“I got the call,” Jennings said. “I went round to Tim, and I said the fight’s off, he looked at me, and he said, ‘are you serious?’ And he was completely flabbergasted to hear it, he didn’t expect it.”

“I said, but there is an option, ‘we may be able to get Fundora.’ Tim looked at me and said, ‘make it happen’. That’s it. Tim had already clicked over. Thurman was a memory and he was onto Fundora.

Tszyu working out before the fight in Vegas.

Tszyu working out before the fight in Vegas.

“I said, ‘we’ll go and do whatever it takes to make it happen’ and within that 12-hour period, we got the deal done, and the rest is history.”

It’s important to remember where Tszyu was based. That this was to be his Las Vegas debut placed him under significant pressure. After the NRL invaded the city, Tszyu’s face was emblazoned on billboards in a city obsessed with boxing. The Rockdale fighter’s previous two contests took place in the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Ccentre at Broadbeach. Now he was at boxing’s top table, helping to headline the 20,000-capacity T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

In his 24 fights before this loss, Tszyu’s career had been smooth. The son of former world champion Kostya had built a reputation for devastating power that regularly ended his fights quickly. However, competing in Vegas is a completely different prospect.

Former World Champion boxer Lovemore Ndou spent the majority of his career fighting in Australia, but 20 years ago, he fought Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto at the colossal MGM Grand Casino and still remembers the intensity of the experience.

“It’s overwhelming because the boxing environment over there is a bit different compared to Australia,” Ndou said. “You find you’re out of your own comfort zone.”

Tim Tszyu, of Australia, hits Sebastian Fundora in the super welterweight title bout.

Tim Tszyu, of Australia, hits Sebastian Fundora in the super welterweight title bout.Credit: AP

“Vegas is the centre of boxing, and it’s the home of boxing. Every fighter’s dream is to win a fight in Vegas one day and I used to talk about that, someday you’re going to be watching me on TV while I’m fighting in Vegas, you just know, all the great fights are fought there.”

Tszyu had already spent considerable money out of his own pocket on his long training camp and if he refused the offer to fight Fundora, quite simply, he would not get paid anything at all; he’d have made a loss. There is no insurance available for an opponent dropping out as Thurman did. Tszyu’s Las Vegas debut was promoted in tandem with the powerful American promotional outfits Premier Boxing Champions and TGB Promotions, who were helping to provide him with a powerful stage to shine in front of the world. Millions were ready to watch him.

If Tszyu refused to fight Fundora at short notice, it would not be accurate to say that the event would have fallen over completely. Three other World Title fights took place on the same night, including a co-main event between Mexican fighter Isaac Cruz and American star Rolly Romero. However, the Australian’s non-appearance would have significantly affected pay-per-view numbers on the Amazon Prime platform that was debuting its boxing content for the lucrative American audience.

Sebastian Fundora poses with his title belts after defeating Tim Tszyu.

Sebastian Fundora poses with his title belts after defeating Tim Tszyu.Credit: Getty

Tszyu clearly understood the risk that he was taking in facing Fundora, but he also knew his opponent had been knocked out in his previous fight against Brian Mendoza, a man the Australian had previously beaten. The gamble made sense and he was all in. Famed Australian boxing trainer Johnny Lewis who trained Tszyu’s father and Jeff Fenech was impressed by what he saw from the Sydney fighter in Vegas, until a cut changed everything.

“He was against one of the most awkward fighters I’ve ever seen,” Lewis said. “In two rounds. I thought Tim had found him out brilliantly with his right hand down the middle. I was sure it was going to be a knockout win, and certainly before the halfway mark.”

Like most of Australia, Lewis watched the cut at the end of round two with horror, after Tszyu ducked his head and accidentally hit the point of Fundora’s elbow. In the minute break before round three and for the rest of the fight, the team member responsible for staunching the blood was unable to quell the flow, leaving the Australian unable to see properly, making it almost impossible to find his range.

Until the cut, Tszyu had been comfortably winning the fight. His corner had one minute to make a decision: ask the referee to stop the fight, where it would be ruled a no-contest due to the accidental nature of the cut and Tszyu would keep his WBO World Title; or let their fighter go on and hope he could find a punch to knock out the giant. The ringside doctor was happy for the fight to continue and Tszyu kept trying valiantly to march through Fundora, but it was ultimately impossible.

Tim Tszyu at the end of the fight.

Tim Tszyu at the end of the fight.Credit: Getty

“It was one of the worst cuts I’ve ever seen,” Lewis said. “Let me say this, I’m not here to knock anybody but although it’s a head wound, it’s very, very hard to stop the flow of blood …

“To send him consistently out there with the blood running into his eyes, what chance did he have? He said nothing and that’s to his credit. The way he handled himself, in defeat, during the contest, it was one of the bravest things I’ve seen in boxing, but it wasn’t good for boxing.”

The fight over 12 rounds took its toll on both boxers and the Nevada State Athletic Association, which governs boxing in Las Vegas, announced that Tszyu would not be allowed to fight until May 15 due to his head wound, while Fundora who had his nose broken, has been suspended due to health protocols until at least the same date.

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Both Tszyu and Fundora camps had verbally agreed on a rematch clause before the Las Vegas fight, which was set to be honoured, but due to the American’s broken nose, all options are now open. Once fully recovered, Tszyu will fight in Australia or America, against an elite opponent who can help him exorcise the memories of the bloody night in Vegas.

“Tim Tszyu will take this time just to reflect on where he’s been and what he’s achieved,” Jennings said.

“He’s that guy, I guarantee you right now he’s plotting in his mind, revenge. He wants to be back there, he wants to hold the belts, he wants to fight the best and the only way you can fight the best, you’ve got to win those titles and you’ve got to call every one of them out.

“So this will be a slight deviation, certainly not a stop sign and we’ll turn the corner and come back and he’ll be back there with belts around him calling out all the big guns and we’ll see what they do then.”

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