Tszyu claims all the beltsFour long years after handing over junior welterweight supremacy to Cool Vince Phillips, Kostya Tszyu finally recaptured universal recognition as the world's best 140 lb. fighter with a stunning, and slightly controversial, knockout of fellow titlist Zab Judah. The long awaited showdown between the two best fighters in the division was really two fights in one. The first round gave us a glimpse of what could have been: Judah using his brilliant combination of speed, defense and power to make Tszyu look like a slow, plodding has-been. Round two was a completely different affair, with Tszyu applying his trademark pressure and leveling Judah with a single punch in the round's final second. When the smoke cleared, and it took awhile to sedate a furious Judah, Kostya Tszyu was the WBC, WBA, and IBF champion.

From the outset, this was Zab Judah's fight to lose. While Tszyu was recognized as the bigger puncher and more experienced boxer, Judah's gigantic advantage in handspeed made him the clear favorite (3-1 by Vegas bookmakers). In the opening round, an intense looking Judah used that speed to establish an early lead. As Tszyu began his perpetual forward motion, Judah moved side to side, stopping occasionally to trade jabs. Judah's stick landed first each time, causing Tszyu's nearly simultaneous jabs to veer off course. One early Judah jab snapped Tszyu's head to the side and drew a gasp from the Vegas crowd.

Then, midway into the opening frame, Judah planted his feet and unleashed a blinding left uppercut that drilled the underside of Tszyu's chin as he came walking in. The punch snapped Tszyu's head back and sent a jolt through his legs. Tszyu at first tried to clinch, but then found himself backing up quickly across the ring under a barrage of Judah swings. Tszyu ate a few glancing shots as he retreated in a straight line, and then absorbed another flush Judah left on the jaw when the ropes halted his backpedaling. Tszyu finally grabbed Judah's arms and initiated a clinch. After the break, Tszyu only had a few seconds to collect himself before Judah was all over him again.

Judah was overflowing with confidence now, and expertly ducked a lead right before coming back with a left-right-left combination. Judah's hands were too fast to avoid, and Tszyu was again forced to try for a clinch. But Judah kept swinging his arms, and a short burst of punches inside reversed Tszyu's attempt to break the tempo. Another dazzling Judah left cracked Tszyu on the jaw, sending him again reeling across the ring on his heels. Judah gave chase, landing a glancing shot with each step forward. Tszyu crashed into the ropes yet again and absorbed several more heavy shots as Judah came into range. Things were not looking good for Tszyu.

Tszyu rallies in the firstTo his credit, Tszyu continued to come forward after a clinch stopped Judah's assault. He pushed a nice right-left to the body through Judah's guard, and followed up with a solid left hook at the bell, but it was too little, too late. Judah had not only banked the first round, but made it look easy. It was exactly the fight that Judah had envisioned.

Tszyu made adjustments immediately. He rushed at Judah when the bell rang to open round two, landing a solid left hook as the men came together. After a quick clinch, both men began fighting differently. Tszyu began jabbing and hooking off his jab with surprising effectiveness. For his part, Judah looked like a different fighter. It was as if he had proved to himself in the first round that he could beat Tszyu, and now all he had to do was claim the prize. Where Judah's hands were high and his eyes were locked on Tszyu in the first, Judah now dropped his hands and floated away from Tszyu in a casual fashion. The change in both men lead to a completely new fight.

Judah would later admit that he consciously slowed down the pace of the fight in the second, having felt that he was doing too much, too soon. It was a major error. Judah's jab was still fast, but it lacked the hard-pumping intensity of the first round. As a result, Tszyu's jab started getting to it's target first. And after Tszyu effectively touched Judah's face with a quick hook thrown off some jabs, Judah began moving more and throwing less.

Judah spent most of the second round on cruise control, gliding left, then right, only barely avoiding Tszyu's attempts to trap him in a corner. Judah's output was now limited to the occasional one-two, and a more cautious Tszyu repeatedly took a half step back and watched the punches miss short. In fact, Judah didn't really land a solid punch on Tszyu at any time in the second round. Tszyu was having more luck. In addition to the hooks off the jab, Tszyu landed some solid body shots and some nice lead right hands. Judah was usually taking these punches because he was lazy, often catching a solid shot as he spun off the ropes with his guard lowered. Tszyu patiently stalked Judah, coming forward, setting the pace, and landing the only blows. And then, in a flash, it was over.

Judah gets slammedWith 10 seconds left to go in the round, Tszyu was walking Judah down and throwing punches as he came in. A lead right landed clean on Judah's chin and Judah responded by showing his lack of experience: he backed away from Tszyu in a straight line... with his hands down. Tszyu pounced on Judah, firing another lead right hand across the distance. The punch sailed towards Judah's unprotected face and landed perfectly on the point of his chin. Judah's head spun and his lowered arms windmilled backwards as he crashed to the canvas, flat on his back.

Judah leapt to his feet, but he was not well. His legs were quivering and his two knees and two feet seemed to be pointing in four different directions. Referee Jay Nady picked up the count at three as a seriously dazed Judah tried to signal that he was fine. But he was not fine. Judah was leaning at a 70 degree angle over the canvas and his face looked blank. Judah tried to take a step forward, but his feet were literally shaking out from under him. He staggered a few semi-steps forward, then fell flat on his face. Nady's count had reached five, but when Judah collapsed, Nady waved the fight over. Judah pushed himself up again and looked ready to stagger back a third time before Nady grabbed his gloves and tried to tell him that the fight had been stopped. Within a few seconds, Nady's message got through. Judah snapped out of his stupor and into a rage. He shoved Nady, and stormed across the ring where his father and handlers had to forcibly restrain him. Tszyu KO2.

Judah wobbles downWhile Tszyu celebrated in his corner, Judah could not calm himself. Several times he appeared to regain his composure, only to lash out again. At one point, he picked up his stool and hurled it towards center ring. Another time, Judah calmly walked over to Nady, then once he was within range, aggressively pushed his fist into Nady's throat and again had to be pulled off. A few minutes later, Jimmy Lennon Jr. announced the official decision, and Judah screamed out in agony and again had to be held down by a growing number of security guards and cornermen.

But Judah's protests must fall on deaf ears. While Jay Nady has a reputation for quick stoppages, this was not one of them. Judah was seriously hurt, and almost certainly wouldn't have been able to demonstrate his ability to continue once Nady reached the mandatory eight three seconds later. A fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round, and the fact that Judah was facing a one-minute break should be irrelevant. Judah was flailing around the ring because he had not only been tagged with a perfect right hand, but he had been tagged with that heavy right with no guard and while leaning back. Any fighter would have been knocked out by such a punch.

And so, Kostya Tszyu (now 28-1-1/23) became the undisputed junior welterweight champion. In the post-fight interview, Tszyu was asked about a rematch with Judah. Given Judah's protest of the stoppage, a do-over seems like a natural. But Tszyu didn't seem so eager. Citing Judah's pre-fight claims that there would be no rematch and that "winner takes all," Tszyu hinted that Judah would have to live by his own decree. And while it might seem like the financial incentive for a rematch would be too great for Tszyu to pass up, one only need ask Vince Phillips about how easy it is to get Tszyu into the ring twice. With no one left in the junior welterweight division, Tszyu could move up to full welter for a shot at bigger money and bigger opponents. Tszyu-Forrest has a nice ring to it.

Judah attacks NadyFor Zab Judah (now 27-1-1/21), the next fight will be with himself. Having lost his undefeated record and his world title, the brash, cocky Judah will have to learn to deal with losing before he can return to the ring. That's a fight that will go the full 12 rounds, and it's unclear if Judah will get the decision. Some young fighters crumble after their first defeat. True champions come back stronger. Only time will tell if Judah is the real deal, or just another flashy poseur who was exposed in his first significant test.

.....Chris Bushnell






















© 2001 Chris Bushnell. All rights reserved.

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