The Challenge: Facing Nikita Tszyu

NIKITA Tszyu has fast become a box-office attraction in Australian boxing.
Often promising blood, the aptly-named Butcher, who holds the Australian super welterweight title, is travelling down a high-octane path of his own, despite being only eight dates into his own professional journey.

From the one-round blitzing of Mason Smith in Newcastle, to the systematic breakdown of Bo Belbin in Sydney, or even the 129-second erasing of long-time vocal rival Ben Bommber in Melbourne, Tszyu (8-0, 7 KOs) has made a point to prove that his rise will be far more chaotic than the controlled violence of older brother Tim. 

As the first defence of his national title approaches against Danilo Creati on Wednesday night, we spoke with former opponents Jack Brubaker and Ben Horn, who had notable (albeit short-lived) success against Tszyu in separate bouts.

The Battle of the Entertainers

Brubaker (18-5-2, 8 KOs) holds the rare distinction of having faced both Nikita and Tim Tszyu as professionals, with both brothers recording stoppage wins inside four, and more recently, six rounds respectively.

The former Commonwealth title challenger recalls his seesawing bout with Tszyu last August with fondness. 

“That’s a huge reason why I came back to the sport,” he told Aus-Boxing. These big fights, these big names is what gets me out of bed.

“I was hoping it (the Nikita fight) was a possibility, when it did come through, it was excitement. I felt the comparison to the two brothers, they wanted to see where Nikita stood in relation to Tim. A similar time of his career. 

“It was exactly what I expected to be fair. I was a bit more respectful in the buildup to Nikita, than I was for Tim. At the stage of my carer, I felt like the fight would sell itself.

“I felt that with Nikita, I really sensed the difference in Nikita at the weigh in. He wanted to make friends, and I obliged.”

A cordial build-up was met with a thrilling clash, that provided more narrative turns than probably expected.

Upsetting the Fight Night Narrative

Due to Tszyu’s recent hot-form, that included three consecutive stoppages, the expectation on Brubaker may have been lower.

Despite this, the fight night energy in the arena was very different to what the 32-year-old experienced against the older Tszyu.

“I was feeling high, and pumped up. When Nikita walked out (to the Vengaboys song), it was one of my favourite songs growing up clubbing,” he laughed.

“I remember being at clubs requesting that song, all through my early twenties. I took it as as sign that it was my night.

“When I fought Tim, it was such a long walk and build-up, I felt like I was in the ring for almost 10 minutes before he made his entrance. It dulled my own energy and my own mood, but Nikita walking was different.”

A light-hearted introduction was quickly swept away by a frenetic opening round, that ultimately set the tone for the entire bout. Tszyu had plenty of early success, but it was Brubaker that landed the most telling shot.

Brubaker was awarded a knockdown in the third round, which was later revealed to be from a clash of heads. But he made no mistake in the dying seconds with a right-hand of his own.

“He was backing up, and I chased him down,” he quipped.

“I landed another clean right hand on his chin, and he went back again. When he was trying to grab hold of me, I definitely knew he was hurt. 

“I was amped up at the end of the third round. I was feeling good, to Nikita’s credit, that mentality, he came out hard in the fourth like nothing had happened. I remember thinking, this is going be a fight.”

Breaking Down the Boxing IQ of Tszyu

Although he holds a reputation for being aggressive, Tszyu has a boxing IQ that is often underrated.

“I remember when he knocked out Bommber, he dropped his hand to go for the uppercut,” Brubaker recalled.

“I think it made a dent in his clarity of thought. I saw him back up on the ropes, I closed my eyes, it landed flush, and it hurt him. I knew it did land, you can feel it, and I saw his legs go.”

Tszyu quickly recovered, and stormed home to earn a hard-fought stoppage in the sixth round, with Brubaker withdrawn while still on his feet.

The performance would go down as a credible loss, but Brubaker laments his lack of activity leading up to the second Tszyu fight.

“In the time I’d had off, Nikita had seven fights,” he explained.

“If you play top grade NRL, if you have time out of the sport… that match fitness is going to help you out. On fight night, I couldn’t have done anything better.

“I had fun in there. I thoroughly enjoyed that night, and it was one of the most memorable moments of my career.”

The Unexpected Thriller at Hordern

Much like Brubaker, few expected Ben Horn to trouble Tszyu in their six-round bout in 2022.

Billed as the ‘Battle of the Brothers’, Horn (then 4-4, 0 KOs) had plans on enacting revenge for brother Jeff, who was soundly beaten by Tim Tszyu in a domestic super-fight during the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Horn had taken the fight on relatively short-notice, but was a willing counterpart in another fun pre-fight promotional build-up.

“I think both Glenn (Rushton) and Jeff (Horn) had said that Nikita was a much better amateur pedigree, boxing-wise,” he said.

“All it did was gee me up. I knew one thing for sure, I had to get my body good, and back strong, having been out of the ring for a fair bit of time. I know what he was going to do… my body is always very strong.”

At that point of his career, Tszyu hadn’t been taken the distance by any of his previous two opponents, which might’ve worked in Horn’s favour.

“I felt his power in the third round. I didn’t want to get caught flush with one of them,” he continued.

“And I grew that respect to not go in guns blazing. The plan was to find your shots and eventually they’ll come.”

Losing the Fight, Winning Respect

There was no doubt that Tszyu had banked a healthy lead, heading into the sixth (and final) round of their fight.

Horn had moments and appeared to have won the respect of the boxing public, lasting longer than Tszyu’s previous and more accomplished opponents.

The moment that lives on in Australian boxing folklore, including Round of the Year recognition, is the final 30 seconds, where Horn finished the stronger of the two fighters.

“At the end of rounds four and five, I waltzed back to my corner,” Horn joked.

“I just wasn’t hurt by anything from Nikita. He buzzed me once, and I had respect for his power to the head. As much as he punches like a mule, his body shots weren’t effecting me. I wanted to take him out, but it wasn’t written in the stars.

“You see blood, I could even see it trickling out of his ear. I was told that I separated the cartilage of his ear from his bones. I obviously got him with some good shots… I’m hurting him, he’s got to be feeling these shots.”

A swarm of late uppercuts had buzzed Tszyu, who held on until the final bell, with a raucous greeting the frantic finish.

“It was towards the end of the round. I was thinking I’m behind on points, I need to land a big shot on him,” Horn observed.

“He was fading, it was only in that last minute, when I was landing uppercuts and hooks. I had landed it three times, and I thought your going down. He was gone man. I looked in his eyes, he was seconds from going down. If that bell hadn’t rung.”

The Sheer Power of Nikita Tszyu

Horn remains as the only fighter that hasn’t been finished by Nikita Tszyu.

Two years on from their now famous night at the Hordern Pavilion, Horn still admires the brutal nature of Tszyu’s calculated shots.

“He’s good on the gap, and he hits like a mule,” he concluded.

“Just making you miss, and he’s quite deceptive on the shots he’ll throw, and what he actually does. He can confuse some fighters.

“A lot of people look at him, and have said to me, even recently, does he hit hard? I’ve never fought a fighter with as much power as Nikita in the past. He’s very strong.

“He can change his punches quite quickly. And with the power on top of that, he shocks a lot of people. And that’s a boxer’s worst nightmare, the shots you don’t see coming. 

“I guess when he keeps taking people out in quick fashion, I think I did better than I thought. I love Nikita, he’s a really nice genuine guy, Tim is too, their mum as well. They’re all really nice people.

“We shared a good time, I’d love to go in there and punch heads again.”

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