Layoff? What Layoff? Kostya Tszyu returned to the ring for the first time since January 2003 and didn't miss a beat, stopping Sharmba Mitchell in three rounds Saturday to retain his IBF world junior welterweight championship at the Glendale Arena in Glendale, Ariz.
The victory was Tszyu's second over Mitchell, having stopped the Takoma Park, Md., native in seven rounds on Feb. 3, 2001.
"I think I'm smarter," said Tszyu of how he has changed as a fighter since the injury-induced layoff. "When you've got time off you're watching tapes and you're seeing and thinking. I worked a lot on this fight."
Mitchell set a fast pace early, moving behind a southpaw jab and some whipping lefts to the head in Round 1. Tszyu was able to get some shots off on the inside, but Mitchell gave as good as he got as referee Raul Caiz allowed the two to wrestle at close quarters. This of course led inevitably to a clash of heads that left Tszyu with a cut on his left eyebrow.
Tszyu landed his first big right hand a minute into the second round, and seconds later a barrage from the champion put Mitchell on the canvas. After rising, Mitchell immediately held on, but after breaking he remained in the pocket, throwing shots back at Tszyu. It wasn't the wisest course of action, because even though Mitchell was able to tag the onrushing Tszyu, by the final seconds of the round, a Tszyu left hook visibly wobbled "The Little Big Man."
Seconds into the third, another Tszyu right hand put Mitchell down, and with 2:30 left in the round, it appeared to be too high a hill for him to climb to survive. But Tszyu was patient as Mitchell expended a lot of energy trying to get back into the fight. With a little over 30 seconds to go, the champion struck again, hurting Mitchell with a right, following up with two hooks to the body, and then went upstairs, putting his foe down for the third time. Mitchell gamely rose and elected to continue, but another follow-up forced Caiz's hand, and the bout was stopped at the 2:48 mark.
With the victory Tszyu improves to 31-1-1 with 25 KOs. Mitchell falls to 55-4 with 31 KOs.