Tim Tszyu has overcome illness and an alarming first-round knockdown to announce his arrival on the international stage with a unanimous points decision over Terrell Gausha in his much-anticipated US debut in Minneapolis.
Tszyu conceded dark thoughts crept into his head after Gausha sent him crashing to the canvas in the opening two minutes of the all-or-nothing world title eliminator on Saturday night (Sunday AEDT).
But, showing true grit, he recovered to win over the trio of American judges and claim a brave victory and keep his world title dream alive.
Tszyu’s hard-earned victory leaves the 27-year-old on track for a unified mega-fight against the winner of the May 14 rematch between Jermell Charlo and Brian Castano, the holders of the light middleweight division’s four world title belts.
“Charlo or Castano, I’ll be in LA watching the fight ringside so whoever, man, I couldn’t care less,” said a jubilant Tszyu.
“I’m coming for the two boys. Whoever wants it, come get it.”
Tszyu, though, admitted he battled some mental demons to preserve his undefeated record from 21 fights after Gausha rocked him with a heavy right to his left eye in the first round.
“Oh man, there’s definitely some shit thoughts going through your head,” he told Fox Sport’s Main Event.
“It’s not about how hard you fight, it’s how hard you can fall and get back up.
“That’s a great lesson for myself; I got back up and I dug deep.”
But just how deep was only revealed after the 12-round epic when Tszyu confessed to enduring “one hell of a prep” in the lead-up.
“Two days before the fight, I was coughing like a dog. Weight was a problem as well,” he said.
“It was horrible. I couldn’t breathe. Even now, it’s still in my lungs.
“Yeah, for the first two weeks I was here in America, I was trying to drink water, trying not to show it.
“I didn’t want no media finding out and having excuses and shit like that.”
There’s no doubt, though, Gausha’s early knockdown left the No.1-ranked challenger to Castano’s WBO light middleweight strap playing catch-up.
“Look, it was good that I faced adversity for the first time and I was able to come back,” Tszyu said.
The Sydney slugger certainly showed great courage to climb off the canvas and continue pushing forward to attack the ex-US Olympian, still yet to be floored in his own 24 fights.
Tszyu struggled to penetrate Gausha’s renowned defence until hurting him with a series of body blows in the fourth round.
The onslaught continued in the fifth, Tszyu unleashing the power to literally have Gausha on the ropes.
A desperate Gausha was warned for holding in the sixth round before winning the seventh after landing two more lethal rights to Tszyu’s head.
Australian boxing legend Jeff Fenech lauded Gausha for his “amazing courage” to stay on his feet and Tszyu’s failure to land a knockout blow threatened to cruel his world title dream.
But the local judges acknowledged Tszyu’s overall domination to score the fight 114-113, 116-111, 115-112 in the Australian’s favour.
“I was just enjoying myself. I felt in control the whole time,” Tszyu said.
“I kept the pressure on. I wasn’t going to back down. I kept landing shots.
“I thought ‘f*** it, I’m going to keep coming forward and keep fighting.
“I didn’t take one step backwards.”