Boxing has been called "The Theater of the Unexpected" and similarly, the business of covering the sport has yielded reporters with many unexpected discoveries.
One of the most memorable, surprise, and fascinating anecdotes I learned in my career came from Kostya Tszyu during a conversation about Mike Tyson and his involvement regarding the Russian's famous KO win over Zab Judah in 2001 and how Tszyu actually psyched out the undefeated American during the fight's weigh-in.
I was interviewing Tszyu in 2004 and our discussion inadvertantly revealed a fascinating bombshell of a scoop about the awesome, mysterious powers of psychological warfare...
Question: With all of Tyson's out of ring problems, can you offer him any advice?
Kostya Tszyu: "Geez, he's a grown man. Why should I give any advice for Mike Tyson [smiles]?!"
Question: I mean, form one great fighter to another great fighter who is in hard times now.
Kostya Tszyu: "Maybe he has people around him that are not genuinely giving him the right advice, trying to reach into his pocket. And I think this is the wrong thing because he does listen. He does listen to other people. Like, maybe, some people may...like some people say how good he is in the gym and in training. But maybe he's not good in the gym but they're still saying it."
Question: Have you ever met Tyson?
Kostya Tszyu: "No I haven't met him. But he's been in the corner of Zab Judah when we fought. But actually he was in his corner but he knew that Zab was gonna lose."
Question: Really? How do you know that?
Kostya Tszyu: "I've got inside sources [smiles]."
Question: So you knew you would beat Judah before the fight started? How did you know?
Kostya Tszyu: "Of course I never knew that it was gonna be in the second round. I did predict about eight or nine when he's gonna be tired. The way I train, no one trains. And I knew if I would put pressure on him, he's not gonna be able to withstand this pressure for a long time. He'll make a mistake. It's all about one split-second. Boxing is a funny thing. You blink your eyes and somebody says good night to you [smiles]."
Question: Before the Judah fight I remember seeing you put your arm around him at the weigh in, very friendly, and you were smiling at him, almost like father to a son is how it looked. Judah froze and looked very uncomfortable, like he did not know how to react to you. Do you remember this moment?
Kostya Tszyu: "When somebody can be intimidated, I use this. Because I'm very wise person [smiles]. I know how to intimidate my opponents. I know how to play tricky stuff for them. And that's what...boxing is not really physical, it's all about mental. And I beat him before fight. I think it was at the weigh in."
Question: Yes, you put your arm around him like a friend...
Kostya Tszyu: "You know what I ask him? I asked him about his daughter. And this was shock to him. You expect something different. When the unexpected thing comes, he was shocked. Look. I have kids. And I think his daughter is named Destiny. I did some homework. I have kids, it's great. His daughter was just born. And he lost himself in that question."
Of course, this out of the ring tone/mood, created by Tszyu, transfered to the ring. When the big Tszyu bomb landed unexpectedly, Judah did not know how to react. He was shocked. And lost his first pro fight by a stunning second-round TKO. Kostya Tszyu was the undisputed WBA/WBC/IBF Super Lightweight champion.
Question: What about Tszyu's career since losing to you? He's done well but with all his talent he's an underachiever.
Kostya Tszyu: "Zab is in a downfall as far as I see. And he needs to make some changes in his life if he wants to achieve something."
Question: What is the reason, in your opinion for his downfall? Lack of focus, too many distractions? He's so very talented.
Kostya Tszyu: "My fight [smiles]. He's got a great talent. Great speed. Great abilities. But a knockout like this stays forever in his mind. He doesn't want to get hit again. And if it is gonna stay in his mind he can't box anymore. He should retire. When we go in the ring we know we're going to get hit. We know we're not the ballet people. But if you go in there and have doubt in your mind that you're afraid to get hit, forget it."
Zab Judah, now 35 with a record of 42-7 (29 KO's) will challenge WBA/WBC Super Lightweight champion Danny Garcia on Feb. 9 in Brooklyn, New York.