Interview with Kostya Tszyu
National Conference Call Transcript WBC/WBA/IBF 140-Pound Champion Kostya Tszyu,
Thursday, January 9, 2003
Kostya Tszyu (29-1-1, 23 KOs) discusses his upcoming fight on SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING against Jesse James Leija (43-5-2. 1 NC, 17 KOs) Saturday, Jan. 18, at 10 p.m. ET/PT from the Telstar Dome in Melbourne, Australia. One of only three undisputed world champions in boxing, Tszyu will make the first start in his adopted homeland of Australia in nearly five years when he defends his World Boxing Council/World Boxing Association/International Boxing Federation (WBC/WBA/IBF) 140-pound titles against former WBC super featherweight titleholder and current WBC No. 4 contender ‘Jesse’ James Leija. In a second 12-round fight to be shown live on SHOWTIME from Australia, undefeated contender and 2000 Uzbekistan Olympic Gold Medallist, Muhammad Abdullaev (10-0, 8 KOs), will make his third SHOWTIME appearance when he faces former IBF lightweight titleholder Philip Holiday (38-5-1, 22 KOs) for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) Intercontinental junior welterweight title. Millennium Events P/L, in association with Talentworks, Pty. Ltd, will promote the 12-round bouts.
Question: How is training going?
Tszyu: I feel great. It is a pleasure for me to be on my home soil, fighting in front of my home crowd, and still be visible to my fans all across the world thanks to SHOWTIME. It is a special fight for me because I am fighting here in Melbourne (Australia) where I started my professional career in 1992. Today is the 11-year anniversary of my professional career. I look forward to this fight.
Question: How have you prepared for Leija?
Tszyu: This is the good thing about being the undisputed champion of the world, you can choose who you will fight. There is not a mandatory defense. Jesse is a great warrior and a guy who will bring excitement into the ring. I am at the stage in my career where every fight is important to me. I do not want to waste my time and just fight against unknowns. I want to fight against great boxers. That’s why we picked Jesse James. He is a guy who will give me a great fight.
Question: Do you look at this fight as being an easier fight for you?
Tszyu: No, I never take any fight lightly, that’s why I have been training so hard for this. I am sure Jesse will be a great fight. He is a warrior. He never gives up. That’s why I think he will be a great fight for me, in front of my home crowd.
Question: How close are you from retirement?
Tszyu: I don’t know. I have been thinking about my retirement for the last four years. Every year when I come home, though, I don’t feel I have done enough to stop my career. I am preparing for this particular moment, for this particular fight, and I am not thinking beyond it. Every athlete has to go to the finish line, and my finish line is somewhere in front of me.
Question: How difficult is it to defend your three belts, with so many mandatory defenses?
Tszyu: It is very hard. You have to try to please every organization, and you have to get agreement from every organization to sanction a fight. Everyone has their personal opinion. It is politics, and I do not want to get too involved in that myself.
Question: How long do you think you can keep all three belts?
Tszyu: Until the time I decide to finish my career.
Question: How much easier is it to fight when you don’t have to go through the logistics of traveling to the United States?
Tszyu: For the last few years, I have been traveling to the states all the time, so I am used to it. Right now, I feel great because I don’t have to take the 5-7 days to adjust to the time zone. This time I don’t have to do that. But it is not really that big of an issue, because like I said, for the last five years I have traveled to the United States all the time.
Question: How excited are you to be fighting in front of your home fans?
Tszyu: It is a great thing. We need to show the world that I can bring the big crowds to the stadium. We are expecting 30,000 people in the stadium here. This is not just an event in Australia, it is a very special event that people will remember a long time.
Question: Now that you have unified the belts, do you have any more goals in boxing?
Tszyu: I think you need to defend your title. When you climb to the top of the mountain, you have to stay there. One mistake and you are gone and it is a long way down. It is a little extra pressure, but I have learned to control the pressure and all the emotions. I can focus on one thing and do it.
Question: Can you talk about Leija’s style?
Tszyu: I am sure this will be a great fight. I never met James, but I feel great about him. I am sure we will be great mates after the fight. He is a proud man, and there is nothing at all between us personally. We are just coming to do our job, and do what we love to do. This is what sports is supposed to be all about. There doesn’t need to be any extra hype, or any hate toward each other.
Question: Do you feel additional pressure to be fighting in your home arena?
Tszyu: It is a big thing for me to fight in front of my people. I do not feel any pressure yet. With 25 years in boxing, I have learned to control my emotions. I know how to block all the feelings. When I go through the tunnel to the ring, I will not feel anything at all. All my emotions will be inside of me. I will hear the crowd after the fight, but not during the fight.
Question: What is your biggest concern about Leija?
Tszyu: I do not have any concerns. I have been studying his fights on film. I know his good things and his bad things. It is not about concern, it is about how you do your homework. I think I have done a good job. We will see during the fight how good the homework was.
Question: Would you fight Sharmba Mitchell again?
Tszyu: Not in the meantime. There is a simple reason. He is talking trash because he believes he can upset me and break my focus. Who wants this fight? I do not think people want this fight. He was a good champion, but people do not like to see him. He is boring. He can find many excuses about losing after the fight, but I do not believe in making excuses.
Question: Do you actively take part in the management of your career?
Tszyu: Not everything is up to me. When I prepare for a fight, I completely try to block everything. Sometimes it is difficult because I cannot control it myself. During my three months of preparations for this fight, I am completely focused on training.
Question: Can you comment on the ‘gentlemanly’ behavior of Ward and Gatti during their fight?
Tszyu: Everyone expects boxing to be trash talking. These people are great for the sport and the game. We have a few great boxers and gentleman in the sport, and the 140-pound division has a lot of ‘gentleman.’ It is great for the sport. Young kids look at us and see what boxing is all about.
Question: How is your clothing line?
Tszyu: Everything is great. It is not just clothing, it is boxing equipment as well. We launched a DVD today and a book is on sale now. I have been very, very busy.
Question: Do you think about the pound-for-pound rankings, and the fact that you are not at the top of these lists?
Tszyu: What can I do? I cannot change your (media) minds. It is difficult for me because I am doing my job in the ring. Maybe someone who can talk more than me, and can excite people more than me is in front of me. I do not want to be judged by myself.
Question: Do you want to have a big mega-fight before you retire, and do you think it is possible in the next few years?
Tszyu: I believe it is possible. I think it can happen not just in a couple of years, but maybe even this year. There are many possibilities, but I am only thinking about one fight at a time. I do not want to break my concentration.
Question: Do you expect a more crafty fight from Leija?
Tszyu: I cannot tell because I do not know what kind of fight it will be. Every fighter is different. For every fighter you need to think differently and concentrate differently and prepare differently. Mentally you have to be very strong. Boxing is a funny thing. you blink your eyes, and someone turns the lights off. It is important to be focused from the beginning to the end.
Question: Talk about being prepared for your fights. What are you looking for when you watch fight tapes?
Tszyu: I do not make any excuse for myself after a fight. There is no excuse. I am a professional guy, and the undisputed champion of the world. Fighting against anybody, you need to know their strengths. Everything is important to know. I am looking for different things when I watch the tapes. Sometimes I am looking for what Jesse is doing, or what his opponent is doing. Sometimes I look to see what the referee does, what the corner men are saying, what defenses he uses. Leija has a good right hand and good left hook. He has many good things. I will have to stay focused for a long time.
Question: What does your wife say about your boxing career?
Tszyu: She knows I am doing a job. She knows my decision about my retirement is going to come from me. I am lucky to have great women on my side, my mom and my wife. They support me and any decisions I make.
Question: Why did you have only one fight in 2002?
Tszyu: I have been involved with an amateur boys boxing team, and I took them to Russia for a tournament. Most importantly was the birth of my third child. I wanted to be with my wife and enjoy the birth and celebrate a bit.
Question: Do you still keep a notebook of your opponents and write down things?
Tszyu: Yes, of course. I do it all the time. What you keep in your head, you cannot remember it every day. When you put it in writing, it just refreshes your mind much faster.