See it Wednesday on ESPN+ at 5 AM ET, 2 AM PT
By David Finger
It’s been a crazy ride for everyone involved, but It looks like boxing fans in Australia will finally get a chance to see their favorite son throw down in an “All-Australian” battle against a solid, hard punching regional contender who has the skills to test the superstar.
And yet the fact that we are here right now is nothing short of a pugilistic miracle, one that is a testament to promoter Matt Rose’s tenacity and main event fighter Tim Tszyu’s popularity.
As soon as the “delta variant” of Covid-19 made its unwelcome debut last month in the city of Sydney, Australia, local government officials began to impose strict health and safety protocols to try and stop a potential outbreak from emerging. A greater Sydney lockdown was extended to July 16th after cases of Covid rose to 330 in Sydney. And although Newcastle, where the fight will be taking place, is nearly 100 miles from Sydney, the new round of precautions were still a devastating blow for the much-anticipated brawl between Tim Tszyu and Michael Zerafa.
Still, Tszyu was a popular PPV draw across Australia and despite additional limits on capacity for live events in NSW, and despite Sydney being in lockdown, it looked like Tim Tszyu was going to headline a profitable and successful card.
But there was one more unexpected wrench that was thrown into the mix and nearly derailed the Tszyu-Zerafa fight: Michael Zerafa.
The trash-talking Aussie pulled out of the fight on a week’s notice, citing concerns that he could be required to do a 14-day quarantine after the fight (he would not).
“We are bitterly disappointed to have Michael Zerafa withdraw from this big showdown with Tim Tszyu with only 6 days to go,” promoter Matt Rose said of Zerafa’s move. “It is shocking. His weak excuse of a covid concern during a world pandemic is very unprofessional. He was concerned that he may have to do a 14-day lockdown if we have a breakout of covid. At present, the only restrictions he had was to self isolate for 72 hours upon return to Melbourne until receiving a clear covid test.”
Regardless of how distasteful the idea of a 14-day quarantine would be for a professional prizefighter who just earned the largest payday of his career, covid-19 restrictions have become a way of life for most professional athletes (bubble anyone?) and having to deal with some covid restrictions was hardly unforeseeable for a country that has a so far earned a reputation for aking strong precautions against the spread of coronavirus. However, Michael Zerafa apparently didn’t get the memo that we have been in the middle of a worldwide pandemic since 2019.
But in the middle of Michael Zerafa’s Karen-esque meltdown in the middle of Trader Joe’s emerged Australia’s own Rocky Balboa to save the day.
Young prospect Steve Spark (12-1, 11 KOs) seems to be a fighter with a promising future, especially after his win over Australian contender Jack Brubaker back in April. But the prospect of him fighting Tim Tszyu looked to be years down the line. At least it did until last week.
“At very late notice we have secured a hot high prospect in Stevie Spark 12-1 (11KOs) his knockout ratio will make the fight dangerous,” Rose added. But Tim is ready for anyone. He a superstar on the brink of taking on the world. He wants to desperately fight the winner of Charlo and Castano and we hope to make this happen should all go plan against the dangerous Spark.”
“It’s crazy how it’s all worked out,” Spark said at a recent press conference. “It could turn out to be one of the greatest upsets in boxing history in Australia.”
Although Spark is seen as a surprisingly solid opponent to step in on such short notice under these circumstances, he is still seen as a huge underdog.
“I think he’s a good boxer,” Tim Tszyu said at a recent press conference. “He’s got the skills. But there are levels in boxing and I’m no Brubaker.”
Nonetheless, Spark feels he has more than a puncher’s chance, and he also recognizes that even if he the odds aren’t in his favor, he’s making the most of his opportunity.
“Not many people are giving me a chance,” Spark added. “I understand that, but I’ve got more of a chance than Michael Zerafa because he didn’t even show up.”
The fight is on PPV in Australia and will be available to American fight fans on ESPN+ at 5 AM ET, 2 AM PT.