WHEREAS for many people Christmas Day is a day for giving and for smiling a little wider and for being a little nicer, Australia’s Tim Tszyu discovered that Christmas Day 2022 was, sadly, going to be a break from tradition.
For it was on that day Tszyu learned that a world super-welterweight title fight against Jermell Charlo, set for January, had been postponed due to an injury suffered by Charlo in preparation. It was therefore that day Tszyu’s plans for 2023 fell apart just as he was allowing himself to get excited. Empty-handed, he had no presents to speak of and was instead left with the sinking feeling of someone who had woken up expecting to receive one particular gift only to find that item on their wish list had for some reason been ignored.
He smiled through the pain, of course, but it couldn’t have been easy for Tszyu to think about entering 2023 with his plans upended. It was no doubt a relief, then, that it didn’t take long for his team to set about cheering him up, lobbying first to the WBO for a vacant interim title shot in Australia, and then, once that had been granted, seeking an opponent to give Tszyu the kind of test he had been expecting from Charlo.
This led Team Tszyu to the door of Tony Harrison, the only man who has so far managed to defeat Charlo, who agreed to fight Tszyu on March 12 in Sydney no sooner than the opportunity was presented to him. Similarly, Tszyu, despite the temptation to wait for Charlo to recover, didn’t need to be asked twice when offered Tony Harrison as a potential replacement opponent.
“Every fight you take is all on the line,” Tszyu said. “You’re one punch away from going back to the very bottom. It’s all on the line and a gamble, but this is what I do.
“He (Harrison) was the next best available option. I’m at that stage of my career where I really don’t care who is in front of me. I’m ready to take them all out.”
Certainly, one gets the sense Tszyu is a man impatient and a man fed up with forever being known as Kostya’s son and merely a great prospect. At 28, and with 21 pro fights under his belt, he feels the time is now, both to announce himself on the world stage and also discover for himself just how far he can go on this journey to replicate the feats of his legendary father.
To date, and with plenty of attention on him, Tszyu has hardly put a foot wrong, impressing many with his cool, calm and unflappable demeanour. No matter the size of the shadow from which he seeks to escape, Tszyu appears the same every time he fights and has made continual step-ups without ever looking like coming undone.
Only in his last fight, in fact, back in March 2022, did Tszyu, 21-0 (15), show signs of fragility and, perhaps, frustration. Indeed, it was last year against Terrell Gausha, another American, Tszyu found himself knocked down in the first round via a stiff right hand, after which he struggled to assert his usual dominance, indicated by the eventual scorecards (114-113, 116-111 and 115-112). Very unlike Tszyu, who is typically so measured and assured, Gausha managed to rattle him early and then box well for much of the fight, always on the retreat but able to cover up well and get off with his own counterpunchers from time to time.
Lesson learned, Tszyu, a year later, now goes into this fight against Harrison knowing he will need to be better than he was against Gausha. Because Harrison, although stopped three times as a pro, is a man renowned for his relentless pressure, his unbreakable spirit, and his ability to spring an upset.
His 2018 win against Charlo, a fight in which he outhustled a champion whose record read 31-0, demonstrated all that makes Harrison such a nuisance and delivered the Detroit native the WBC super-welterweight belt. Fighting hard from first bell to last, he refused to give Charlo a moment’s rest and was a deserving winner after 12 rounds, taking the belt by scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 116-112. That win not only confirmed Harrison as a force to be reckoned with but was well-earned, too, following a tough career which had seen him rebound from losses against Willie Nelson in 2015 (TKO 9) and Jarrett Hurd in 2017 (TKO 9).
All he had to do now was repeat the victory over Charlo in the pair’s rematch, yet, unfortunately for Harrison, this he wasn’t able to do. Instead, Charlo, a year later, came out stronger in the return, dropping Harrison in the second round and then twice more in the 11th, the round in which the fight eventually ended.
From there, with wounds licked, Harrison, 29-3-1 (21), returned with a draw against Bryant Perrella in April 2021 before a year later scoring a solid 10-round decision win against Sergio Garcia, the former European super-welterweight champion from Spain. Now, almost 12 months on from that, Harrison steps up once again, hoping to this time fare better than he did against Charlo second time around.
“I am the only world championship fighter he has fought,” the 32-year-old American said of Tszyu. “I am the first one and I am probably going to be the last because he’s going to go back to the bottom and have to rebuild this stuff back up.
“He’s not a weak kid but to say he’s like Kostya Tszyu, I think we’re giving him just a little too much.”
That may be true, and undoubtedly comparing Tim and Kostya, while only natural, runs the risk of sounding premature, particularly when dealing with achievement. However, the new Tszyu has shown enough in his 21 fights to date to be confident of adding Tony Harrison to his list of victims and, with the backing of both his father and home support, one expects him to come through this test – the biggest of his career – by decision.
On the Sydney undercard, meanwhile, unbeaten super-bantamweight Sam Goodman, 13-0 (7), gets another decent test in the form of TJ Doheny, 23-3 (17), who, while 36 years of age and nearing the end of his career, has never been stopped in an 11-year pro career and should provide the fast-rising Australia with some resistance over the 10-round distance.