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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Boxing Champ Wants to Give Something Back

APKostya Tszyu delivering the third-round knockout blow to Sharmba Mitchell on Nov. 6.
He has a Korean last name and lives in Australia, but boxer Kostya Tszyu says he'll always be Russian.

"I love Australia and I love the people," Tszyu, the undisputed junior-welterweight world champion, said in a recent telephone interview from Sydney. "I'm very happy living here, but I will always be Russian in my heart."

And at an age when many boxers feel their skills slipping, Tszyu said he is intent on giving something back to Russia, where he enjoys widespread popularity despite leaving the Soviet Union more than a decade ago.

The 35-year-old fighter has plans to open a Tszyu Boxing Academy in Moscow, a project he said already has support from Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Vyacheslav Fetisov, head of the Federal Agency for Physical Culture and Sports. Tszyu said the academy, which will be similar to the one he owns in the Rockdale area of Sydney, would give kids a place to get off the streets and stay away from drugs and alcohol.

"And I'm not just giving my name to the academy, I'm going to be directly involved in running it," Tszyu said. "Luzhkov has already said he backs the idea, and now we need to find the right place and the right people for it."

The affable Tszyu, one of Australia's most beloved athletes over the last decade, is no less celebrated in Russia, where there seems to be little resentment over his emigration and replays of his fights are shown regularly on television. Neither the Soviet Union nor Russia, after all, has ever had any professional boxers of his stature to call their own.

"The tragedy of the former Soviet boxers was that they could never test themselves against professionals," said prominent boxing journalist Alexander Belenky, referring to the official policy of the Soviet sports machine that its athletes were strictly amateurs, despite the fact that their careers were subsidized by the state. "The Soviet Union had national champions that could have ruled their weight divisions in the professional ranks for decades, but they never got the chance. But compared to those boxers, Kostya is second to none."

Tszyu, originally from the Urals town of Serov, was already a dominant amateur fighter when he left the Soviet Union at age 22 on a one-year visa to Australia, together with his future wife, Natasha, in 1992. He had notched up 259 victories in 270 fights and captured a world title, three European championships and a gold medal at the Goodwill Games along the way.

"Tszyu is an extremely powerful puncher," Belenky said. "But he's also a masterful technician, going all the way back to his amateur days. [Former International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion] Chris Bird said he was the best amateur he had ever seen."

Tszyu, whose Korean great-grandfather migrated to Russia a century ago, says he fell in love with Australia after winning the 1991 World Championships in Sydney, after which Australian trainer Johnny Lewis asked him to join his camp and turn professional.

After learning to speak English fluently -- with a peculiar hybrid of Russian and Australian accents -- and establishing himself as a formidable foe on the professional circuit, Tszyu became an Australian citizen in 1995. Tszyu said he and Natasha, and their two sons Timofei, 10, and Nikita, 6, are happily settled in their Sydney home.

He captured his first title with a thrashing of IBF junior welterweight champion Jake Rodriguez in January 1995. He lost the belt two years later to Vince Phillips in a 10-round fight in Atlantic City, his only loss as a professional fighter. Tszyu has said the Phillips loss gave him a greater career focus, and after having captured the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association titles, he knocked out southpaw Zab Judah in a November 2001 triple unification bout in Las Vegas to become the first undisputed 140-pound world champion since Paul Fujii in 1968, a title he holds to this day.

How much longer Tszyu can continue to dominate is debatable. After defending his title with a third-round knockout of American Sharmba Mitchell last November, he danced around questions about retirement, saying "nothing is definite in this world."

"The mid-30s are a dangerous age for fighters," Belenky said. "A lot of people said [former heavyweight champion] Evander Holyfield was at his best when he was 35, but he kept fighting and suddenly just lost it."

But Tszyu says he's never felt in better shape for his scheduled June 5 title defense in Manchester, England, against Britain's 26-year-old Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton.

The fight is scheduled for 4 a.m. local time to accommodate North American television audiences, an hour that would seem to favor a younger fighter. Tszyu disagrees.

"I don't think age is going to play much of a role," Tszyu said. "I don't feel old. I feel fresh."

Tszyu has another thing going for him in preparing for the late-night bout, for which he will reportedly earn $5 million.

While Hatton will have to resort to a drastic shift in his training schedule -- working out in the middle of the night and sleeping by day -- Tszyu will be able to comfortably train for the fight at his Sydney base at 1 p.m., which equates to the wee hours of the morning in England.

"When I go to England a few weeks before the fight, I'll start working out at night, but my body won't be affected by the time change," Tszyu said.

Regardless of how fit he feels now, Tszyu admits that the Hatton fight could be one of his last.

"It really depends on what kind of offer I get," he said. "If I can line up a real challenge, I would probably consider taking it on. If it doesn't happen, I'd be happy to step aside and enjoy myself. I have lots of other projects to work on, including the gym in Moscow"

In the meantime, Tszyu still has a challenge ahead of him in Hatton, who has won all of his 38 fights, with 28 knockouts, during his eight-year professional career.

And even though he has joked that the Briton knocked himself out with a punching bag while training, Tszyu wouldn't be fighting Hatton if he didn't take him seriously. There's a reason he enters the ring to the sound of Russian estrada star Larissa Dolina belting out the song "Something Worth Fighting For."

"I never fight for the money," Tszyu said. "I fight for personal satisfaction. For me it's definitely about the challenge."

But when it comes to his legacy, Tszyu steers the conversation away from his own exploits and back to his planned Moscow gym and giving young people a chance at the success he has enjoyed. "I've already achieved so much," Tszyu said. "I've made my name in the history of boxing. But I want to leave something for the next generation, not just my name. I want to give something extra."

Whether he will ever return to Russia permanently is another question altogether, and he answers it with the caginess he displays when discussing retirement. "Anything can happen in this life," Tszyu said. "Never say never."