The big fight pub atmosphere was alive and well on Sunday with a buzz I haven’t experienced in some time.
If it’s good enough for John Farnham and Lee Kernaghan, Kostya Tszyu should be crowned Australian of the Year. One-time Russian, now all-Aussie Kostya Tszyu is about the stand alongside Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez for induction into the World Boxing Hall of Fame. His sport has bestowed its highest honour. His adopted country should follow suit.
I spoke to him while hosting ABC Radios’ Grandstand Active at the weekend.
He was in Russia, where he is supporting Denis Lebedev ahead of his fight against Roy Jones Jnr. But I came to know Kostya very well from the time he first arrived in Australia and began his climb to global domination.
And as I reflected on our latest chat, his voice more mature than I remember and his vocabulary broader, it occurred to me: here is a guy that represents everything Australia is, or wishes it was.
In this political landscape, where asylum seekers burn detention centres and talkback radio burns with “they are destroying this country” hatred, Kostya Tszyu is the ultimate foreign-born Aussie.
The Australian of the Year website offers the following guidelines when considering who should get the gong;
“Each year our nation celebrates the achievement and contribution of eminent Australians through the Australian of the Year Awards by profiling leading citizens who are role models for us all. They inspire us through their achievements and challenge us to make our own contribution to creating a better Australia.”
And here’s what the Immigration Department defines as Australian values:
Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good.
Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background.
The English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.
Australian citizenship is a shared identity, a common bond which unites all Australians while respecting their diversity.
Born the son of a Korean/Mongol-descent metal fitter father and Russian-nurse mother, in a town at the foot of the Ural Mountains in the former Soviet Union, Kostya Tszyu rose to become four-time Junior Welterweight champion of the world – as the Thunder from Down Under.
Renowned for his no-nonsense, play-by-the-rules approach to the notoriously-dodgy fight game, he could barely speak a word of English when he got here and he proudly identified as Australian when representing on the world stage.
Kostya and his wife, who has been with him every step of the way, have produced two young Australian sons who, like Dad, seem destined for high achievement.
Kostya is also the personification of discipline – especially when it comes to eating. I remember seeing him just a few months before a big fight. He was 13 kilograms overweight and he has a tiny frame.
“Don’t worry,” he told me. “When I get serious, it will be gone and I will be ready.”
And so he was.
I realise this is a politically incorrect suggestion. One portion of the community couldn’t countenance the promotion of some blow-in from the Soviet Bloc being held up at the ultimate Aussie. Another portion would hate the idea of something so base as boxing being held up as a bastion of community values.
But Kostya Tszyu has always punched above his weight, literally and metaphorically.
He is the personification of all that is good about multi-cultural Australia and he is living proof of the importance of overcoming the odds with hard work.
You can have your Hoges, your Tubby and your Alan Bond. That’ll do me for the ultimate Aussie.