Who ya got? Horn takes on Tszyu
By Anthony Cocks and Zack Fitzpatrick
Bigtime boxing returns in Australia when former WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn 20-2-1 (13) takes on Tim Tszyu 15-0 (11) in a 10-round junior middleweight contest at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville on Wednesday, August 26.
The fight pits the battle-tested Horn against rising star Tszyu in a crossroads bout that will see the winner pushing on for world championship honors.
Horn, 32, was put through the wringer in a tumultuous 2019, getting knocked out in nine frames by Michael Zerafa in Bendigo last August before reversing the result with a 10-round majority decision win over the Melburnian in Brisbane four months later.
Meanwhile the 25-year-old Tszyu logged four victories in the last calendar year including wins over Joel Camilleri, Dwight Ritchie and Jack Brubaker as he stepped up his competition and improved his world ranking.
Horn has accused Tszyu on trading on his famous last name and believes the Sydneysider is yet to prove his credentials.
Tszyu says Horn was an average world champion and a long way from a genuine world-class contender.
Make no mistake, there’s no love lost between these two.
Zack Fitzpatrick from Australia’s leading podcast The Unofficial Scorecard joins me as we buckle down for the knuckle down to determine the winner of this intriguing fight.
Anthony: Jeff Horn faces Tim Tszyu on August 26 in Townsville. Tell me why you think Tszyu can win?
Zack: Without being disrespectful to Jeff Horn, there is a real feeling that this just might be Tim’s time. The knock on Tim, and rightfully so, is that he is unproven at world level and, to an extent, even at regional level, but every fighter is unproven until they prove themselves. I’m sure we’ll get into the ’how’ and ’why’ later, but this feeling of Tim’s imminent arrival is bloody hard to shake.
Anthony: I hear where you’re coming from, but all the pressure seems to be on Tszyu in this one. He may have headlined a handful of domestic pay-per-views, but this is his first chance to get in front of eyeballs in the USA through ESPN+. American fight fans are expecting Tszyu to perform like his famous father Kostya. I have to wonder how that play into his mindset and if it takes him out of his gameplan on the night.
Zack: Totally agree mate, it’s going to be very interesting to see how Tim handles the true big stage. Up to this point, he’s passed every test and given us no reason to doubt him, at least as far as his performance on fight night goes. Horn absolutely has the experience advantage and on the big stage too, he’s been there and done that. Do you think there is a chance Horn is underestimating Tim?
Anthony: That’s a very valid question. Horn has looked lacklustre at times, even in victory. He looked pedestrian in the first defence of his WBO welterweight crown against Gary Corcoran, despite the wide scorecards at the time of the stoppage in the 11th. But as we saw in The Fighting Schoolteacher’s revenge win over Michael Zerafa last December, when he’s focused he is still a very dangerous fighter. And I think he knows better than anyone that a loss here not only removes him from world title discussions, but may, in fact, effectively end his career. There’s nothing like that sort of pressure to drive a man to succeed.
Zack: There is pressure is on both guys, for different reasons. If Horn comes in fit off the back of a dedicated training campaign, we know what we’re going to get from him for 30 minutes. We don’t know how Tim will react. Tszyu won the Aussie super welterweight title from Joel Camilleri over 10 rounds who has a similarly awkward style but very different in execution from Horn. Tim appeared to stick to the game plan without much variation for the 30 minutes the fight lasted. In Tim’s next fight and most impressive victory against the late Dwight Ritchie, I thought he showed massive improvements. From punch selection, tempo, distance management, Tim was a vastly improved fighter from a few months earlier. I’m curious and excited to see what improvements he’s made recently because he has shown his ability to improve from fight to fight. Do you think we get the stock-standard, tough as nails and relentless Horn or do you think Horn has a few tricks up his sleeve too?
Anthony: Horn is never going to change his style, but it’s a style that woks for him. I suspect a fit and focused Horn will cause all sorts of problems for Tszyu. Let’s not forget his last two fights against Michael Zerafa came at middleweight and his fight prior to that against a washed Anthony Mundine was at a catchweight of 156lb. At 160 he gave away a lot of his advantages in strength. Providing he’s been able to keep away from Pizza Hut and Subway, Horn should be comfortable at the weight and his mauling, brawling, awkward style will show Tszyu something he’s never seen before, with the possible exception of the Wade Ryan fight – a fight many people thought he lost. I have to wonder how Tszyu will respond to the roughhousing and grappling in close?
Zack: Absolutely. And those people may be right, but Tszyu took that Wade Ryan fight as a lesson and used the experience to become a better fighter in the future. Wade Ryan is still out here giving young prospects ridiculously tough fights like in his wars with Emmanuel Carlos and Daniel Lewis. Wade forces guys to become better fighters and that’s exactly what Tim did. I think we all try to avoid the comparisons to Kostya, it’s just such a tough shadow to be under, but I think if Tim can channel his legendary father in this fight, use that long, straight, piston right hand straight down the middle to keep Horn off him and at a distance Tim’s more comfortable with, he can negate the roughhouse tactics and keep the fight on his terms a little more.
Anthony: Does Tszyu have the strength of mind to fight through real adversity though? To my mind that’s the story of the fight right there. We were both ringside for Horn’s shock knockout loss to Zerafa in Bendigo last August when he was outclassed and stopped in the ninth. To return less than four months later for an immediate rematch after being rocked, shocked and knocked out shows the strength of will Horn has. And forget the majority decision in their second fight, I thought Horn deserved the nod by a 7-3 or 8-4 margin as two of the judges had it. The question is whether Tszyu has it in him to bite down on the mouthguard, dig deep and grind through those hard rounds when the going gets tough?
Zack: We are on the same page mate and once again, I agree completely. We absolutely know what Horn brings to the table. As much as he is maligned overseas, we bloody love him here for those very reasons you mentioned. This fight is so interesting because it appears to be, as you stated, how does Tszyu handle the fight when it gets rough and tough versus how rapidly Tszyu has improved and is it enough improvement to get the W? I think channelling Kostya with the straight shots is the way to go, but both Kostya’s losses were against Vince Phillips and Ricky Hatton, awkward pressure fighters too. I have been wondering lately, how many more times can Horn go to the well? How many more times can he deal with his face being torn apart? When will all the wars catch up with him?
Anthony: You’re right that Horn is much maligned overseas – and unfairly so – but you can’t say his style isn’t effective. All those shots to the arms have a draining effect and leaning on opponents takes the steam out of their legs. That has to be a factor. I remember famed referee Brad Vocale telling me that Horn is one of the physically strongest fighters he has ever refereed. I’d hate to have him leaning on me in the clinch and pushing me back. But outside of styles, Horn has another clear-cut advantage to my mind. Horn not only has the home state advantage, but he hasn’t had to move his camp. Tszyu, by contrast, had to relocate to the Gold Coast about three weeks ago before Queensland shut the border to New South Wales due to coronavirus. How is that going to play with Tszyu’s mind? He’s not sleeping in his own bed, he’s away from family and friends, he’s training in a different gym. Meanwhile, Horn gets the luxury of routine; he continues to train at the same gym, he gets to go home every night to his wife and kids. Stability is a is a big factor for fighters and I have to wonder if moving camps won’t have an impact on Tszyu. As for cuts, Horn is used to fighting through the blood. He has one of the best cutman in the business in his corner in Stephen Edwards. Whatever they’re paying that guy, it’s not enough.
Zack: Great point Tony. With Tszyu’s comparably short amateur career and lack of competing overseas, the training interruption is something I wouldn’t be concerned about if the roles were reversed. Horn, as an Olympian and veteran of multiple international tournaments in the unpaid ranks, I assume would have the ability to adapt to compromised training much easier. He’s done it before. But again, just because someone hasn’t done something yet, doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t in the future. The questions about Tszyu are racking up and rightfully so, I still think there is a strong possibility he answers every single one of them emphatically.
Anthony: So let’s get down to brass tacks: what are the keys to victory for Tszyu?
Zack: I think straight shots down the middle, maintaining distance where possible, slowing down the tempo in spots, avoiding fighting on the inside, staying calm under immense pressure and just like his father always said, using his brain and thinking are ways Tim can close the gap and win over the 10 round distance. I don’t see Tszyu stopping Jeff, he’s just too damn tough. How would you like to see Horn attack this matchup?
Anthony: No surprises here, but Horn needs to keep the pressure on and rough up Tszyu on the inside. I’d like to see him use the foot feints he used so successfully against Manny Pacquiao to close the distance and use those little pivots in close to work the angles. Either way, this is a close to a 50-50 matchup as you can get on paper. I can’t wait!
For a full breakdown of the entire Horn vs Tszyu card plus an update on the broader Aussie boxing scene, download The Unofficial Scorecard Podcast here: podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/the-unofficial-scorecard-podcast/id1417204298