Down under in the Land of Oz, the Australians Against Wowsers Party campaigns on a platform of cheap beer, skimpy outfits for barmaids, and no speed limit on country roads. According to The Sunday Telegraph of London, ockers (Aussie men "usually classified by...raw manners, a prodigious thirst and an unhealthy interest in bodily functions") claim that wowsers (killjoys) endanger their very existence.
Except for his penchant for punching people hollow, WBC and WBA junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu is a world-class wowser. The Russian-born Sydneysider doesn't curse, won't drink and couldn't tell a fart joke if his life depended on it. (So far it hasn't.) Yet this 5'7", 140-pound tugboat-shaped brute has been wowing ockers since emigrating from Siberia in 1991.
Sired by a Boris and married to a Natasha, the 31-year-old Tszyu (pronounced Zoo) is strong like moose and smart like flying squirrel. Though he wears a braided pigtail and temporary tattoos in the ring, there's no flamboyance or excess in Tszyu's boxing. Beautifully balanced, he slowly, painstakingly pummels opponents with straight lefts, setting them up for the big rights that account for 22 KOs in his 26 victories.
Don King says Tszyu is "100 percent Dundee"—meaning half Crocodile, half Angelo. "He's got the bravado of one and the resourcefulness of the other," the promoter says. "Kostya can put you out so fast, his gloves must be soaked in NyQuil."
Tszyu's conversational style is as economical as his fighting style. His answers are often terse and opaque. Asked which he fears more, power or speed, he says, "I use my brain." Asked to pick one of the two, he says, "Number three."
Hypothetical questions, Tszyu hates. "I don't like word if" he snaps, fixing you with a death-ray stare. "Something never happen, forget it!"
It's not that he's rude. It's just that he has none of the usual ersatz charm in which many athletes specialize: He's simply a still, riveted presence. "I like his focusedness," says Zab Judah, the IBF junior welterweight champ who's scheduled to face Tszyu on June 2 at a site to be determined. "He knows what he wants and wants what he knows."
Growing up in the Ural Mountains, Tszyu knew he wanted to be a prizefighter. He was nine when Boris took him to a gym; the Russian sports federation took it from there. When not boning up on Gogol, Tolstoy and Turgenev ("Read Dostoyevsky once—that's enough," he says), young Kostya boxed for the Soviet army, losing only 11 of 270 amateur bouts.
At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, in the 132-pound division, he stopped his first two opponents in the first round before losing on points to eventual winner Andreas Zuelow of East Germany after a 2-2-1 judges' draw. "It's called destiny," Tszyu says brusquely. "Olympic gold never happened to me. I win, I never come to Australia."
Tszyu came to Sydney in '91 to compete at the World Amateur Championships. So persuasive was his domination of the 139-pound division that Australian trainer Johnny Lewis begged him to relocate and turn pro. Tszyu agreed, with two conditions: He demanded a double bed and a microwave. "Natasha and I leave Russia one suitcase each," he says. "We decide to start new, and cut everything."