Kostya Tszyu was the first Russian-born fighter to achieve professional boxing greatness and it was by no accident. King Kostya was not only a superb technical boxer/puncher but also a master at the art of psychological warfare.
Years ago, I asked the former undisputed Super Lightweight champion if he had ever met Mike Tyson and the basic query elicited an unexpected goldmine of an anecdote:
“No, I haven’t met him,” replied Tszyu. “But he was in the corner of Zab Judah when we fought. But, actually, he was in the corner, but he knew that Zab was gonna lose.”
Whoa! Now there’s a revelation! How did you know that, Kostya?! “I got inside sources,” smiled the affable Russian.
So you knew you had Judah before the fight even started?
“Of course I never knew it was gonna be in the second round,” Tszyu replied. “I did predict about 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].”
Suddenly, I remembered the unforgettable image of something that happened at the Tszyu-Judah weigh-in in Las Vegas.
“I remember you put your arm around Judah at the weigh-in, and you were smiling at him,” I said to Kostya. “You almost looked like a father with his son, and Judah froze and looked so uncomfortable when you talked to him. Like he didn’t know how to react to you. Do you recall this moment?”
“When somebody can be intimidated I use this,” said Tszyu. “Because I’m very wise person [he smiled]. 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 the weigh-in.”
Yes, I replied, that’s when you put your arm around him, all friendly and gracious.
“You know what I ask him?” Kostya asked me. “I did ask him about his daughter. And this was shock for him. You expecting something different – when the unexpected thing comes up – he was shocked. Look, I love kids. And his daughter is Destiny – I did some homework. And, look, it’s great, his daughter was just born and, How’s your daughter? He expect something different before fight. And he lost himself in that question.”
A fascinating study of psychological warfare. In his prime Tszyu was a boxing genius. So I asked the master what he thought of the talented but mistake-prone Brooklynite:
“His talent is unbelievable,” praised Tszyu. “He’s got great talent, great speed, great abilities. But knockout like this stays forever on his mind. He doesn’t want to get hit again. And if it’s gonna stay in his mind, he can’t box anymore. 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 of to get hit, forget it. Zab is in a downfall as far as I see. He needs to make some changes in his life if he want to achieve something.”
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