An interesting fight this weekend comes to us from Australia. Local rising star Tim Tszyu takes a step up in competition against the experienced American Tony Harrison, in a junior-middleweight interim title fight.
The fight will be available in the US on Showtime. They’ll only show the main event, with coverage starting at 10.45PM ET. The fight itself may start a bit later, as it depends on undercard fights Showtime won’t have. For Australian viewers, it’s a $59.95 KayoTV PPV, with the main card starting at 12PM on Sunday, AEDT and the main event scheduled for 2.45PM.
For clarity: the fight is happening on Sunday afternoon local Sydney time, so you may see it in listings as Sunday. But that translates to Saturday night in the US.
Tim Tszyu (21-0-0, 15 KOs) isn’t messing around here. He’d originally been scheduled to fight the unified champion of the division, Jermell Charlo, at the end of January. Charlo broke his hand in sparring, putting paid to that. No-one would have considered it odd if Tszyu sat on his promised shot at all the belts, at most taking a tune-up against a lighter opponent to keep busy. Instead, he’s taking on one of the biggest challenges available to him, one that he may well lose. A win gets him a WBO interim title, but no-one’s going to consider him the real champion until he fights Charlo, so... it’s a risk.
To be fair, his family history may explain some of that eagerness. Long-time followers of boxing will remember his father Kostya. A long-reigning (and two-time) champ at 154lbs, he’s well remembered in Europe and the US. In Australia, he’s something of a hero. Carrying on that legacy has definitely given Tim some opportunities, but it’s also a long shadow to be boxing in. So perhaps it’s not a surprise to see him being bold, to make his name shine in his own right.
His journey here has been… well, steady. He’s definitely someone his management and promoters see a future in, so they’ve not been hasty; he’s been well built up. That said, nor has his journey been one of simply blasting through overmatched opponents. He first came to international attention when he knocked out Jeff Horn in 2020. His most recent two opponents, Takeshi Inoue and Terrell Gausha, are also very credible wins. That said, at 28 he does need to make a move now. Here’s his chance.
Harrison (29-3-1, 21 KOs) could rightly claim to come from a different world, boxing-wise. No famous father to make his name and with no significant promotional backing or amateur achievements, he’s gotten to where he is pretty much by fighting anyone who’ll get in the ring with him. This has led to his fair share of losses, but he also shocked Jermell Charlo the first time they fought, scoring a decision victory. Those cards were controversial, and he lost the rematch by KO, but those performances and others have nonetheless proved he won’t be an easy out for anyone. He’ll be hoping to upset the applecart again, and get a third shot at Charlo in the process.
Tim Tszyu has a style you might find familiar, even if you’ve never seen him before. Not because of his father. He’s just a textbook example of a solid, no-fancy-tricks pressure fighter. He has his flaws, for sure, but he’s the kind of opponent who’ll be a nightmare for anyone. Big, solid, and hard to keep clear of.
As with many of these kinds of fighters, he starts from the feet. He doesn’t seem to be moving fast, because he isn’t. Nonetheless, he’s abled to use smartly angled footwork to get in his opponent’s face and push them to the ropes and corners pretty consistently. What that means is if they want to circle to his left, he’ll step left, cutting off that space. Usually, he’ll throw a hook with the opposite hand- so in this example, a right hook. That cuts the options even further, and makes his opponents have to step straight back, and eventually to the ropes.
His timing is good too. A pressure fighter who lets his opponent make the first step will find himself constantly adjusting, with no choice but to follow into the space they just left. Tszyu, though, has been very good to date at being the one to make the first move. That means they’re reacting to him, and he gets to make the decisions.
He backs this up with good offensive skills when he gets to that preferred range, too. He’s a patient puncher. Rather than throwing the kitchen sink at his opponent, he’ll pick his moments, wait to see what’s open, and aim at that. His arsenal of punches isn’t as big as some of the best fighters, but he chooses them well for the right moment. He sets them up well too, with feints, some tidy pro-active head movement, and some set-up punches before the real leather flies. He’s a consistent body-puncher, drawing his opponent’s hands down and sapping their energy in long fights.
He times his punches as well as his footwork, too. He’s a very difficult man to exchange directly with, because he’ll find moments to throw in between his opponent’s punches, blowing up their rhythm and, often, forcing them to cover up or retreat.
He also uses his size - he’s big for the division- in skillful ways. He’s difficult to clinch with or push about, because he sets his stance and frame in such a way that he’s interfering with an opponent’s movement in close. He’s happy to tangle up, and good at finding ways to get punches off if the referee lets them work.
This is all pretty classic stuff. If you think it sounds like something Gennady Golovkin would do, it’s from the same playbook. Tszyu, to date, hasn’t shown that level of skill and consistency with it, but he’s good nonetheless.
Where worries do come in is his defence. He has a pretty basic high guard, and since his head movement often goes missing, it’s key to his defence. Unfortunately, it’s very open down the middle, meaning opponents can split it with a jab very easily. It’s also held high and still, so as well as he lands bodyshots himself, he’s open to them himself. And, potentially crucially, he stands quite upright when he’s in close, meaning if he’s forced to lean back to avoid damage (or by taking damage) he can get off-balance over his back foot. Opponents to date haven’t exploited those tendencies, but the signs are there.
Harrison, meanwhile… well, in this too he could almost be called an opposite to Tszyu. Not in the sense that he’s a pure outboxer, though he does do that. But where Tszyu’s entire gameplan is built to impose his style on an opponent, Harrison is much more reactive. He’ll usually fight at the tempo his opponent gives him. If they want to press, he’ll let them engage. If they want to step back, he’ll follow them. That might make things tough for him, because the usual best way to deal with fighters like Tszyu is to disrupt their plans. Harrison probably isn’t going to, he’ll just react.
It’s not necessarily a looming disaster though. Being so reactive means he’s had to develop a wide range of skills down the years, so he can fight at that tempo if he needs. The first big positive for him is he has a very good jab, so Tszyu’s weakness to them will come to the fore. Against Sergio Garcia in his last fight, he also displayed a nice line in uppercuts as part of his response to heavy pressure, and that openness up the middle may make that a money punch.
He is, in general, a good counter-puncher and has a big arsenal of shots to pick and choose from. He disguises them well, too, and manipulates range to set them up. Garcia ate a lot of leather by simply not realising Harrison was going to be able to throw in a given moment- hooks disguised behind stance shifts, or bodyshots turned into overhands. Tszyu should be a different level of challenge, but it’s still a set of skills that’ll he hasn’t really faced before and that Harrison will find useful. He’s got power too, as his KO record shows, so unexpected punches can be fight-changing- and we don’t know how Tszyu will react to that kind of challenge.
Where Harrison might come undone, though, is in the layers of his defence. He has some decent moves, with good head movement and a nice active guard. He is, however, one of those fighters who typically needs to reset after a couple of punches defended. If any given exchange goes for much more than that, he starts to get a bit off-balance, and any shots landed will be more dangerous. He’s also vulnerable while throwing his own shots, and as mentioned, Tszyu is very dangerous in direct exchanges.
All in all, it’s a big test for both men. If Harrison wins he’ll have to weather a storm to do it- but any win for Tszyu won’t be without learning a few lessons. It’s a tough one to predict, being such a disparate clash of styles, but it should be entertaining.
What’s on the undercard
Well, as mentioned above, if you’re watching on showtime you won’t be seeing the undercard. If you are in a place you’re able to see it, you’ll find what you probably expect: a very Australian-centered show. The chief support is an interesting one, with Paulo Aokuso fighting Yunieski Gonzalez. The veteran Gonzalez is on a two-fight skid, but he’s still a big step up in competition for Aokuso, in his fourth fight and pro for less than a year. With a nickname modelled after the legendary Pernell Whittaker, he’d better impress.
Beyond that it’s a card mostly of local favourites who probably don’t have a huge amount of world-level upside, though we may see Sam Goodman scrapping at that level at some point. He’s fighting TJ Doheny, who’s had a good career but is past his best now, so it’s both a test and a showcase, somehow. We’ll also see Nikita Tszyu, Tim’s younger brother. Still very early days for him, so what his potential is like remains to be seen.