WITHOUT doubt winning a world title is a wonderful thing, but with there being so many versions nowadays you can still win one and not be the best in the division. In my case, I beat not only the best super-lightweight in the division, but the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, in Kostya Tszyu, and in my hometown of Manchester. The manner in which I did it – the fact that he quit on his stool at the end of the 11th round – couldn’t have been more impressive. I couldn’t have written it more perfectly, and what a war it was: it was unbelievable.
I became the No.1 contender with the IBF after I’d beaten Mike Stewart in four rounds. I’ll be honest – and I know he won’t mind me saying this – Frank Warren, my promoter at the time, said to me, ‘You’re No.1 for the fight but you don’t have to fight Kostya Tszyu, we can go another route’. But I wouldn’t have been the man I thought I was if I turned my back on that opportunity.
It was what I’d dreamed of. I’d made 15 defences of my WBU title against good names like Vince Phillips and Ray Oliveira – my fights in Manchester were always a big deal – but when I went to the Tszyu press conference there were about 15 cameras where normally there would have been three or four. I remember sitting at the top table thinking, ‘This is what you call the big time’.