It can’t be easy.
No matter what you do, the last name always comes first. Tim Tszyu will always be compared against his father, the great junior welterweight Kostya Tszyu.
Tszyu, Gen 2.0, is proving up to the task.
Tim Tszyu has a WBO belt and, following another big win over the weekend, a strengthened position as the number one threat to the king of his class. Assuming lineal and still unified junior middleweight champion Jermell Charlo makes his way back to the class after a disastrous outing at super middleweight, Tszyu will be waiting.
After stopping the first man to hang a loss on Charlo, Tony Harrison, earlier this year, Tszyu delivered a patient and exacting performance against streaking contender Brian Mendoza.
Early on, it looked like Tszyu might have his hands full. Mendoza kept pace with Tszyu through the first six, occasionally outworking him and landing well. It was the second half that made all the difference. Tszyu gradually took over, finding his range and landing with more variety and creativity. The last quarter of the fight saw Tszyu demand the late stage to earn a solid twelve-round decision.
Mendoza has never been stopped and that didn’t change Saturday but a three-fight win streak was stopped cold and Tszyu continued to add to his resume in what has been a breakout year.
Futures: Tszyu made clear after the fight that his sights are still set on Charlo. At the beginning of 2023, before an injury canceled a planned fight, Tszyu was seen as a promising younger talent but one that was largely unfinished. Charlo would have and should have been a favorite.
The rounds Tszyu has logged since have made a showdown a hell of a lot more interesting. Quality rounds improve fighter quality and Harrison and Mendoza provided them this year. It might not make for a win over Charlo, but it should all certainly add to the air of drama around a fight. It’s the way it should be, versus just maneuvering through sanctioning bodies without seeing these sorts of contenders.
If Charlo doesn’t return to the division, or if he does for someone other than Tszyu (see: Crawford, Terence), Tszyu won’t be going anywhere. His big shot is coming and the longer he has to season his game, the better his chances to succeed will be.
Tszyu wasn’t the only big winner on the weekend.
Janibek Alimkhanuly might be the best middleweight in the world. If he’s not, among active middleweights it’s probably a race between him and WBC interim titlist Carlos Adames. The problem is being the best at middleweight in 2023 is like being first is about as underwhelming as any place in boxing right now.
Alimkhanuly unified two middleweight belts with a lopsided win over a badly outclassed Vincenzo Gualtieri. It was an enigma of a fight going in. Gualtieri didn’t appear to be a major threat but his sample size at the world level was limited, IBF belt in tow or not. Then again, the sample size for Alimkhanuly was nothing to get excited about either.
What we saw was a more talented, more skilled, and flat better titlist begin the process of bringing some order to middleweight, banishing a pretender to the throne to the heap of trivia.
Futures: Alimkhanuly-Adames would pit the top two middleweights in the world against each other. Would anyone care?
It’s not exactly a barnburner in the mind’s eye. The business obstacles make it hardly worth considering.
The state of middleweight is not strong. There are some solid young talents, and the guys with belts can fight, but there isn’t a star right now to latch on to or a particular fight to build toward. The closest might be Adames-Jermall Charlo if Charlo gets back in the ring anytime soon. He’s expected to but after two years and change, take nothing for granted.
Alimkhauly is left to either consider an uncertain rise to super middleweight or a path once trod by Marvin Hagler, Bernard Hopkins, and Gennadiy Golovkin: win until something comes along. Alimkhanuly can continue to seek unification, and the more of a hold he (or anyone else) can make on the division, the better its chances of getting interesting again. Middleweight has proven it doesn’t need remarkable depth. A kingpin means a destination.
Right now, we need to find out what the destination point for anyone chasing glory in the class will be.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]