The hunger and relentlessness driving Tim Tszyu to greatness

Editor's note: This story was originally published in December 2020. Tszyu faces late replacement Steve Spark on July 7 on ESPN+.

HE'S ONLY JUST begun unwinding the white Everlast wrist strapping amid a chorus of "well done, Timmy" and "good onya, mate," when Tim Tszyu stops, takes a deep breath, and follows it with one of the more relieved exhales of his life. After a momentary pause, he shifts his gaze onto his trainers and cornermen huddled in front of him and offers a timely reminder.

"This was a milestone," Tszyu insists. "It's not the finish line."

Sitting on the cold white floor tiles of his Queensland Country Bank Stadium changeroom, following an utterly dominant win over Jeff Horn, you'd be excused for thinking Tszyu was in fact readying himself to make an entrance to the ring. Not a single bead of sweat or drop of blood lay on his skin, not a cut or scratch on his face. He was composed, unflustered, and had the heart rate of someone who had just awoken from a slumber.

But minutes earlier he had produced a stunning demolition job. Tszyu completely embarrassed the former welterweight world champion in one of the most one-sided affairs in recent Australian boxing history. It was a masterful display of footwork, agility, timing and execution, which in the end put his name up in lights for all to see.

"I felt like I was always two steps ahead of him," Tszyu tells ESPN. "You break someone's confidence when you're able to beat their gameplan and the things they're good at. I was just mentally and physically breaking him to the point where I had full control of the fight. I knew the shots that were coming before they even came."

After a few more congratulations from his relatively small entourage in Townsville, Tszyu's mobile phone buzzes to life. It's Kostya. His legendary father, who won multiple world titles in various divisions during his illustrious career. He's calling Tim from Russia, where he was born and now resides. Without hesitation, Tszyu's right index finger swipes right to accept the call.

"He just wanted to tell me it was a clean performance and that he was pleased I didn't get hit too much. He also had a few things for me to work on and a few things I can do differently next time around," reveals Tszyu, who genuinely sounds excited at the prospect of finding improvement in a performance many had hailed as flawless.

It's this hunger and desire to constantly evolve as a fighter which is separating him from many of his peers. Be it beginning training on the morning of January 1, while most of his contemporaries were hungover in bed, or searching for faults in perfection, Tszyu's determination should be marveled at.

For most, defeating a boxer of Horn's caliber, or at least resume, would warrant wild celebrations in the aftermath of the fight. But not for Tszyu. There was no champagne, cash flashing or drunken late-night venture into town. In fact, the figure he immediately cut after the fight resembled a man who had come up short, rather than someone who had stepped out into the ring and put on a boxing clinic.

Within minutes of having his right arm hoisted to the sky by referee Phil Austin, the 26-year-old was already looking ahead to his next challenge, knowing full well the Horn fight was just one of many stepping stones on his boxing journey.

"I was happy to get the win but I'm certainly not satisfied. We're not even near where we want to get to," says a defiant Tszyu, once again reminding everyone of the fire which burns inside him. "There's no point enjoying the win because I haven't achieved my dreams and my goals and all that I really want in this sport.

"There's a long way to go and a lot to work on and the fact that I have this motivation to become better is all I need. It wasn't the finish line and I won't stop until I get there. I'm still crawling, that's for sure."

Six weeks before jumping into the ring against Horn, Tszyu had made a bold prediction. "I will be a world champion," he declared. Many had scoffed at what was widely perceived as over-ambitious imagination, and as a result there weren't many who were taking him seriously.

Instead of a man forging his own path, Tszyu was viewed as the son-of-Kostya, and only granted the opportunity to fight someone of Horn's standing because of his iconic surname. It was seen as his privilege to step into the ring with the former school teacher, not his right.

But for eight rounds in Townsville, before the Horn corner reluctantly threw in the towel, Tszyu proved to the world he does have what it takes to fight outside his father's shadow. He can create his own legacy. Since that evening, the perception of him as a boxer has changed dramatically.

"I never really paid attention to what people say or what they think. It really doesn't bother me," Tszyu reveals. "Sometimes it takes beating a former world champion for people to pay attention and give people belief in you. That's been quite noticeable, actually. It's nice to prove people wrong."

Tszyu's next challenger is Bowyn Morgan, the 31-year-old New Zealander who is also yet to taste defeat as a professional. The pair will battle it out at Sydney's Bankwest Stadium on December 16, and this time, Tszyu goes in as an almost unbackable favourite.

While Tszyu isn't taking Morgan for granted, it's clear he has his eyes set on greater things over the next 12 months.

"[By Christmas next year] I hope to be in America, holding all of the belts in my hands," Tszyu tells ESPN. "I'm the only fighter to be able to keep this momentum going and we should be in contention to fight for world titles. There's [Jermell] Charlo who holds all of the belts and then [Patrick Teixeira] who holds one of the belts.

"It's an interesting time, because a victory over one of them means you're in the mandatory position to hold all of the belts and be the undisputed world champion."

It's certainly not out of the realms of possibility that Tszyu could face either Charlo or Teixeira down the track, should he keep his unbeaten record in tact and continue replicating the type of performance which he mustered against Horn. Who knows, it could happen sooner rather than later.

Tszyu's promoter Matt Rose proclaimed six words following that win over Horn. They seem as fitting as ever right now.

"Look out, world. He is coming!"