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The Cyber Boxing Zone Newswire
February 4, 2001
Tszyu claims victory, Mitchell claims injury
WBA-WBC unification prodcues year's biggest letdown
by Chris Bushnell
It was an all-star matchup, but it was anything but an all-star fight. The unification bout between Kostya Tszyu and Sharmba Mitchell was an ugly, clinch-filled contest with a completely unsatisfying conclusion. Let's hope that Tszyu's impending bout with Zab Judah bears absolutely no resemblance to this one.

Actually, this fight almost didn't happen. An hour before the bout, there seemed to be genuine hesitancy coming from the dressing room of Sharmba Mitchell. Reports had Mitchell's left knee inflamed and not at 100%. As a full arena snored through an excruciating undercard, there was a chance that the main event wouldn't come off. But Mitchell insisted that he was fine, and both men found their way to the ring without delay.

If Mitchell's knee was ailing, it didn't show in the opening round. Mitchell rapidly circled Tszyu, leaping in occasionally to cram a body shot to Tszyu's midsection or pop him with a well-timed straight left hand. The tone for the night was set early, as the two 140 lb. titlists repeatedly got caught up in clinches that Joe Cortez struggled to untangle. Mitchell's offensive attempts were made with the fighter coming in low, throwing a single punch, then coming up underneath Tszyu's armpit. Often, Tszyu pushed Mitchell down or roughly spun him out of the clinch. Other times, the two simply wrestled in close quarters until Cortez commanded them to stop. It wasn't pretty.

Tszyu looked visibly frustrated by Mitchell's elusiveness as early as the second round, as his power shots just couldn't find their target. Meanwhile, Mitchell continued to work the body, and got Tszyu's full attention with a half-uppercut-half-jab that sailed through Tszyu's guard. A couple of straight lefts also landed flush on Tszyu's face, but not even this momentum could be construed as "action". Mostly, the men wrestled, clinched, and became intimate with each other's armpits... as that's where their heads seemed to always end up as they tangled.

Tszyu, who had so far only been able to make contact with Mitchell on short punches (read: forearms) in the tie-ups, started to let his hands go a bit more in the third. Although Mitchell's circling was slowing considerably, Tszyu still found it hard to catch his opponent flush. He lunged with his straight rights, which only made for more tie-ups at center ring. But Tszyu was at least throwing, as Mitchell displayed some moderate defense. The first real exchange of the evening came near the end of this round, as Mitchell nailed a rushing Tszyu with a nice left uppercut. Tszyu promptly responded with a flush uppercut of his own. Tszyu was clearly the stronger man this night, despite Mitchell's chiseled physique.

Mitchell dropped a close third round to Tszyu, but quickly came out and won the fourth. Having been thrown to the canvas in clinches time and again by Tszyu, Sharmba's mobility had suffered greatly. Still, he was able to get a brief rise out of the crowd with a beautiful two-punch combo that snapped Tszyu's head straight back. The first punch was another straight left down the pike. As the punch shifted him to a conventional stance, Mitchell threw a straight right with good leverage, and the punch stunned Tszyu for a moment. But Tszyu kept applying the pressure, despite walking into another pair of lefts as he came forward. In between these momentary displays of offense, the two men clinched and shoved one another, with Tszyu usually pushing and Mitchell usually being thrown around. Near the end of the round, in a particularly sloppy clinch, Mitchell again ended up on the canvas. Although this was not the most egregious of Tszyu's offenses, referee Joe Cortez deducted a point from Kostya in an attempt to regain control of the bout. Score round four 10-8 for Mitchell with that deduction.

But that was the last round Mitchell would add to his column. In the fifth, Tszyu began finding Mitchell with a lead left hook, instead of the traditional southpaw weapon of the lead right hand. Tszyu usually doubled with this left hook, although to be fair his first attempt was usually a pawing range-finder. Still, these were the only clean punches in a round that typified the ugly nature of this bout. This was an unappealing clinchfest, no question about it.

Tszyu warmed up his straight right to open the sixth, landing three hard flush blows in a row. Two landed flat on Mitchell's face, with a lead right body shot coming in between. Tszyu also adjusted to the clinches, and twice nailed Mitchell flush upside the head as the two locked up. At some point in this round a deep cut opened over Mitchell's right eye, close to the bridge of the nose. We'll never know if the cut was the result of Tszyu's fist or the two men clashing heads as they came together, as Cortez never made a ruling. Mitchell's knee problems had basically stopped his movement and he occasionally shook out his left leg in the calm moment after a tie-up was broken.

Tszyu continued getting closer to Mitchell in the seventh round, hitting him with increasing frequency, although most of the round was still characterized by the two champions hugging and shoving. After one rough entanglement, Mitchell emerged hopping on his right leg, his left dangling from his hip. Mitchell gamely tried to keep moving, and even through a few lead lefts, but without his back leg the punches carried no steam. When he returned to his corner, Mitchell could be heard loudly and repeatedly claiming "I can't hardly move."

And then it was over. Mitchell's corner responded to each complaint with the question "What do you want us to do? Do you want us to stop it?" Mitchell never answered the question, and instead merely complained again and again that he couldn't move. Near the end of the one minute break, the ring physician stuck her head in the corner, and Mitchell complained some more. After again protesting that he couldn't move, Mitchell also announced, with the doctor right in front of him, that "my leg is numb. I just can't feel my left leg." And so the fight was stopped. Tszyu TKO7.

It was an anti-climactic ending to an overall anti-climactic bout. Tszyu raised his arms in the air and collected his new WBA belt along with his old WBC strap. The crowd offered up mild applause, which was too much appreciation for a stinker of a fight. Back in his corner, Mitchell cried out his frustration into a towel.

After the contest, Mitchell (who drops to 47-3/29) claimed that his corner had stopped the bout, and that he had wanted to continue. It may be the case that his trainers eventually pulled the trigger on his unification dreams, but let's face it... Mitchell didn't exactly make the case that he wanted to keep fighting. At no point did he tell the doctor that he was fine, instead the physician only heard Mitchell's complaints of pain, numbness, and immobility. We aren't saying that the injury wasn't legit, nor are we claiming that Mitchell shouldn't have been stopped... but his claims that he wanted to continue fall on deaf ears. In boxing, we have repeatedly seen injured fighters who want to continue offer blatant lies to the ring doctors or at least insist that they should continue. No such insistence, nor any serious protest, ever came from Mitchell's mouth.

Kostya Tszyu (now 26-1-1/22) is now in line to face IBF champion Zab Judah for all three belts in the junior welterweight division. After this fight, Judah is probably licking his lips. Tszyu has problems with mobile fighters, and Judah's speed far outmatches Mitchell's. Still, Tszyu is far and away the strongest puncher in the division, and Judah has been dropped by lesser men in the past. Let's just hope that this dream showdown doesn't look anything like this night's dream showdown. The division doesn't need another snoozefest.

.....Chris Bushnell
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