed, even calling himself ‘lion’ and ‘I’m different to everyone else he’s fought’ and saying all this, and to perform like that, you’re lying to yourself and you’re lying to everyone. … And I knew that from a long time ago that he was a liar.”
Whether he lands the Charlo fight or not, Tszyu expects to campaign at 154 pounds “maybe another year. … But if the opportunity arises to get to something bigger at 160, 168 even, I’ll jump on with both hands.”