Not since we lost count of the Rocky sequels has there been a boxing story this good.
Kostya Tszyu is widely regarded as the best Australian fighter in history. The Russian-born star not only captured the admiration and support of his adopted nation during the 1990s and 2000s; Tszyu hauled his craft into mainstream dialogue despite his rather punctuated command of English.
Time and time again, the diminutive welterweight stood tall. Equally, Tszyu’s post-career shadow extended well beyond his last bout in 2005. The following generation headlined by a mouthy ex-footballer did his legacy little justice. As a result, and helped by the rise of MMA, Australian boxing quickly drifted toward the outer postcodes of sporting relevance.
Then came a school teacher named Jeff Horn, who put sweet science back on a pedestal by defeating the great – yet somewhat aged – Manni Pacquaio in 2017. But almost two years since that memorable triumph before a full house at Suncorp Stadium, Horn has lost his belt and failed to seize the momentum. Both he and boxing are now back where they started, wondering how to regain top billing.
Enter Tim Tszyu. A gobsmacking imitation of his champion father, Tim made his pro debut in December 2016 and now boasts a 13-0 (10KO) record. Thanks to his latest victory last week, the 24-year-old also boasts the Australian National Boxing Federation’s super middleweight title.
Tim trains in the same southern Sydney gym as his father did. He even uses his dad’s sepia, hand-written training schedules to prepare for each fight. And that makes sense, given they also share the same trainer. Although Kostya has moved back to Russia, the pair are still close and converse regularly over Skype. Just like Australian boxing, Tim is captive to his father’s shadow. It looms over him from various angles as he spars, in the guise of huge promotional posters that were first plastered onto the gym’s walls in Kostya’s heyday.
But unlike other sporting sons of guns, Tim isn’t spooked by bloodlines. For him, their obvious marketing and publicity boon comes without the price of suffocating pressure. Having grown up watching his father in the gym and ring, Tim takes all the expectation in his stride. In other words, he lets the rest of us talk up this fantastic story while going about his business with a steely, no-nonsense attitude.
Now two generations of Australian boxing are on a collision course, with talk growing about a match-up between Tszyu Jnr and Horn. Tim’s camp is keen for the fight, but Horn and a considerable number of experts have scoffed at the proposition so soon.
Their concerns are valid. While the clash would be a promoter’s dream, momentarily restoring eyeballs and attention across the country, the last thing boxing needs is another false dawn. Tim might be the real deal. Or he might not. Only this much is certain: any chance of enhancing the famous Tszyu brand would be destroyed by any loss – especially on the biggest stage – before Version 2.0’s reputation is properly forged.
At this stage, the potential rewards and benefits for boxing are too rich to risk. And in any case, Tim’s gradual rise is a compelling story in and of itself. It doesn’t need a mis-guided shortcut that could well prove a knock-out blow.