BRANDED stupid by Tony Harrison for taking an unnecessary risk in fighting him, Tim Tszyu confirmed his mandatory WBO shot at world super-welterweight champion Jermell Charlo with a ninth-round stoppage of the former WBC title holder.
The risk produced a significant reward as Tszyu added a marquee name to his record with a strong performance at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney. The Australian was leading 77-75 on all three cards when he rendered them irrelevant with an unanswered barrage of blows in the ninth round.
Four jolting rights to the head followed by a left dropped Harrison to the delight of the vast majority of the 11,740 spectators. He got up but referee Danrex Tapdasan then waved the fight off at 2-43 of the round, with the clearly fatigued Harrison offering few complaints.
Tszyu had been scheduled to fight Charlo for all the belts in Las Vegas on January 28, but the American was forced out of the bout by a broken left hand. The young contender could have sat tight and opted not to fight again before a rescheduled clash, but instead chose to stay active and fight Harrison, the only professional to have beaten Charlo. The additional confidence and big fight experience Tszyu gained by overcoming Harrison will surely prepare him better for the formidable challenge of dethroning Charlo than if they had met in January.
The eldest son of former super-lightweight champion Kostya Tszyu, 28-year-old Tim has gradually emerged from the vast shadow cast by his famous father to establish himself as a world class boxer in his own right.
The WBO billed Sunday’s bout for their interim strap but, in reality, it was all about confirming their next mandatory contender. While some Australians were quick to proclaim Tszyu had equalled his father’s world-title winning achievement, he reminded them Charlo was the undisputed champion and the victory over Harrison was another step on his journey and not the final destination.
“This is the interim belt, the champ has to be beaten and he has got all four belts,” Tszyu said, somewhat admirably. While improving to 22-0, he again lived up to his nickname “The Soul Taker”, bestowed upon him for his ability to sap the spirit of his opponent with consistent pressure and accurate attacks to head and body.
Harrison started well, however, piercing Tszyu’s guard with some of his trademark sharp jabs in the first two rounds. Tszyu displayed patience and restraint as he worked out the right distance and angles from which to unleash his power punches. The first significant one came in the third when a stiff right sent Harrison wobbling backwards.
Tszyu stalked the 32-year-old American throughout the fight, expertly cutting down the ring and forcing Harrison back onto the ropes. Perhaps Harrison thought he could have some success by countering Tszyu, but the Sydneysider was very selective with his attacks, rarely leaving himself exposed.
Tszyu won most of their exchanges on the ropes, with Harrison landing the occasional power shot in addition to more jabs, but at no stage did he appear to hurt the local fighter. Although Harrison’s skills kept him in the fight, he was worn down by a persistent Tszyu and crumbled quickly after the local boxer turned up the heat in the ninth.
All three of Harrison’s previous defeats had also been by a late stoppage, two in the ninth (against Jarret Hurd and Willie Nelson) and the other in the 11th (to Charlo in a rematch).
Once again he faded in the back half and it’s now hard to see how he will earn another title shot.
Harrison charmed the local media and fight fans in the leadup to the bout with his witty interviews, though he frequently questioned Tszyu’s capabilities and opposition.
Prior to conquering Harrison, Tszyu’s most significant victories were a points win over Terrell Gausha and stoppages of compatriot Jeff Horn and Australian-based Irishman Dennis Hogan.
Apart from his “stupid” barb Harrison also labelled Tszyu a diva after the Australian turned up at the last pre-fight press conference in a natty suit while he arrived bare-chested to show off his physique. Tszyu called the diva shot a low blow, a rare instance of him reacting to an opponent’s barb, but the focused Australian prefers to dismantle opponents though physical pain than trash talk.
Tim’s younger brother Nikita Tszyu, also a super-welterweight, improved his professional log to 5-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of compatriot Bo Belbin.
The younger Tszyu is carving out a reputation as a big puncher and he dropped Belbin once and followed up with several more blows before referee Will Soulos called a halt at the 1-46 mark.
Super-bantamweight Sam Goodman, arguably Australia’s best prospect, underlined his potential with a unanimous 10-round points win over former IBF belt-holder, TJ Doheny. Rated sixth by the WBO and IBF, 24-year-old Goodman dropped the Irishman with a peach of a short left in the third.
Goodman controlled the bout, earning scores in his favour of 100-89, 98-92 and 97-92.
Tokyo Olympic light-heavyweight bronze medallist Imam Khataev’s explosive start to his professional career continued with a second round stoppage of outgunned South Korean Gi Sung Gwak. Russian Khataev showcased plenty of power and accuracy before referee Brad Vocale intervened 28 seconds into the round. Khataev has taken just over seven minutes in total to dispose of his first three professional foes.
THE VERDICT: A patient Tszyu impressed atop an entertaining card in front of one of the biggest Sydney boxing crowds of recent times.