“My name is Tim. Not ‘the son,'” a victorious Tim Tszyu declared after dispassionately removing Jeff “The Hornet” Horn’s stinger, wings, legs, gastrointestinal tract and half an antenna over eight rounds Wednesday in a junior middleweight bout from Townsville, Australia, televised on ESPN+. Point taken, and point made, Mr. Tszyu.
Step up fights are critical for every prospect, but it’s rare that they also make for the biggest fight in their respective countries. When your old man is a living legend in a boxing mad country, attention is sure to follow. And in the days prior to the bout, controversy followed as well. Horn’s team objected to judge Michael Condon based on his long association with Tszyu’s father Kostya, including having worked his corner and owning the gym where Tszyu trains. One of the alphabet extortion rackets sided with Horn and elected not to collect their fee because Condon was not removed. It didn’t look good.
The only thing Tszyu (16-0, 12 KO) could possibly do to silence the doubts which have swirled about him throughout his career, and the stench of a fix for this fight, is go out and beat the sweet Jesus dog shit out of Horn.
He did that. And he did it with ease. From the opening bell, Tszyu took center ring, and snapped sharp jabs, perfectly timed right hands, and body shots from both sides. Horn’s preferred tactic of jumping in head first before grappling usually works to move the fight to his preferred distance so that his strength and chin can do the work his talent can’t. It didn’t bother Tszyu a bit, and referee Phil Austin broke the fighters quickly, making clear he had no tolerance for bullshit.
By the 3rd round, Tszyu had so completely mastered Horn’s timing that when Horn lunged out with the left hook/headlock thing he does so often, Tszyu either drilled him with a short right before he could get off or just gave his momentum a nudge and sent The Hornet sprawling across the canvas. It didn’t get any better for Horn. With 20 seconds remaining in the round, Tszyu nonchalantly dropped him with a sizzling left hook. Tszyu was barely sweating.
The middle rounds saw ever-increasing dominance from Tszyu as he dialed up the clinical brutality of his attack, mixing in uppercuts when Horn (20-3-1, 13 KO) was expecting body shots. Might have been the angle, but I could swear I saw Tszyu smile slightly every time Horn shuddered and winced. Unable to use his strength to wrestle his opponent into position, Horn began to look unmoored. There was nothing he could do, and everyone knew it. In the 6th, a crunching body shot dropped Horn to a knee. No one would’ve blamed him for not rising. Horn got up, because that’s the kind of fighter he is.
It’s almost always a problem when a fighter’s corner is braver than they are, and Horn’s succumbed to this folly. There were a number of moments after the 3rd round when they could’ve thrown in the towel. Horn’s ribs and abdomen were scarlet from Tszyu’s body attack, and catching punches with your face is a suboptimal defensive strategy against anyone, particularly someone who can crack like Tszyu. On Horn plodded, though. His reward for his courage being only more abuse.
In the 8th, Horn doubled down on the intensity and effort in vain. Tszyu landed an enormous 1-2 with 1:20 left in the round which seized Horn’s nervous system and it appeared Horn might go down, but he stayed vertical despite himself. Watching, you sensed that Tszyu could turn the dial up to 11 and end the fight whenever he chose, but the 25-year-old stayed absolutely within himself, dishing out punishment in carefully metered doses. Tszyu’s mastery of angles, distance, and timing belies his relative inexperience.
Referee Phil Austin had finally seen enough and mercifully stopped the bout before the 9th round could begin. The Australian commentators said on air that Horn’s corner had stopped the bout, which seemed odd given that they were in the midst of cajoling him to continue. The official result is Tim Tszyu TKO 8 Jeff Horn.
It’s important to remember that Horn hasn’t fought outside Australia since getting fileted by Bud Crawford two years ago. In that span, he’s knocked out a fossilized Anthony Mundine, got stopped by Michael Zerafa at middleweight, then won a majority decision in the rematch. Zerafa, you may recall, had one foray into world-class waters, before which some snide asshole (me) joked that his neon yellow trunks were good because it meant the paramedics could find him faster. Zerafa was brutally knocked out by Peter Quillin and did, indeed, leave the ring on a stretcher that night. I don’t have the column space to go into how bad the scorecards were on the night Horn’s name was made against Manny Pacquiao in 2017.
Despite that perspective, this was an unequivocal statement from Tszyu. He showed phenomenal technique, talent and an extremely cool head. The fight may have been for Australian supremacy, but it’s clear that won’t be nearly enough for Tszyu.
(Photo by Dave Hunt/ AAP Image via)