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‘The truth is the truth’: The Tszyu family secret

While his grandfather, in way-too-short shorts, rolls around on a silver medicine ball, Tim Tszyu skips in front of the mirror.
While his grandfather, in way-too-short shorts, rolls around on a silver medicine ball, Tim Tszyu skips in front of the mirror.

The same mirror, in the same gym — the Tszyu Boxing Academy in Rockdale — surrounded by the same posters and the same smell of stale sweat, inside the same brick building that moulded one world champion, and created Australia’s next.

There’s no music playing, just the constant beat of the rope that Tszyu has become one with over years. The rhythm is familiar — just like everything else — as his feet barely lift off the ground in a dance he’s done as many times as he’s tied his shoelaces.

Tszyu has become the face of Australian boxing over the last two years; a journey from the son of Kostya, to the man who dethroned Jeff Horn so convincingly that it left no debate: this is the guy.

About to headline his second stadium show in 2020, Tszyu’s taken steps few in boxing have managed this year. And yet nothing’s changed. Sure, there’s a few new Everlast punching bags to punish thanks to his growing marketability. But not much else.

And therein lies the secret.

Watch Tszyu vs Morgan + Gallen vs Hunt only on Main Event, available on Foxtel and Kayo on Wednesday 16 December at 7pm AEDT. ORDER NOW >

Tszyu, Morgan weigh-in!

Tszyu, Morgan weigh-in!

2:32

Trained by his uncle Igor, with his grandfather Boris always by his side, Tszyu is reminded of his roots, because they’re always around him.

Igor arrives at the gym after Tim, and the two barely say a word to each other while the 26-year-old warms up. His grandfather jokes every now and then, but otherwise, it’s simply business. The family business.

Tszyu limbers up for 45 minutes — his second session of the day — before getting in the ring with Igor. He stalks his uncle’s yellow shirt with an intensity that only slightly dissipates with the chime of the bell. Boris takes a bottle of water from his cooler bag and pats down a drenched Tszyu, whispering into his ear as Igor waits, in the middle of the ring, for the next round.

In the ring, Australia’s best boxer. A class of kids fill the rest of the gym; still learning how to duck under a right hook. On this particular Tuesday, English was the garnish to the Russian orders blasted out by Igor, who demanded a level of effort that Tszyu was only too happy to match.

“There’s no yes man here,” Tszyu tells foxsports.com.au. “There’s only people that are telling me the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts, but the truth is the truth.”

That daily reality check has created a fighter, and man, who is unequivocally himself, even if constantly compared to someone else.

When Tszyu walked into the Fox Sports Australia offices in 2018 before starting his Main Event journey, he believed in what he was, and what he could be. But he wasn’t particularly ready, or willing, to be the big talker. And while the ‘I’ll do my talking in the ring’ line is largely overused, in Tszyu’s case, it came to be far more valuable than some fast-talking fighter propped up by a couple feisty one-liners.

He believed what he said. And he did what he said.

There was a surety in his words and his eyes that wasn’t always there; a young man who didn’t have any doubts about what he wanted from a sport that runs in his blood. At one time, though, due to injury — but not just injury — Tszyu walked out of the gym as a 17-year-old and didn’t return to the sport for three-and-a-half years.

Chaos! Hunt swings at Gallen

Chaos! Hunt swings at Gallen

1:14

“I never had a normal upbringing, childhood,” Tszyu says, “[because of] the fact that it was always boxing or sport that was in my life, because of Dad, and the pressures around him.

“It was a real hard upbringing in terms of the way my dad was. I think for me, the [broken] wrist was a way to escape a little bit … and then once I came back into the gym that desire was lit up again.”

Kostya, a former world champion, watches from Russia. And that distance has allowed Tim, who sees things a little differently, to make his own way.

“It would be much harder [if Kostya was in Australia],” Tszyu admits. “Dad’s a tough man. He was a hard man to deal with. He’s much easier now.

“We’re both dominant-type people. I listen, but at the end of the day, I always do what feels right for myself.”

But what “feels right” for Tszyu isn’t normal. In fact, it’s about as anomalous with stardom as you’re likely to find. And maybe more than that, it’s an attitude you don’t always see in children of the successful.

While you wouldn’t blame a child of Kostya Tszyu for shying away and ultimately rejecting their father’s militant competitiveness; with time, Tim and his younger brother Nikita came to embrace it. Tim returned to the gym, channelling that almost disturbing intensity into pugilism, Nikita went another route.

“He found another love for himself — and that’s architecture,” Tszyu says. “The same way we were brought up with the discipline and hard work, he puts the same amount of effort and time, and hard work into architecture right now.

“He can go three days without sleep just because he’s got to do something. It’s the exact same mental attitude that we’ve been brought up with that we put into life now. I chose boxing, he chose architecture. But it’s the same mentality.”

In lockdown, Tszyu took himself on 25-kilometre runs, starved himself for two-and-a-half days, and trained four or five times a day in some sick, twisted way of testing himself; inspired by a sort of unhinged craving you either have, or don’t.

“You’ve got to challenge yourself and do things that no-one is going to do,” Tszyu told foxsports.com.au in August.

“The body reacts in different ways. The mental side says, ‘Oh, I want this, I want that.’ If you’re able to block it, then you’re able to block it.

“I like to block things at times to just test myself mentally. There are people that don’t like it, including my manager and my grandpa, but you know, it’s something I’ve always been like … my dad was like that as well.”

Fighting words: Gallen v Hunt

Fighting words: Gallen v Hunt

9:05

He stormed out of lockdown and left Horn slumped on his stool in a brutal changing of the guard that, for most, would have been the culmination of a life’s work. Or at least something worth revelling in.

“I don’t celebrate after my fights because I haven’t got the victory that I want yet,” Tszyu says.

Just watching and listening to Tszyu is exhausting — in a ‘does this guy ever give himself a break?’ kind of way — but the Australian seems to find comfort in the uncomfortable. And while that singularly focused approach is something he prides himself on, he does admit there needs to be a release, even if it’s small.

“I’ve always loved cars — it’s always been my thing,” he says. “Each night I’m on YouTube looking up cars.

“Before, when I was in the Gold Coast, I ended up getting myself a 1969 Mustang. Honestly every Sunday we’ve just been going on nice cruises down to the beach just enjoying not boxing, thinking about boxing — sometimes that can do your head in.”

His promoters at No Limit Boxing think they’ve got the best athlete in the country; an engine with old-school pedigree and a couple of sparkly upgrades. But does that mean, with a win over Bowyn Morgan on Wednesday night, that he’ll give himself a break over Christmas and the New Year?

“That’s when I’ll get to enjoy myself and do starvations and go for 30km runs,” Tszyu says, laughing.

“That’s my type of enjoyment.”

Watch Tszyu vs Morgan + Gallen vs Hunt only on Main Event, available on Foxtel and Kayo on Wednesday 16 December at 7pm AEDT. ORDER NOW >

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