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Konstantin Tszyu: from Russia, with gloves

January 15, 1997

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Konstantin Tszyu speaks nothing but Russian to his 2-year-old son growing up in Australia. It’s not so much a link to his past but to help his son secure his future.

``I want him to grow up knowing two languages,″ the former Soviet Amy boxer said. ``It’s a big advantage to speak two languages.″

Tszyu’s immediate future is half a globe away in the United States, where the boxer hopes to make a name for himself in the next year as the IBF 140-pound champion.

He starts Saturday night in a title defense on the undercard of the Oscar De La Hoya-Miguel Angel Gonzalez fight.

``I have to be recognizable here, that’s the reason I came here,″ Tszyu said. ``I have to invest in my future to make the big money.″

The story of Tszyu (pronounced ZOO) is an unusual one, even in the fractured world of boxing. Once a Russian amateur star, then an Australian world champion, he now looks for big name fights against the likes of De La Hoya.

Many in the sport also believe Tszyu is an unusually talented fighter, as witnessed by his 269-3 record as an amateur. Among them is promoter Bob Arum, who signed him to a three-fight contract to fight in the United States.

``Right now, no one other than boxing writers know anything about Tszyu,″ Arum said. ``We want to make him as well known as Oscar so that someday he can fight Oscar.″

For the immediate future, Tszyu has to settle for being on the same card Saturday night as De La Hoya, who defends his 140-pound titles against Gonzalez.

Tszyu will defend his version of the title against Leonardo Mas of Miami in a scheduled 12-round bout.

It will be his first fight in the United States since he stopped Jake Rodriguez in the sixth round of their Jan. 28, 1995 IBF title fight. Since then, Tszyu has stopped three opponents in title defenses in Australia, where he became a citizen two years ago.

``Every time I fight I feel I learn something,″ said Tszyu, who is 18-0 with 14 knockouts. ``I learned so many skills as an amateur that I try to apply as a pro.″

As an amateur, Tszyu won a world championship at 139 pounds for the Soviet Union in 1991 in Sydney. At the time, the country was breaking apart and Tszyu took a liking to Australia.

Instead of fighting for Russia in the 1992 Olympics, he turned pro and moved his parents and girlfriend to Australia, where they later married.

``I have a son and good friends and good neighbors,″ Tszyu said. ``It is a very friendly country and the most important thing in life is to have good friends.″

Tszyu, who speaks fluent English with a bit of an Australian accent, is thoughtful and contemplative outside the ring. Inside it, he is a hard-hitting terror who takes as much pride in his boxing skills as his power.

``I enjoy making my opponents miss and look funny,″ he said. ``It’s good for the people who come to the fights. They pay money to enjoy themselves and see a good show.″

Tszyu, who last visited Russia two years ago to see his sister’s new baby, said he would like to fight in his home country. But he considers himself just as much an Australian now.

``It’s still my country and I will never forget it. It’s where I grew up,″ Tszyu said of Russia. ``But everything has changed there. It’s like another country now.″

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