By David Finger
Fight fans are a funny sort. You think that in 2021 we’d have learned our lesson by now. We seldom want to admit it, particularly those of us in the United States, but the sport tends to be very Amerocentric. We focus on those fighters who become household names fighting on televised fight cards in the United States, and disregard our fellow fight fans from overseas when they tell us about some young hotshot prospect or contender who is making waves outside of the bright lights of Las Vegas.
You think that by now we would have learned our lesson.
Just over a week after countless American boxing fans were forced to search YouTube and Google to get educated on who Josh Taylor was and how he emerged as undisputed junior welterweight champion, we are right back to where we started.
Only this time it’s in the junior middleweight division and the hot shot contender who should already be a household name is from Australia.
Make no mistake, undefeated #1 ranked Tim “The Soul Taker” Tszyu (18-0, 14 KOs) would almost certainly be one of the sports most talked about contenders if he fought out of Los Angeles instead of Sydney. But as he heads into a July 7 showdown with countryman Michael Zerafa (28-4, 17 KOs) he still has yet to fully register with a lot of fight fans. Despite the fact that he dominated Manny Pacquiao conquerer Jeff Horn via eighth round TKO last year. It was a performance that was just as impressive as the one Terrance Crawford put forth in his win over Horn, but it slipped under the radar. Earlier this year he destroyed two time world title challenger Dennis Hogan, who lost a controversial majority decision to Jaime Munguia in 2019. Again, under the radar. And if he is similarly impressive against Zerafa he will probably fly under the radar once again.
But if history is any guide, this may be the last time Tim Tszyu remains unknown. In fact, for at least one American fight fan, he is not being ignored.
“First off, Tim Tszyu is not even on the level to fight for a world title,” the IBF, WBA, and WBC junior middleweight champion Jermell Charlo said in an interview with Jim Maltzman last month. “And he’s not even on the level of guys that I would knock the f—k out of.”
It was an interesting opening salvo in a war of words that Tim Tszyu was not backing away from. Tszyu, who considers himself an “old school fighter,” hurled what is arguably the most damning criticism a fighter can throw at another. When asked If he considered Jermell Charlo an “old school fighter” as well, Tszyu was dismissive.
No way,” Tszyu replied. “He’s part of the modern day fighters.”
Even if Charlo is not envisioning a potential showdown with Tim Tszyu, it is clear that the Australian is looking ahead to the fight.
“I think Charlo has a lot of flaws,” Tszyu added. “I think he’s good at what he does. He’s good at his distance, he’s got power in both hands. But he’s got a lot of flaws that I can take.”
But then again, this is boxing and if there is one truism in boxing it is that there is always an upset waiting to upend the apple cart.
For Charlo, he still needs to get past WBO world champion Brian Castano on July 17th. Although Tim Tszyu is predicting a Charlo victory, he is not expecting the fight to be an easy one. And for Tim Tszyu, he has a tough fight next month as well against the aforementioned Zerafa.
Tszyu took some time to speak to Fightnews about his view of the Junior middleweight division, his upcoming fight with Zerafa, and when we can expect an “Australian Invasion”.
Tim right off the bat I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to Fightnews.com®. how are you doing and how are you feeling right now?
Yeah I’m all good. Currently into the daily preparations right now. Six weeks out from an my next fight so you know how it is with boxing. All in right now.
That kind of leads to my next question. How’s the preparation going and how are you feeling going into this fight with Zerafa?
Yeah I’m well. I’m well. Training camp always has its challenges. It’s never easy. It’s always hard. But I’m confident in this fight. Preparing myself really well. Sparring, doing plenty of rounds. Feeling super fit. In great condition right now.
You feel you’re in great condition right now?
Yeah, six weeks to go and I’m already in top condition.
You had a pretty eventful run since winning that decision over Dwight Ritchie in 2019. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that your win over Jeff Horn last year firmly established you as the hottest prospect in the Junior middleweight division. Yet to a lot of fans in the United States you’re still something of a mystery. Your still somewhat unknown. Needless to say the quickest fix to this would be a fight in the United States or in the alternative a fight on a major US network. Can we expect an “Australian Invasion” in 2021?
I hope so. I hope so. That’s always been my goal is to go over to the States. Once this fights over with and the times right I’ll be able to make my mark and make a lot of noise there.
You are currently the WBO Global Champion and the #1 ranked contender in the WBO. The WBO world champion, Brian Carlos Castano, is slated to fight fellow champion Jermell Charlo in a unification bout in July. What is your take on that fight and do you see yourself fighting the winner of that fight before the end of the year?
Look, if I’m mandatory…hopefully. Whoever is the undisputed world champion is going to be in the driver seat, they get to pick and choose who they want to fight. I want to become mandatory where they have no choice but to fight me. That’s the position I want to be at.
How do you rate Charlo?
Eh, Charlo’s a good fighter. To be in that position you can’t be a bum, that’s for sure. He’s a good fighter. But he’s got flaws. He’s not an old school throwback fighter like a lot of fighters these days. It’s a different era. The lack of competition to where it is now from back in the day. It’s a different era.
How about Castano. How would you rate Castano?
I reckon he’s a real tough fight for anyone. He just comes forward and makes it awkward. His input is insane, the amount of punches he throws. But if you have a fighter like Charlo who can sort of stick his way into just jabbing a few and find the keys to victory. You know styles make fights, you never know what can happen in boxing. But I see Charlo maybe picking him apart, but not stopping him. A twelve round decision.
So you’re thinking Charlo will win a decision in that fight?
Yeah. Close, not a one way traffic. It’ll be close. I think he’ll trouble Charlo. Castano will trouble Charlo. But then Charlo will use his range and distance.
With that being said how do you see a fight with yourself and either champion?
I think Charlo has a lot of flaws. I think he’s good at what he does. He’s good at his distance and he’s got power in both hands. That’s for sure. But he’s got a lot of flaws that I can take. And with Castano, I don’t mind those styles that walk forward. It always works well with me.
If Charlo ends up victorious would you see yourself potentially going to his hometown for a world title fight? Could we see you fighting in Texas?
Yeah I’ll fight anywhere. If the opportunity arises I’ll jump on it right away.
You talked about old school fighters. I take it you consider yourself an old school fighter?
Yeah, yeah. I mean to stop my foes. Stop my opponents and take everything away from them. A lot of fighters today it’s all about show. About being a show pony and talking outside of the ring and then getting in there and throwing a few jabs and running around. It’s not my thing. I’m in there to seek and destroy. Talk less and let my actions do my talking. There are a few fighters these days that are like that. There are a lot of fighters these days that aren’t. If you remember the old school era it was always like that. Seek ad destroy.
Again, I don’t want to put words in your mouth but you don’t consider Charlo an old school fighter?
No way. No way. He’s part of the modern day fighters.
Now I interviewed numerous fighters with famous pedigree, and I think I hate asking this question almost as much as the sons of legendary fighters hate being asked it. But for many fans this is something they can’t help but do: to compare you to your Hall of Fame Father Kostya Tszyu. How does your style compare to your father’s and how would you compare yourself to your father?
Well we are two completely different weight classes first of all. He’s about this small my dad. But what he’s done in his career, undisputed world champ for a decade. Not just a title defense but a decade. He was king of the croc and there was a lot of fighters who avoided him back in the day. To be compared to him…that’s an achievement itself. Again we are different weight divisions. I’m taller. Different fight styles. We just do things differently but we’re from the same pedigree.
There is a unique similarity between the trajectory of a potential fight with Charlo and the trajectory of your father’s fight with Zab Judah. Care to comment on that?
Yeah, my dad’s Zab Judah fight is my Charlo fight. That’s where I’m coming from. My dad started off here in Australia in silence. Unknown…until he hit that American stage. And he caught everyone off guard. He was always a mystery. He’d come in and out and never be in that public eye in America and we’re doing the same things here. When I come to the states and come as a mystery man and catch everyone off guard.
I’m glad you mention talking about coming to America as a mystery man because that seems to be, not just with Australian fighters but with a lot of fighters from overseas…there’s kind of a US-centric view with boxing fans and sometimes they don’t see these good young prospects coming up from other places. And sometimes they’re great champions that come up from places like Australia. I think of your father, I think about Jeff Fenech when he came to America and fought Azumah Nelson. You sort of answered this already but how do you see yourself as this mystery man coming to America. How do you see that progressing?
I think it comes with some advantages. No one takes you seriously first of all. And again, you catch everyone off guard.
Your win over Jeff Horn made you a household name in Australia. What was your biggest take away from that fight?
I didn’t get touched at all honestly. It was suppose to be a brutal battle and I made it into a clinical performance. and the fact that I’m experiencing big media attention and big crowds at such a young age and so early in my career it’s only going to be positive once I reached the peak.
Going back to your opponent on July 7, Michael Zerafa, there appears to be some bad blood between you and Zerafa. Is that a fair statement?
Yeah, well he’s been talking it up for a couple of years now. He’s been chasing me and running his mouth too much. Again, this fight is about showing a bit respect into boxing and showing that everything is done with your hands and not your mouth.
What do you know about him and what weaknesses does he have that you are looking to exploit?
I think he’s a good boxer. He’s been in there will Kell Brook. He’s been in there with some good fighters. But, there is a few weaknesses out there that I’m looking to take. One of them is his soul. Something you can’t teach. I want to take away his soul, and everything he thinks he believes I want to take it away from him.
He had some pretty noteworthy performances such as his two fights with Jeff Horn. Are you looking to make a statement with this fight? Are you looking to blow him out in a way that he hasn’t been blown out before? To jump on him early? Or are looking to box as you did in the Ritchie fight?
We’ll see, we will see on the night. as soon as you get in there everything changes. We’ll see on the night. But I am looking for a clinical performance and being able to wake him up and say I’m the top dog here in Australia.
And is there any message for American fans who may not be familiar with you just yet?
I’m looking forward to coming to the states soon. I’m looking forward to coming in there one day and fighting the big boys, supposedly the big boys, and taking these world titles from them.