When you think of Kostya Tszyu, what comes to mind? The great fighter from Russia that now lives in Australia…the unforgettable images of the KO win over Zab Judah…the long streak of masterful wins as junior welterweight champion…married to wife Natasha, father of three (Timophey, Nikita, Anastasia)…the man Angelo Dundee said is the hardest training fighter he ever witnessed?
For such a great fighter, not a whole lot is known about Tszyu. Unlike our other great champions, we do not know much about Tszyu’s character, personality, attitudes, or his unique psychology.
Boxing fans are familiar that Bernard Hopkins is the outspoken renegade who wasn’t afraid to challenge the system and do it His Way. Boxing fans know Roy Jones is maybe the most amazing talent we ever saw – but his smart business sense may have prevented us from ever witnessing his grandest, most electrifying and defining performance against top competition. We know Oscar as the transcending superstar who just may be the greatest non-heavyweight attraction in boxing history – his fights are events, not just fights. Antonio Tarver is the intelligent and articulate man who planned for over a decade just how he’d shock the world’s greatest fighter…though many people still mistakenly think it was a “lucky punch” and not the genius of Tarver that conquered Roy Jones.
The legacy of Kostya Tszyu (30-1) is not as clear at this moment. So far, his career is a study of near-perfection. Aside from one defeat to Vince Phillips in 1997, Tszyu has seemingly been unbeatable since 1992. Dominant wins over such tough competition as Zab Judah, Diobelys Hurtado, Oktay Urkal, Ben Tackie, Julio Cesar Chavez, Rafael Ruelas, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Sharmba Mitchell and Jesse James Leija certainly prove it.
Tszyu’s next fight will be a big rematch with Sharmba Mitchell in November. Then, looming on the horizon are potential superfights with Arturo Gatti and Floyd Mayweather which should be the grand finale of a great career. Tszyu, 35 in September, says he will only fight for two or three more years.
In this overdue, in-depth interview with Kostya Tszyu, you are about to finally discover a new perspective on one of the most inspirational and extraordinary champions of modern boxing.
Boxing Digest: How has your hunger changed now that you are in your mid 30’s?
Kostya Tszyu: “It is different. I can’t say it’s the same hunger that it used to be. I look at it this way: I put a motivation for myself…why I’m doing this…of course, hunger is coming from success. When you always (have) success, I mean, I have achieved everything in (the) sport already. But you can not retire this way, like this. To stop now…I can’t stop it. I have a few things to achieve more. And this is the hunger, it’s a big hunger.”
Boxing Digest: How would you like to exit boxing? What would be your desired way to retire from boxing?
Kostya Tszyu: “I haven’t been in the States for some time. I have very big fan base in Australia and in Russia. Huge. But I never had big fan base here in United States. And this is the capital of boxing – the United States. And I have to prove to you guys (media), the fans, that I am one of the best 140 lb. champions for all the years.”
Boxing Digest: Next for you is the Sharmba Mitchell rematch. How will you prevent it from again being a dirty fight with a lot of wrestling?
Kostya Tszyu: “For him to not hold me. It’s very simple way – wrestling, if you hold me and I move my hands away, and he wasn’t strong in the leg because of injury. And that’s why he fell.”
Boxing Digest: You believe he quit that fight?
Kostya Tszyu: “Yes, I believe so. I believe it was quit (TKO 7 win in February 2001). You heard what he said in the corner. Everyone heard (on TV). And unfortunately for him, he couldn’t admit this. And he knew it was a round or two – I started getting closer and closer to him. My timing wasn’t the best in the first few rounds. But I started picking up in the 4th-5th round. And he knew that it was just a matter of time before he was gonna be down.”
Boxing Digest: In what fight were you at your very best?
Kostya Tszyu: “I think one of the best performances was against (Miguel Angel) Gonzalez (TKO 10 for WBC Interim title in Miami, FL in 1999). I had really fought against a great boxer, and just rip him apart. Slowly, slowly, slowly just destroy him. And I enjoy it. I really enjoyed that fight.”
Boxing Digest: Are you concerned that the inactivity of nearly two years because of injuries may hurt you? Can ring rust be a factor in the rematch with Mitchell? (Note: Tszyu’s last fight was a TKO 6 over Leija on January 19, 2003.)
Kostya Tszyu: “Even though I haven’t been in the ring, I’ve been in the gym all the time. Even in this trip – everything upside down, it’s 4 a.m. in Australia time – I’ve already been in the gym this morning. After interview with ESPN, we came straight back and went straight to the gym. I’ve been training every day here. I’m happy with myself and I’m happy with my body. I’m always thinking about positive things, not negative. And I’m thinking positives about everything in life.”
Boxing Digest: Describe your pre-fight feeling?
Kostya Tszyu: “Very comfortable. Relaxing. I always sleep before the fight. Very relaxing. Getting ready to go the ring, I concentrate, get focsued. Think of what I will do, like a plan. I have studied every single thing about my opponent. What exactly they’re gonna do. What great movements that they have. (What do you eat?) Not much at all. I always like to be hungry for the fight…hungry and angry [smiles].”
Boxing Digest: After entering the ring, do you look into the eyes of your opponent?
Kostya Tszyu: “Yes, I look at my opponent. I’ve got a special power in my eye. I don’t know what…it’s like a fire. I can see how he feels, how he’s nervous, how he feels inside. I can tell. I can tell by eye if my opponent is a good or bad person.”
Boxing Digest: Sharmba Mitchell sounds pretty confident about fighting you again…
Kostya Tszyu: “Great.”
Boxing Digest: Is there any chance you can lose against him?
Kostya Tszyu: “I don’t think about that possibility at all. I am very confident in myself. Look…you’ve seen him talk a lot. You’ve been at the press conference for the fight. He was very quiet, wasn’t he? He was quiet. He was very quiet, very respectful. But he never (has) been respectful when I wasn’t there. That shows that he – can’t say scared, it’s wrong word – but he’s very concerned. And he will concern more when we start fighting.”
Boxing Digest: Do you have any advice for Mike Tyson?
Kostya Tszyu: “Geeez, he’s a grown man, why should I give any advice for Mike Tyson [smiles]?”
Boxing Digest: I mean from one great fighter to another great fighter…
Kostya Tszyu: “(Pause)…Maybe he has people around him that are not genuinely giving him the right advice…but are more interested in reaching in his pockets. And I think this is the wrong thing because he does listen, he does listen to other people. Like maybe some people may…like some people say how good he is in the gym and in training. But maybe he’s not good in the gym, but they’re still saying this.”
Boxing Digest: Have you met Mike Tyson?
Kostya Tszyu: “No, I haven’t met him. But he’s been in the corner of Zab Judah when we fought. But actually he was in his corner, but he knew that Zab was gonna lose.”
Boxing Digest: Really? How did you know that?
Kostya Tszyu: “I’ve got inside sources [smiles].”
Boxing Digest: So you knew you would beat Judah before the fight even started? How did you know?
Kostya Tszyu: “Of course, I never knew that it was gonna be in the second round. I did predict it about (round) eight or nine, where he’s gonna be tired. The way I train, no one trains. And I knew if I would put pressure on him, he’s not gonna be able to withstand this pressure for a long time. He’ll make mistake. It’s all about one split-second. Boxing is a funny thing…you blink your eyes and somebody says ‘Goodnight’ to you [smiles].”
Boxing Digest: I remember seeing you put your arm around Judah at the weigh-in and you were very friendly, smiling at him, almost like a father with a son. That’s how it looked. And he just froze and looked uncomfortable, like he didn’t know how to react to you. Do you remember that? That’s moment when it first hit me that you could win…
Kostya Tszyu: “When somebody can be intimidated, I use this. Because I’m very wise person [smiles]. I know how to intimidate my opponents. I know how to play tricky stuff for them. And that’s what…boxing’s not really physical, it’s all about mental. And I beat him before fight. I think it was at weigh-in.”
Boxing Digest: Yes, at the weigh-in is when you put your arm around him. And it confused him.
Kostya Tszyu: “You know what I ask him? I did ask him about his daughter. And this was shock for him. You expecting something different when the unexpected things come up, he was shocked. Look, I love kids. And his daughter is Destiny – I did some homework. And, look, it’s great, I love kids. His daughter was just born and how’s your daughter? He expect something different before. And he lost himself in that question.”
Boxing Digest: What about his career since your fight? He’s done well. But with all that talent, he’s kind of underachieved…
Kostya Tszyu: “Zab is in a downfall as far as I can see. And he needs to make some changes in his life if he wants to achieve something.”
Boxing Digest: What’s been his downfall – lack of focus, too many distraction, immaturity? His talent is unbelievable.
Kostya Tszyu: “My fight [smiles]. He’s got great talent, great speed, great abilities. But knockout like this stays forever in mind. He doesn’t want to get hit again. And if it is gonna stay in his mind, he can’t box anymore. He should retire. When we go in the ring, we know we’re going to get hit. We know. We’re not the ballet people. But if you go in there and have doubt in your mind that you’re afraid to get hit, forget it.”
Boxing Digest: Can you tell us what some of your hobbies and interests are?
Kostya Tszyu: “I like reading and fishing. The first time I went fishing I was three-years-old. My father (Boris) took me. I just liked it, it’s interesting to be there. Not just to catch the fish…I like meeting new people. When I meet somebody, I try to find something, learn something. To improve myself.”
Boxing Digest: What’s been the greatest moment of your career?
Kostya Tszyu: “So many great moments. I think the best one now was the win against Zab Judah (TKO 2 in 2001 to unify the 140-lb. championship). (Why?) The recognition in the world become very different. Not only the recognition, it’s feelings from other people coming to you – it’s differently.”
Boxing Digest: How about your most painful boxing moment?
Kostya Tszyu: “Probably when I lost against Vince Phillips (TKO 10 in ’97). It was my most painful moment. I can’t say it’s the lowest point of my life, but painful, yeah.”
Boxing Digest: How did you change after the loss to Vince Phillips?
Kostya Tszyu: “Preparation. I become a professional athlete. From that day I changed everything in my preparation. Everything. Some part of my team went gone. And that’s a difference.”
Boxing Digest: Considering you’re the best at 140, how do you rate the others such as Harris, Hatton, Cotto, Mitchell, Gatti…can you put them in order?
Kostya Tszyu: “I don’t want to rate this way. As far as I’m concerned, it’s only one number…it’s Number one. Another one…it can be 110, who cares? For example, in the beginning of my career I never rate myself two, three, four, five…I didn’t care about these numbers. Because I planned to be champion. And there’s only one thing that matters…to be world champion.”
Boxing Digest: Okay, let me put it this way: Who do you foresee taking over as the King at 140 after you retire in two or three years?
Kostya Tszyu: “I don’t care [laughs]. Look…Mayweather…possibility for him to be – if he not decide to make any stupid things in life. Yeah, probably him.”
Boxing Digest: Comment on possibly fighting Arturo Gatti in the future…
Kostya Tszyu: “Look, the fight against Gatti would be great. For a very simple reason…people want to see this fight. They’ve got a big demand for this. And I believe there’s only one reason why I should fight him – two great champions, it’s going to be a great match and pleasure for others to watch. I respect Arturo very much. And I do believe he respect me very well. It’s going to be just a great business, it’s gonna be a great show.”
Boxing Digest: Comment on fighting Floyd Mayweather…
Kostya Tszyu: “It would be a great fight. I fought his uncle (Roger – W12 in ’95 in Newcastle, Australia) who’s training him now. It would be good to fight him too. I remember after Olympic Games (’96) we were in same room as Bob Arum, he just start his career. I already was world champion. It would be a good, good matchup. If the short time will be able to produce this match, it will be great fight.”
Boxing Digest: Comment on a fight with Vicious Vivian Harris.
Kostya Tszyu: “Possibility. You know they took (WBA) title away from me. I believe it was an unfair way. It’s wrong way. But, look, I’m proud of myself. I haven’t done anything wrong. And that’s why I have to think about this – if I move up to next division. You’ve got (Cory) Spinks there. That would be a great match. That’s great possibility.”
Boxing Digest: Your opinion of Miguel Cotto?
Kostya Tszyu: “He’s a good prospect. Lovemore (N’dou) gave him a good fight. He’s still a young kid. And they probably not want me to face him yet. Because he’s a kid, and the kid will be destroyed by man. If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna be another great match. Another young fighter that probably in the future can be good. But I haven’t seen him too close yet. I have watched the fight but never studied him yet.”
Boxing Digest: If successful against Mitchell in November, who would you prefer to fight?
Kostya Tszyu: “Again, I’m looking at what you guys want. That’s what I’m asking…what you want, that’s what’s gonna happen. I still got great contract with Showtime – three fights plus two – but long way to go. And I believe whatever good opponent I’m to face, I’m ready. I’m ready for anybody. If it’s even possibility from Showtime deal with HBO – because it’s gonna be (an) issue, I’m ready.”
Boxing Digest: Who are your favorite boxers to watch?
Kostya Tszyu: “I do respect Hopkins very much. I do respect Oscar very much. And the reason – how they handle themselves outside the ring. And they’ve got a lot of similarities with myself, to see how they do the business. And that’s why I’m respecting powerful what they do.”
Boxing Digest: You go back a long way with Roy Jones, true?
Kostya Tszyu: “Oh, we know each other from 1987, when he was in junior world championship in Cuba. From that time we know each other. I was really happy to see him in my gym when he was filming The Matrix. He came to see me in the gym, support me. And have great relations to me.”
Boxing Digest: Will Roy avenge that loss to Antonio Tarver?
Kostya Tszyu: “It just proves that anything can happen to anybody. I’m good fan of Roy and I believe he’s gonna be good in rematch. If he’s gonna have the rematch with Tarver, I think he’s got a good chance to win…again. Again [smiles].”
Boxing Digest: What people do you most admire?
Kostya Tszyu: “Professionals. People who do things professionally, very classy. Because I like to see everything. If it’s ballet or a drawing – it should be very professional, without mistakes. There are not many good professionals. I like people who try their best.”
(Note: This interview was originally published in Boxing Digest magazine in the early 2000s.)