"Credit to Steve for taking this fight," Tszyu said. "He’s a dangerous fighter with a lot of power. I’ve seen it for myself. I was ringside at the fight in Wollongong when he hammered Jack Brubaker and saw how well he did under the bright lights."
Stevie ‘The Viking’ Spark 12-1 (11) will get the opportunity of a lifetime when he moves up another weight class to challenge WBO number one junior middleweight contender Tim Tszyu 18-0 (14) at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia on Wednesday night.
It wasn’t the fight that fans were expecting. Up until a week before the bout Tszyu was slated to face seasoned campaigner Michael Zerafa 28-4 (17). The 29-year-old from Melbourne, Victoria had long coveted a shot at Tszyu. He even turned up at Parramatta Stadium in Sydney to call out the undefeated 26-year-old from ringside after his win over Bowyn Morgan last December.
Tszyu knocked him back, saying he had bigger fish to fry. The target at the time was tricky Argentine Brian Castano 17-0-1 (12) who was waiting for his world title shot against WBO 154-pound champion Patrick Teixeira 31-2 (22). The Brazilian southpaw was having trouble getting into the United States due to Covid-19 restrictions and the WBO was prepared to sanction Castano vs Tszyu for their world championship belt if the all-South American showdown didn’t proceed. The impasse was resolved when Teixeira was granted a visa to the US. Castano would go on to comprehensively defeat Teixeira by virtual shutout in Indio, California in February.
Zerafa bided his time. He knocked out the 45-year-old Anthony Mundine in the opening round in Bendigo on March 13. On the last day of the same month Tszyu would batter tough former world title challenger Dennis ‘Hurricane’ Hogan 28-4-1 (7) into submission in five one-sided rounds in his first fight in Newcastle.
There are a lot of moving parts in boxing. What looked impossible yesterday can become reality today.
Castano wasted no time in securing a rare four-belt unification bout with WBC, WBA and IBF champion Jermell Charlo 34-1 (18). The fight will take place at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas on July 17.
Tszyu, never one to sit on his hands, needed to stay busy. The Zerafa fight was on.
But a week out from the bout Team Zerafa withdrew from the contest citing the concerns about the Covid-19 outbreak in New South Wales as the reason. The current Covid problem is centred in the state capital of Sydney. Newcastle, two hours’ drive north, is not considered one of the hotspots.
“We’re happy to fight him anywhere in the country if it’s deemed Covid-free,” Zerafa told the Herald.
“I’m not going to go and fight with no team and no trainers behind me after being with them for the last 12 weeks in camp.
“[Their health and financial wellbeing] always comes first. I could go over there and fight but we start as a team and finish as a team. I stick by my team and, when Covid is in place, we can’t afford that.
“We said we’ll do it when things go back to normal in NSW, but they didn’t want to comply.”
Tszyu’s promoter George Rose of No Limit Boxing Promotions said they offered Zerafa’s camp a direct flight to Newcastle on the day of the fight to allay their concerns, all to no avail.
"We’ve got Australian boxers who aren’t getting the attention Michael Zerafa’s getting who are going into lockdown to fight for world titles overseas and putting in the hard yards and putting themselves in uncomfortable situations to be able to excel in their given sport," Rose said to Fox Sports.
"For us, it’s very surprising that Michael would be so unprofessional to be eight days out from a fight and threatening to pull out of such a big fight.
"It’s the biggest boxing card in Australia this year. It’s a very big surprise to us."
Matt Rose from No Limit added: “Michael Zerafa will never fight again on a major card in Australia for the rest of his career.
“To pull out on a major fight like this is not only devastating for us, but for Tim Tszyu and the general public who have wanted this fight for so long.
“Michael Zerafa showed his true colours to run away from a fight like this. He should retire now.”
Tszyu was equally peeved by the decision.
“He’s been talking it up and he’s been chasing me, following me around for the last three years; couldn’t get my name out of his mouth,” Tszyu said.
“And it’s finally come to it and they’re making all this random bullshit up.”
Enter Stevie Spark, who was already in camp for a planned return to the ring in Toowoomba on July 24.
“I’ve dreamt about fighting Tim Tszyu and obviously this has come a little bit quicker than I expected but that’s a good thing,” said Spark.
“I’m fit and I’m ready and I’m coming to Newcastle to win. This is Cinderella Man, this is Rocky! This is my golden ticket. If I can go out there and dethrone the biggest name in Australian boxing, then I’m right where I want to be.”
So who is Stevie Spark and does he stand a chance against the son of International Boxing Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu?
Better boxing brains that me rate Spark as one of the hottest young prospects in Australia. All but one of his pro fights have taken place on small shows in his hometown of Toowoomba in Queensland away from the bright lights of TV. He was one of the lead sparring partners for Dennis Hogan ahead of his fight against Tszyu in March. Reports out of that camp had him more than holding his own.
“As far as replicating Tim’s style, Steven Spark is just an absolute animal out of the blocks, so we were able to get that high-tempo work with him,” Hogan told Maxboxing before the fight.
“It was great to be able to get rounds with him even though he is lighter because lighter people throw more punches, so that was good.”
The classy Spark used that preparation to burst into the spotlight with a dominant eight-round decision win over former world-rated welterweight Jack Brubaker 16-4-2 (8) on the undercard of Paul Gallen vs Lucas Browne in Wollongong in April.
Despite his relative lack of experience, Spark tamed Brubaker within a couple of rounds and was in full control by the halfway mark, winning the fight in impressive style. The victory put Spark on the map.
One interested observer was Tszyu.
“Credit to Steve for taking this fight,” Tszyu said. “He’s a dangerous fighter with a lot of power. I’ve seen it for myself. I was ringside at the fight in Wollongong when he hammered Jack Brubaker and saw how well he did under the bright lights.
“He has power, stamina and keeps the pressure on. I know he’s coming to hit and hit hard. I’m expecting that and much more next Wednesday night. It’s going to be a great fight.”
So does Spark stand a chance?
Late replacements always pose a problem for boxers no matter their pedigree. Look for Spark to capitalise on this early while Tszyu makes the adjustments necessary for a very different style of opponent than the one he was expecting.
Spark moves well and knows how to set his traps but this time around he is not dealing with a straight up-and-down, walk forward fighter like Brubaker, who Tszyu dismissed in four rounds in Sydney in December 2019.
Tszyu is wonderfully economical in his movement and punching. Nothing is wasted. Everything he does is with purpose, and he makes every punch count. It wouldn’t surprise to see Spark make it into the second half of the fight but as the naturally smaller man, he will be up against it as the rounds progress.
Look for a Tszyu stoppage between the sixth and the eighth rounds.