Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Thoughts On Horn-Tszyu


Prior to March of this year, as is usually the case, the Boxing schedule was full of highly anticipated bouts that were scheduled to take place around the world. Of course, the global COVID-19 crisis that was becoming more and more a serious issue going back to late last year eventually became something that could not be dismissed and ultimately caused a halt to not only sports including Boxing, but also everyday life. In terms of Boxing, one of the anticipated encounters that was unfortunately put on hold was the bout between former WBO Welterweight champion Jeff Horn and undefeated rising contender Tim Tszyu, which was originally scheduled to take place during the month of April in Australia.


A grudge match between two of the top stars on the Australian/New Zealand Boxing scene. As is the case with most bouts between rivals, there has been a war of words between the fighters and their camps. In some ways, this would be a bout of youth versus experience. For former world champion Jeff Horn, who was now competing as a 154lb. Jr. Middleweight, this represented a bit of a crossroads fight after suffering some career setbacks.


It was not long ago that Horn made a major splash on the world stage by defeating future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao to win the WBO Welterweight world championship in July 2017. A victory that was seen by many particularly here in the United States as a controversial decision based largely on Pacquiao’s status as a legend in the sport as well as what was seen by some as questionable scoring with the fight taking place in Horn's hometown of Brisbane, Australia. Despite the view of some particularly amongst casual fans of the sport that Horn was unknown going into the fight with Pacquiao, he had earned status as a mandatory challenger prior to that fight and had given a good account of himself against one of Boxing’s all-time greats regardless of what one might feel about the scoring.


After one successful defense of the WBO crown, Horn would suffer the first loss of his career in losing the title to multi-division world champion Terence Crawford in June 2018. This was followed by a second setback two fights later when Horn lost to Michael Zerafa in August of last year as a Middleweight. Despite avenging his loss to Zerafa in his last fight in December of last year, questions remained regarding Horn. The basis of those questions in this observer’s view are rooted from the fact that Horn was stopped in his two career losses that came in a relatively short period of time.


In facing Tim Tszyu, Horn faced a fighter known as a “Knockout Artist.” Tszyu, the son of former longtime Jr. Welterweight world champion Kostya Tszyu has much like his father, carved a reputation for having an ability to end fights early having stopped even of his  fifteen previous opponents inside the distance. The question in my mind regarding Tim Tszyu as this fight neared was whether or not he was ready for a step up in caliber of opposition after such a quick rise. With COVID-19 very much still impacting the world, the delayed encounter between Horn and Tszyu would finally take place on Wednesday, August 26th in Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville, Australia before a crowd of limited capacity.


Under normal circumstances, I would question what effect if any would the atmosphere of fighting in a stadium before a massive crowd would have on a young fighter like Tszyu, who was fighting on a big stage like this for the first time. As has been the case since the sport began attempting to resume in June, I wondered what the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis would have on both fighters in their respective preparations for this fight. I also wondered based on Tszyu’s record in scoring many of his knockouts inside of four rounds, whether he would look to jump on Horn from the outset.


In contrast to Tszyu, I expected Horn to try and use his experience to extend Tszyu into the middle and late rounds and provide him with a stern test. What occurred when the two fighters entered the ring can be described as ugly as Horn and Tszyu engaged in a fight that saw frequent grappling from the outset on the inside. While maybe not the most entertaining type of Boxing match to watch from a fan’s perspective, a fighter should do what they have to do within the rules to win the fight. In this instance that fighter was Tim Tszyu. 


By forcing the combat to occur on the inside where frankly, he had a grappling advantage over Horn, despite this not being a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight or grappling competition, this allowed Tszyu to use his strength and by not giving Horn room to breath or any space where he could dictate the combat, this proved to be an effective strategy. As the fight progressed Tszyu began to have his way with the more experienced Horn and landed hard, thudding punches when the two fighters were not in close. In round three, Horn was sent to the canvas three times. Two of those instances were from Tszyu throwing him down in close, but one was an official knockdown from a flush left hook to the head.


This would be followed in round six when a left hook to the body of Horn forced the former world champion to take a knee in the second official knockdown of the fight. By this point in the bout, I was concerned for Jeff Horn’s well-being as it was clear that this was not his day and after the second knockdown, the fight was no longer competitive in my view and one fighter was gradually suffering a severe beating. The one-sided fight was finally and mercifully stopped by Horn’s corner after the eighth round.


What is the biggest win to date in the career of Tim Tszyu will likely allow him to move up in the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) ratings in the 154lb. Jr. Middleweight division where he is currently rated in the top ten by both organizations. Whether or not this victory over a former world champion in Jeff Horn will catapult him into a world title opportunity within the next year or so remains to be seen, but a dominant victory over a fighter such as Horn will only continue to increase the buzz surrounding the rise of Tim Tszyu.


As for Jeff Horn, it may be tempting for some to say that he should consider retirement after suffering three knockout losses in a relatively short timeframe. It has never been my intention as a writer, journalist, and Boxing historian to tell a fighter when it is time to hang up the gloves. Only in the most severe circumstances over the years has this observer said publicly that a fighter should consider retiring. This I would not consider a severe circumstance, but I will say that at minimum Horn should take time to allow his body to heal and then re-evaluate his options, Horn has after all been an active fighter since beating Manny Pacquiao three years ago and the body does take a physical toll from fights that are won as it does from fights that are lost. Depending on what Horn and those around him decide what is best for him at this point in his career, perhaps a long rest to allow himself to adequately recover both physically and mentally could be what he needs before deciding what he does next.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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