Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Has Tszyu Put The Jr. Middleweight Division On Notice?


The career of undefeated Jr. Middleweight contender Tim Tszyu has seen him quickly progress from a prospect following in the footsteps of his father the longtime former Jr. Welterweight world champion and Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu, to a contender, who appears to be on the cusp of challenging for a world championship of his own. In just eighteen professional bouts over nearly five years as a professional, the twenty-six year old Tszyu has developed a reputation as a “Knockout Artist.” Much like his father, the twenty-six year old Tszyu has the ability and punching power to end a fight at any time with either hand. Tszyu’s progression in his career thus far has largely been highlighted by victories over former WBO Welterweight world champion Jeff Horn and former world title challenger Dennis Hogan. Two fights, which Tszyu scored knockout wins.


Recently however, Tszyu had a question asked of him that in some ways is one that is asked of many fighters regardless of their standing in the sport. How would he adapt to a change in opposition on relatively limited notice? This observer is referring to the recent circumstances Tszyu found himself in when his scheduled bout against Michael Zerafa on July 7th was changed when Zerafa pulled out of the fight in the week prior due to concerns over the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic and newly enacted restrictions in Australia. Although promoters did have the go ahead to stage the fight at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre in Newcastle, Australia, Zerafa citing concerns opted to withdraw from the bout leaving Tszyu in need of an opponent or to postpone the bout until such time that the circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis could improve and the bout with Zerafa could presumably be rescheduled.


While circumstances like this in a fighter being in need of an opponent on short notice is not new throughout all of combat sports when such instances occur, the situation is certainly not ideal for a fighter or the fighter’s team. It is those circumstances however, that could provide an opportunity for an opponent to step in. Although the fighter who is in the position of having to step into a fight with a limited window of time to prepare is almost always at a disadvantage, there remains the element of the unknown that makes a fight intriguing. Fortunately for Tszyu, he would find an opponent on one week’s notice, enter Steve Spark.


Even though Spark had faced limited opposition going into this fight with Tszyu, what made his introduction into this equation interesting was that in his thirteen previous professional bouts, Spark had scored knockouts in eleven of his twelve career victories having lost one bout in his second pro bout via majority decision. Any time a fighter registers a career knockout percentage of over 80%, it does give an impression that they could at minimum provide a test even under circumstances of taking a fight on short notice.


In some ways however, what occurred when the two fighters squared off resembled Tszyu’s fight with Dennis Hogan earlier this year. A systematic attack where Tszyu gradually walked his opponent down getting in close and not allowing Spark space to maneuver. As was the case in his bout with Hogan, the focal point of Tszyu’s attack was to his opponent’s body. What should not be overlooked however, is while this process for Tszyu was relatively straightforward in its execution, he also took some punches from a “Game “ Spark who did try to make a fight of it. Even though the offense Spark was able to land was not able to hurt Tszyu nor discourage him from coming forward, it did show Tszyu’s ability to take a punch while sticking to his fight plan.


Ultimately, it would be Tszyu’s steady pressure and body attack that broke Spark down as two knockdowns in round three, both as a result of left hooks to the body would bring an end to the fight. While this amounted to a “Stay Busy” fight both in regard to the circumstances that led to it as well as what occurred inside the ring for Tszyu, he did show the ability to adapt as well as the ability to take a punch. Under circumstances which could give a fighter more pressure and circumstances where some fighters have been caught off guard, Tszyu’s performance in this fight is really all one could ask for if you’re on Tszyu’s management team and are trying to position him for a world championship bout.


Although a fight with Michael Zerafa could still happen, the question is whether Tim Tszyu should be in line to challenge for a world championship? With a unification bout between Jermell Charlo, the IBF/WBA/WBC Jr. Middleweight world champion and WBO world champion Brian Castano scheduled to take place on July 17th and Tszyu being rated number one currently in the World Boxing Organization’s (WBO) Jr. Middleweight ratings and rated number three by both the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Council (WBC) respectively, it may be a question of whether Tszyu will be next in line amongst the rotation of mandatory challengers for the winner of that fight, which will further unify the 154lb. Jr. Middleweight division.


While current International Boxing Organization (IBO) world champion Erislandy Lara for now is on the outside of this unification process and even though some do not hold the IBO in high regard and see the Charlo-Castano as a bout for the Undisputed Jr. Middleweight world championship, if a showdown between the winner of that fight and Lara is not in the immediate plans to fully unify the division, it will be interesting to see if Tszyu can upset any potential plans when he does get his opportunity. An opportunity that this observer feels he has earned.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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