Tszyu will be all time great with victory over Mitchell
Interview by Anthony Cocks, Site Editor (November 6, 2004)
Universally recognized junior welterweight kingpin Kostya Tszyu should be regarded as the best 140 pound boxer of all time if he defeats former world champion Sharmba Mitchell at the 17,000 seat Glendale Arena in Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday night.
At least that's the opinion of his trainer Johnny Lewis, who has molded the pigtailed power puncher into one of the most feared men in the division since Aaron Pryor dominated the landscape in the early eighties.
Speaking exclusively to Doghouse Boxing from Phoenix on Thursday evening, Lewis said: "I think that with success it will, once and for all, stamp Kostya Tszyu as possibly the greatest 140 pounder of all time."
"I think he's the best now," he continued, "but sometimes you've got to do things through adversity and there have been plenty that have happened over the last two years. But as I say, how may people could come back from this? It just speaks volumes about the kid's mental toughness to keep on having that desire through all these little problems. Mate, it's going to be a mighty effort."
The Tszyu-Mitchell rematch has all the hallmarks of a classic. When they first met in February 2001 to unify the WBC and WBA titles, Mitchell was forced to retire on his stool at the end of the seventh round after injuring his left knee. Tszyu, 30-1 (24) 1NC, was leading on two of the judges scorecard at the time of the stoppage and even on the third, although there are many pundits who feel the fight was closer than the official margins suggest.
Since that fight Mitchell, 55-3 (30), has fought eight times without a loss, clawing his way back up the rankings to become the mandatory challenger to Tszyu's IBF title. Tszyu, on the other hand, has fought just twice. Back-to-back Achilles and shoulder injuries have kept him out of the ring since his 6th round TKO of veteran Jesse James Leija in Melbourne, Australia, in January 2003.
Despite the 22-month layoff, Lewis says that no stone has been left unturned in preparing Tszyu for the twice postponed rematch.
"The preparation is probably the best we've ever had," said Lewis. "I think we have to go back to the fight with Miguel Angel Gonzalez to come near this one. You put together the negatives of a few injuries and the space between the fight on Saturday night and the last one he had against Leija, it has certainly added to his longevity and I think it's improved his hunger.
"It was a hard slog, but he did it brilliantly. It was just really good to see him in the gymnasium today in the final preparation. Mate, he looks a million dollars and I'm sure he's going to do his very, very best on Saturday night."
If anyone can understand the renewed vigour and enthusiasm that an enforced layoff can provide, it should be Mitchell. After injuring himself in the Tszyu bout, the Washington DC native spent thirteen months on the sidelines after surgery to repair his left knee.
The most impressive aspect of Tszyu's preparation, according to Lewis, is his drive and mental toughness.
"When you thought things were going to get tough, he just improved another notch," said Lewis, who also trained Jeff Fenech and Jeff Harding to world titles. "He came through any little minor problems; he just put himself in front of it. He just quickly put it aside and went further ahead. In saying that, his desire is at the highest level it can be and it's all reaching out to success."
Whilst he remains extremely confident of Tszyu's ability, will and desire to win this fight, Lewis admits that the almost two year layoff and back-to-back injuries would have an impact on his perception of the fight if he was on the outside looking in.
"If I was a gambler, I'd be going the same way," Lewis says of those laying money on Mitchell. "But they're grossly underestimating the power of Tszyu. If anyone can do this through the little negative things that have happened, it's Kostya. And that's why he is such a great champion."
Tszyu has earned himself a reputation as a slow starter, and while Lewis concedes as much, he says he doesn't necessarily expect the fight to follow this conventional pattern.
"Look, I don't think it's a matter of starting slowly and mounting pressure," he said. "I think it's a fight where we certainly have got to try and break him up with a lot of pressure. But it still comes back to any other fight, you've got to take control of it and then dictate the terms and then you should have success. This will be no different."
Another point of conjecture that has more than a few people pointing towards a Mitchell victory is the advancing age of the champion. Lewis, however, is quick to point out that speed deteriorates with age far more quickly than power.
"Everyone is talking about Kostya being 35, but Mitchell is 34," he explained. "Realistically, they're talking about Kostya's power against the speed of Sharmba Mitchell, but power never diminishes. You can be seventy years of age and still hit someone on the biscuits and knock 'em out, but you're not going to be able to run at seventy like you did at twenty. I think if there is a decline in anything, it'll come from Sharmba's speed, for sure. He might still have that speed early, but it will diminish. His legs at 34 can't be as good as they were at 24."
Lewis even goes as far as to suggest that the shoulder injury suffered by Tszyu was in fact a blessing in disguise.
"With that operation to Kostya's shoulder, he's had that injury and put up with it for a very long time," said Lewis. "With the rectifying of that I'm certain that, from holding the pads for him, he's increased his power with it. He [Mitchell] might've lost something, but we've certainly gained something. When it comes down to the night it'll be whoever wants it the most. If he did what Kostya did in preparation, then it's going to be a great fight."
When the two best 140 pound fighters in the world step into the ring on Saturday night, the key to victory is clearly going to be desire.
"Whoever wants it the most will get it," said Lewis. "And to want something you've got to dig deep, you've got to roll your sleeves up and you've got to work hard. I believe Kostya has won this fight in the gymnasium with his preparation. I think he can make this fight an easier fight than his opponent can and I think that he should be rewarded and will be rewarded for all the hard work that he's done."
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