One of the most quietly intimidating figures of his time, Kostya Tszyu wasn’t one for nonsense, either in or out of the ring. So when he talked, you listened. And even though a table full of reporters wanted his take on his upcoming junior welterweight title defense against Oktay Urkal and a highly anticipated showdown with Zab Judah, in June of 2001, Tszyu wanted to talk about his son, Tim.

“He puts the gloves on, and he knows how to punch," said dad.  “I don't let him fight kids his own age because he can just demolish them.  He hits too hard.”

Tim Tszyu was six years old at the time, with the potential to demolish any other first grader he ran into. The die might have been cast as early as then, with dad preparing his son for a place in the family business. Or should I say sons, because two-year-old Nikita was also part of this equation, with their father practicing a kind of tough love to prepare them not just for the boxing ring, but for life.

“I try to tell them that this is no joke," Tszyu said before he retained his WBA and WBC titles with a 12-round unanimous decision over Urkal. “When you come to the gym, it's serious. They're living different lives than I am.  I was hungrier than they are now.  And to be successful in boxing, you have to be hungry.  They are a little spoiled in this way.  I want them to have a tough life.  The oldest one (Tim) came home from gymnastics one day and said, 'I don't want to go no more.'  I asked why, and he said, 'I'm sore.’  I said, 'I don't care, I like it.'  And I went to the trainer and said to him, 'Give him some more.’  I don't want things to be easy for him.  It's a beginning.  If it toughens him, he's richer."

As Tszyu spoke, there was silence from the reporters, the only sound coming from the worry beads he maneuvered around his fingers. The Australia-based Russian was 31 years old, one of boxing’s best, and about to make a big payday for what turned into a two-round stoppage of Judah. But there was no desire to take his foot off the gas, no willingness to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor and pass those on to his family. Yes, they lived well, but the champion was raising his sons to look past their lifestyle and be as tough as dad.

They are. On Sunday (Saturday in the U.S.), Nikita Tszyu (4-0) will face Bo Belbin at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney. In the main event, Tim Tszyu will face Tony Harrison for the vacant interim WBO junior middleweight title, and all eyes are on him because, at the moment, he’s the one many believe can carry the Tszyu name into the record books.

No pressure.

“I don’t usually believe in fate,” said Tszyu earlier this year during a press conference to promote his scheduled fight against Jermell Charlo before a fractured hand took the undisputed 154-pound champion out of the bout, which was scheduled for January 28, the same day Kostya Tszyu won his first world title in 1995 by beating Jake Rodriguez. “I think destiny and fate is something that you have to work for. For me, I feel like it doesn’t matter about the bloodline. It’s about what you, yourself put into it. I’ve been eyeing this fight (with Charlo) for two years now. It’s been in the back of my mind, and I’ve been studying and obsessing over it. I’ve been pushing for this hard. This is the test that I need in my career. This is it for me, kill or be killed.”

The test didn’t come in January, but there will be one on Sunday in the form of Harrison, the former WBC champion who is the only one to pin a loss on Charlo’s record. Charlo would rebound in the rematch in 2019, but has only fought twice since, drawing with Bryant Perrella in 2021 and outpointing Sergio Garcia in 2022. If Harrison is rusty, it could be a rough night. If he’s Tony Harrison, the rough night might be Tszyu’s fate, much like Vince Phillips was his father’s kryptonite when they fought in 1997. That night in Atlantic City, Kostya Tszyu said he became more than a fighter.

“I became a professional athlete after that fight," said Tszyu in 2001. “I had a different attitude.  I train every day, it doesn't matter what style my opponents have.  We're staying in the middle of New York, with noise everywhere, and the first thing I said was, 'Where is the gym, and where is the park to run?'  Because that is important to me.  This (talking to the press) is important to me, but it's second.  Training is first.”

To this point, there have been no horror stories about Tim Tszyu. He’s been a pro, he shows up when he’s supposed to, makes weight and wins his fights. Entering the Harrison bout, he’s 21-0 with 15 knockouts, and while he’s hit the deck a couple times against Wade Ryan and Terrell Gausha, he’s gotten up to win and has never really been in a position where you thought he was going to lose. You could say that’s skillful matchmaking or that Tszyu’s a quality fighter.

“As soon as I went down against Terrell Gausha, I dominated the rest of the fight,” Tszyu said. “Terrell Gausha isn’t a bum. They didn’t just find him out of nowhere. He’s a talented opponent who went to the Olympics and had a great career. Tyson Fury has been down. Some people go down and get right back up. That’s what it’s about. Whatever life throws at you, just get back up. That’s been my mentality.”

Yet what really shows where Tszyu’s head is at when it comes to his career is the fact that when Charlo was forced from their fight, the Australian didn’t look for an easy mark for his homecoming fight. He chose Harrison. That says something.

“You’re in this sport for such a short period of time, I think you have to make the most of every opportunity and fight the very best,” he said on Showtime’s The Last Stand Podcast with Brian Custer. “Tony Harrison is the toughest challenge in the super welterweight division right now just before Charlo.

“If I bring up a tune-up fight, I’m disrespecting myself and I’m disrespecting the sport of boxing,” Tszyu continues. “This is what it is – you’ve got to fight to your very potential. 

He’s giving himself every chance to do just that, proving that while dad may have been tough on him when he was younger, now, the son is seeing the wisdom in his father’s lessons. And he’s just as no nonsense as the hall of famer.

"I can't underestimate Tony Harrison, but with the way I've been training, I'm extremely confident that I'm going to give my fans a big KO victory,” said Tszyu. “Full credit to him for taking the challenge and coming to Australia, but he's going home empty-handed.”