A long-brewing grudge match between Tim Tszyu and Michael Zerafa is now in jeopardy.
Increased coronavirus-related restrictions in Australia have Zerafa and his team leery of making the trip from Melbourne to Newcastle ahead of the planned July 7 show at Newcastle Entertainment Centre. The development is ongoing, with Team Tszyu scrambling to salvage the long-ago sold-out event amidst a recent spike in cases of different COVID variants prompting lockdowns in Sydney and other areas in Australia.
The other side of the promotion is suddenly not quite as enthusiastic about proceeding with such plans in present form.
“I will be speaking to the Victorian government [Tuesday] as to the advice on the current Covid situation in reference to the Zerafa v Tszyu fight,” Sam Labruna, Zerafa’s manager stated through social media. “[T]he team’s safety and wellbeing comes first and once we get full clarification on what lies ahead we will be in a better position to comment and act accordingly.
”[I]t’s unfortunate but it’s out of our hands.”
Labruna’s declaration came barely 24 hours after event handlers announced that the show would go on despite surrounding health concerns.
“It seems like the closer we get to the fight, the more excuses keep getting thrown out,” George Rose, head of No Limit Boxing said of Zerafa and his team. “I mean, it’s frustrating for me. My role has turned from promoter into excuse squasher.”
The fight was first announced May 5, with the press conference directly in line with the long-developing rivalry between the pair of Aussie box office stars.
Tszyu (18-0, 14KOs) was barely a month removed from his fifth-round stoppage of Dennis Hogan on March 30 at the very same venue—which has been dubbed ‘Tszyucastle’—at the time of the announcement. His win came just 18 days after Zerafa scored a first-round knockout of badly faded former titlist Anthony Mundine on March 13 in Bendigo, Australia.
The win for Zerafa marked his first ring appearance since splitting a pair of fights with countryman and former welterweight titlist Jeff Horn in 2019, scoring a ninth-round stoppage in the first fight before dropping a ten-round unanimous decision in their December 2019 rematch.
Tszyu enjoyed a far more dominant showing versus Horn, scoring an eighth-round stoppage in their regional title fight last August 26 in Townsville, Australia. The bout was one of the first major boxing events in the nation following the pandemic, with Australia far ahead of most of the rest of the world in flattening the coronavirus curve to the point of allowing large gatherings.
The emergence of the Delta coronavirus variant has caused a new wave of the infectious disease around the globe, with Australia getting hit at the wrong time. The change in health standards forced the July 7 event to alter the number of fans permitted. A sold-out crowd was expected at the venue which seats just more than 7,500, with recent social distancing measures limiting the show to a maximum of 50% capacity.
A threat of that number being reduced to 0% is now at the forefront, though the No Limit Boxing team has gone the extra mile to alleviate any concerns from Zerafa’s side. Rose informed Fox Sports Australia of progress made with the health officials in Victoria, expressing confidence that a travel exception could be secured to permit Zerafa and essential team members to safely make the trip from Melbourne in time to move forward with the event.
“[Tszyu has adapted with everything that’s been thrown at him,” Rose told Fox Sports Australia. “He’s focused on one thing, and that’s being there on July 7 and putting on a show for the people.
“I think what [Zerafa and his team] really need to focus on right now is being ready to fight against the number-one boxer in Australia.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox