If Tim Tszyu was facing a test in his Sydney hometown last night, he passed it with flying colors. In with the tricky, savvy veteran Tony Harrison, Tszyu would have been forgiven for having a few rough moments even en route to a victory. Instead, he started taking control very quickly. By all appearances many of the rough edges Harrison might have targeted now smoothed out.
He also delivered an impressive display of slowing cranking up the pressure, one piece at a time, rather than throwing the kitchen sink immediately. Struggling to keep his younger opponent away, Harrison started to struggle with the pace, and Tszyu scored an impressive ninth-round victory. Let’s take a look at the details.
As noted in our preview of the fight last week, it all started with the footwork. To the point that even in the early rounds, in which Tszyu didn’t throw much, the seeds of the ending were visible. Harrison scored with his jab pretty much at will, mostly without response, especially in the first. But Tszyu was already pushing forward, stepping in behind every jab he took. As a result Harrison’s immediate response was not to follow up, but to flee. Because of Tszyu’s facility with angling his approaches to cut off circling movement, a lot of that flight ended up going straight to the ropes.
Harrison’s problems were exacerbated by Tszyu’s counters to that jab from round 2 onwards. The first wrinkle was a left hook over the top. It was quite a wild punch and didn’t always land, but tactically it was crucial because Harrison didn’t want to be anywhere near it. Not only did it make him back off, but it made circling even more dangerous—giving even more motivation to just fall back to the ropes. As the round went on, Tszyu also added a chopping overhand right, which cut off the other circling route and was a cleaner punch that scored more often.
Tszyu’s counters to Harrison’s work were a big part of the story, in general. We already knew he was a patient puncher, but what we saw here was a full-on pressure-counterpuncher. He’d close distance relentlessly, but he’d rarely actually throw much until Harrison did something. Whether that was an attempted shot of his own or an escape, a Harrison move was the trigger to throw.
That did sometimes mean his volume was lower than fans might have expected—compubox had him throwing 333 punches, making for 37 a round on average. It’s a fine number, hardly a staring contest, but a lot lower than a pressure performance like that typically brings about. On the other hand, it had the effect of also lowering Harrison’s volume, at least for anything other than jabs.
If he could have baited Tszyu to throw first, Harrison could have responded appropriately. But, because he had to take the lead—and found that lead countered harder almost every time—he became gun-shy. He rarely threw his right hand throughout the fight, and Compubox had him throwing only 76 power punches (that’s non-jabs—significant strikes in MMA parlance) in the nine rounds. That made all parts of the fight tough going, because he wasn’t throwing anything with knockout power, or even enough power to back Tszyu off.
Perhaps the final big piece of the puzzle that Tszyu showed he’d now solved was an improvement in his balance when exchanging in close. His footwork has always been good in the buildup, but he’d previously displayed a tendency to stand up too straight with his feet square once he was in the pocket. That made him vulnerable to getting off-balanced when stepping back, and made it more likely that he’d need to step back. None of that was present this weekend. Tszyu measured range extremely well, and kept just the right distance to be able to keep his stance while throwing. Any shots Harrison did land were easy enough for him to move with and take the sting off.
Was it flawless? Well, no. The biggest concern is that his high guard is still… quite bad. Harrison had absolutely no trouble splitting it with jabs, and he landed some solid bodyshots when he decided to throw them. Tszyu essentially has very little cover for any other shot than overhands or straights. It’s an area he will need to work on if he’s to face the other top names in the division.
He also has to consider whether he might need to be more aggressive sometimes. This is a less clear flaw, because he has been seen to take the lead in the past. It’s not clear whether it was a purely tactical decision, or an instinctive response to the step up in quality. But there are some fighters against whom always letting them take the first punch will be a mistake. Still, hard to call that a mistake in this context.
After all, when it came right down to it, Tszyu did pour on the punches. One moment, at the end of the third, saw him rock Harrison with a big overhand—and continue flurrying until the bell rang. He stepped off in the fourth when it became clear his opponent had recovered, but in the ninth he showed no hesitancy. Another overhand right hurt Harrison again, and a bodyshot follow-up folded him in half and made recovery difficult. Seeing that he was still bending at the waist in response to that shot, Tszyu unleashed a barrage of uppercuts which eventually sent Harrison reeling. The American did make it to his feet, but the referee was not happy with his responses, and Tszyu had his statement win.
All-in-all, the Aussie should be delighted with the way his fight went. He certainly sounded as much with his post fight statement—flipping his father’s fame and making ‘what’s my fucking name’ into a postfight warcry. Don’t worry Tim, we know it.
Tszyu was supposed to fight Charlo in January, taking this fight as an interim while Charlo recovered from injury. He’s now won an interim version of one of the belts Charlo has the full version of, and Charlo was on punditry duties for showtime this weekend. So it seems likely that that’s what’s next. It’s a big test for Tszyu if it happens, but he’s proven he’s ready for the challenge. Should it fall apart or Charlo decide to vacate and move up, there’s still plenty of options. A fight with fellow rising star and interim beltholder Sebastian Fundora would be particularly interesting. And as a big draw at home, Tszyu has leverage and options.
For Harrison, he needs to consider whether the shortcomings of his performance were a result purely of the particular pressure Tszyu had him under. If that’s all there was to it, he’s still got plenty of good fights to offer against other upcoming talents. It’s a division full of rising prospects, and plenty will be happy to put their skills to their test against him. If the problem is more one of time, wear, and age, however, he might want to consider retirement. It’s not a division built for a quite ride into the sunset, and he has a coaching career waiting for him already. We’ll see what he decides.
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