Down under in the Land of Oz, the Australians Against Wowsers
Party campaigns on a platform of cheap beer, skimpy outfits for
barmaids, and no speed limit on country roads. According to The
Sunday Telegraph of London, ockers (Aussie men "usually
classified by...raw manners, a prodigious thirst and an
unhealthy interest in bodily functions") claim that wowsers
(killjoys) endanger their very existence.
Except for his penchant for punching people hollow, WBC and WBA
junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu is a world-class
wowser. The Russian-born Sydneysider doesn't curse, won't drink
and couldn't tell a fart joke if his life depended on it. (So far
it hasn't.) Yet this 5'7", 140-pound tugboat-shaped brute has
been wowing ockers since emigrating from Siberia in 1991.
Sired by a Boris and married to a Natasha, the 31-year-old Tszyu
(pronounced Zoo) is strong like moose and smart like flying
squirrel. Though he wears a braided pigtail and temporary tattoos
in the ring, there's no flamboyance or excess in Tszyu's boxing.
Beautifully balanced, he slowly, painstakingly pummels opponents
with straight lefts, setting them up for the big rights that
account for 22 KOs in his 26 victories.
Don King says Tszyu is "100 percent Dundee"--meaning half
Crocodile, half Angelo. "He's got the bravado of one and the
resourcefulness of the other," the promoter says. "Kostya can put
you out so fast, his gloves must be soaked in NyQuil."
Tszyu's conversational style is as economical as his fighting
style. His answers are often terse and opaque. Asked which he
fears more, power or speed, he says, "I use my brain." Asked to
pick one of the two, he says, "Number three."
Hypothetical questions, Tszyu hates. "I don't like word if," he
snaps, fixing you with a death-ray stare. "Something never
happen, forget it!"
It's not that he's rude. It's just that he has none of the usual
ersatz charm in which many athletes specialize: He's simply a
still, riveted presence. "I like his focusedness," says Zab
Judah, the IBF junior welterweight champ who's scheduled to face
Tszyu on June 2 at a site to be determined. "He knows what he
wants and wants what he knows."
Growing up in the Ural Mountains, Tszyu knew he wanted to be a
prizefighter. He was nine when Boris took him to a gym; the
Russian sports federation took it from there. When not boning up
on Gogol, Tolstoy and Turgenev ("Read Dostoyevsky once--that's
enough," he says), young Kostya boxed for the Soviet army, losing
only 11 of 270 amateur bouts.
At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, in the 132-pound division, he
stopped his first two opponents in the first round before losing
on points to eventual winner Andreas Zuelow of East Germany after
a 2-2-1 judges' draw. "It's called destiny," Tszyu says
brusquely. "Olympic gold never happened to me. I win, I never
come to Australia."
Tszyu came to Sydney in '91 to compete at the World Amateur
Championships. So persuasive was his domination of the 139-pound
division that Australian trainer Johnny Lewis begged him to
relocate and turn pro. Tszyu agreed, with two conditions: He
demanded a double bed and a microwave. "Natasha and I leave
Russia one suitcase each," he says. "We decide to start new, and
He got his first title shot in 1995, stopping Jake (the Snake)
Rodriguez in Round 6 to win the 140-pound crown. Two years later,
a Vince Phillips overhand right ended Tszyu's reign. The
10th-round TKO remains his only pro defeat.
It would be another two years before he buckled on another
championship belt, snagging the WBC's when Diosbelys Hurtado fell
in five rounds. Last month in Las Vegas, Tszyu added the WBA belt
when Sharmba Mitchell quit on the stool after the seventh.
The upcoming Judah bout looks to be the most enthralling chapter
of this Tszyu story. The 23-year-old Judah, a flashy boxer with
flashing speed, is unbeaten and unbowed. "Kostya's slow and easy
to hit," he says. "He's like a sci-fi movie from the '50s: no
But plenty of surprises. For Tszyu's first pro fight, in '92,
Lewis hired an interpreter to relay instructions. Worried that
his fighter might fall behind early on points, Lewis asked the
translator to tell him to "win the opening round."
Tszyu listened to the interpreter and shot Lewis a puzzled look.
After knocking out Hiles in 68 seconds, he asked, "Coach, why I
had to win in first round?"