WHILE you can’t determine everything from a fighter’s demeanour and body language, often you can and often these two things say a lot about both their mental state and their capacity to thrive in a sport eager to turn mere mortals into quivering wrecks.
In the case of Tim Tszyu and Tony Yoka this weekend, boxing fans were provided with an example of two men whose demeanours were different and so too, perhaps as a result, their journeys. For whereas Tszyu was a picture of cool and measured composure in dissecting and finally stopping Tony Harrison inside nine rounds in Sydney, Australia, earlier in the night Tony Yoka cut a panicked and worried figure when dominated by a 42-year-old Carlos Takam in Paris, France.
Quite the contrast, both in faces and fortunes, Tszyu appeared utterly at ease in the ring, yet for Yoka, no novice and a former Olympic champion, it appeared as though boxing 10 rounds was in some way a punishment put upon him by somebody he had once slighted. It seemed, for Yoka, to be a tortuous experience; the ring a prison, the fight a sentence he wanted cut short.
Tszyu, though, had no such issues. The son of Kostya, another fighter celebrated for his coolness in the ring, Tim set about Harrison, 29-4-1 (21), with all the conviction and maturity of someone who knew the fight would likely go long but maintained hope, if he executed his game plan to a tee, of also securing a stoppage late on. This assurance saw him invest heavily in body shots throughout the fight, but particularly in the middle rounds, and it saw Tszyu alternate his shots, both the type used and the degree of power behind them. Much like his dad, in fact, he never rushed anything and he never got excited prematurely. Instead, he knew that when the time was right, and the body punches had worked their magic, he would pounce on Harrison and bring the fight to a conclusion.
So it proved, too, in round nine, when Tszyu buckled his American opponent with a stiff right hand and immediately sensed his opportunity. At that point, with all the groundwork already established, he felt free to let his hands go and therefore continued to hurt Harrison with right hands, thrown to the head and also, quite cleverly, the body. This left Harrison in a state of disarray, unable to block the right hands coming at him and resigned in the end to backing up to the ropes in survival mode. It was then there, on the ropes, Tszyu caught his prey with a series of vicious uppercuts, the last of which caused Harrison to turn his back before sinking to the canvas.
Up at eight, just about, Harrison was next told to walk both left and right by the referee, Danrex Tapdasan, and following that the referee, not liking what he saw, duly put an end to the slaughter at 2:43 of round nine.
Tony Yoka, meanwhile, had far less fun with Carlos Takam, nor at any stage did he so much as threaten to shift through the gears and explode like Tszyu would in Australia. Rather than that, he simply allowed Takam, his capable but well-worn opponent, to set the tempo early in the fight and then cowered in the face of exchanges, thus allowing his fellow Frenchman, a warrior and no stranger to a slugfest, to take complete control.
The fans in Paris, of course, will have wanted more and also expected more. Still a draw there, despite a recent setback against Martin Bakole, Yoka had managed to sell out the 7,000-seat Zenith de Paris and was considered, if at last he fulfilled his potential, to be a future French star on the world scene. As a heavyweight, too, he would have known he was only one or two fights away from being in the mix again, regardless of that loss to Bakole in 2021.
However, it apparently takes more than just a gold medal and impressive physical attributes to succeed in the heavyweight division and tonight in Paris Yoka, 11-2 (9), discovered that – again – the hard way. He was, ultimately, unable to cope with Takam’s energy and his physicality, not to mention the hurtful hooks he throws on autopilot, both to head and body. Indeed, so bad was the beating Takam delivered, even the three judges were unable to rescue Yoka and spare his blushes, though naturally, being as they were in Paris, they did their very best (one judge somehow scored the fight 96-94 to Yoka, which was an abomination of a card and needs to be investigated, while the other two had it 96-94 for Takam, which were better cards but still awful).
It’s hard to see where Yoka takes his career from here, given back-to-back losses to Bakole and now Takam, 40-7-1 (28). The nature of those defeats will no doubt make him a target for others and, while young enough at 30 to launch yet another charge, he has clearly already found his level as a heavyweight and found, too, that this level is nowhere as high as he and his backers would have predicted when he turned pro after winning the 2016 Olympic Games.
Tszyu, on the other hand, turned pro in 2016 to far less fanfare, at least globally, and felt the weight of pressure coming as a result of his famous fighting father rather than any standout achievement as an amateur. He has nevertheless, slowly but surely, developed well as a pro, aced all his tests, and tonight in Sydney passed the sternest one yet with both flying colours and a respectful nod to the man who made him.
Now, with Harrison, the only fighter to have defeated Jermell Charlo (Tszyu’s original opponent), well and truly behind him, Tszyu, 22-0 (16), can look forward to exploiting his mandatory position with the WBO and at last challenging Charlo, their super-welterweight champion, in his next fight. On tonight’s evidence, too, it’s a challenge for which he is more than ready.