Interview by Declan Warrington

BN: Please start by recounting the past two days of your life…

TT: The first 12 hours was a whirlpool. Once everything settled, focus shifted. I’s a good learning curve. The past is the past. Only growth happens from experiences like this.

I was here [in a rented property in Las Vegas when I found out]. My manager [Glen Jennings] came along – I saw [in his face] there was a bit of depression. I was like, “What’s wrong with you guys?”, and then I got told the news and I was like, “Fuck!”. You know what? I had a feeling about it. “Imagine if something happens to [Keith] Thurman – I got a feeling that he’s not going to make it for some reason.” There you go. Just a little intuition I felt.

“Thurman’s out. Bicep tear.” “All right. So what now?” “Fundora or [Erislandy] Lara. But most likely Fundora.” “Let’s get it on. Simple.” What else can we do?

Last time [before the first-round stoppage of Carlos Ocampo in June 2023], I got bitten by a dog two weeks out. I was in hospital, under full anaesthetic. Now I’m sweet. It’s just a change of opponent. It’s a completely different opponent, but to be great, you’ve got to do things that no one else does, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

The dog bite was more of a worry. This one made me pissed – like a wake-up call. Completely zoned in – I’m glad this happened, because I was getting a bit relaxed with Thurman. I love this feeling.

This is not a setback. I’m focused; zoned in; healthy. I got another two spars against tall southpaws. Fight night, I just adapt to whoever they put in front of me.

You’re focusing on one person for the whole time. Massive build-up; talking about it; prepping for 10 weeks to a certain style, and then it just completely changes and it’s like the unknown. The next target’s completely the opposite to the previous target, so now it’s shifting your mind. [My] mind shifted like that. I gave it 12 hours – I slept it off, and then I was like, ‘That’s it’. Simple. I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes – I heard it was a mess – but my manager did a good job by eliminating all of the distractions. “The next target is this guy.” This is the first Amazon Prime card and we saved it. We’re getting pay cuts – it is what it is – but we saved it. The dream remains the same. I’m still doing it. I’m still living my life.

BN: How dangerous an opponent did you consider Keith Thurman?

TT: He’s got the experience. He’s tough, strong, powerful. He’s the past. I’m not even thinking about him right now. No [we’ve not had any contact since his withdrawal], he’s long gone. He’s probably going to retire. That’s it. That’s the end of Thurman.

BN: How about Sebastian Fundora?

TT: He’s good. He’s awkward. He’s obviously tall. Hard to mimic; hard to find a style to fight like that. But, in the old books, David versus Goliath – you know what happened there. Every giant – the bigger they are, the louder they fall, and the harder they fall. You gotta chop down the tree. He’s talented, but he’s got that grit in him – he presents a tremendous challenge to anyone. When they talk about my division – 154lbs – he’s one of the toughest fighters.

We had sparring partners fly down straight away. Eric – one of my assistants – and my manager Glen organised it straight away. We were able to get one week of work in with tall sparring partners, just to get my mind in it to see what we can do – a little bit of a gameplan. There hasn’t been much notice – 12 days’ notice. It is what it is. But, to be great, you gotta do this, and the goal is to be the greatest boxing family that ever lived, that stepped foot on this earth. This is the first step towards that.

BN: Six months on, how do you reflect on your rival Jermell Charlo fighting Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez instead of you?

TT: I was high risk, low reward. For the ‘Canelo’ fight it’s a win-win, so it makes sense for Charlo to take that fight. He did [damage his reputation], 100 per cent, in the end. He fought like a little bitch. That’s how he fought. At least go out on your shield [he lost via two scores of 118-109 and another of 119-108]. If Charlo was in my position right now, what do you reckon he would do? Where Thurman pulls out, do you reckon he’d be taking on Fundora? I don’t think so.

[Watching Alvarez-Charlo, I felt] disappointed. One bloke didn’t come to fight at all. There was nothing in it. I’ll chase him down one day. He’s going to go up to 160lbs – all the belts are vacated. They’re all gone, and then I’ll come up. I’ll get him, one way or another.

BN: Terence Crawford, who last summer seemed on course to fight Charlo, has entered the picture as mandatory challenger to your WBO title…

TT: The stakes are higher. A superfight’s on the way. Greatness and destiny awaits. He’s great. It’s undeniable, what he’s achieved – he’s great. You can’t lie about that. He’s a tremendous fighter, and what he’s done in his career is pretty crazy.

He can [compete if he moves up to 154lbs]. He’s got the skills; he’s strong as well. I don’t think he’s got a problem with that weight division – it depends who he fights.

I don’t want to disrespect the other guys, but he’s definitely in the [pound for pound] top three. [Naoya] Inoue and ‘Canelo’ Alvarez [are the other two]. The size difference [between Alvarez and Crawford if, as has been suggested, they fight] would be too much, but at the same time, Canelo did start at 154lbs and moved up – but he’s even bulkier now. But you can never underestimate Crawford, because he’s got the skills.

Last year proved that I’m the man at 154lbs. I was the one that fought everyone; took everyone out [either side of victory over Ocampo, Tszyu defeated Tony Harrison and Brian Mendoza]. I’m gonna keep cementing myself as the best 154-pounder alive. This is my division.

BN: Victory over Jeff Horn transformed your reputation in Australia. Victory over Tony Harrison enhanced your reputation in the US. On Saturday, you top the bill in Las Vegas…

TT: We’re only at the start. There’s so many bigger fights and opportunities to come. I’m only really at the start. [I need to fight] big names. Unify, and then take out a couple of big names. Simple. My dad [the retired Kostya] has already done half of it. Now it’s my turn to finish off the next half.

I’ve watched a lot of [my dad’s fights]. He was great; one of the greatest that ever lived.

BN: How much influence does your father have on your career in 2024?

TT: Not much at all. He lives in Russia. I’ve got my own coach [Igor Goloubev]; my own team. Of course, my dad calls, but we’ve a father-and-son relationship, rather than just boxing.

Of course there was a certain point [I felt in his shadow], but they’re not mentioning Kostya Tszyu right now. They’re talking about Tim Tszyu. The dynamic has shifted. In Australia it would have been the Horn fight; worldwide it would have been Harrison [when that dynamic shifted].

Kostya Tszyu with his son, Tim, during a media opportunity at Tszyu Boxing Academy on September 26, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Mark Evans/Getty Images)

BN: You’ve again prepared from Vegas for your next fight. Word has it the attention you receive in Sydney makes it harder for you to prepare…

TT: My life’s quite simple. When I’m in training camp, it’s gym, home, recovery, gym, home, recovery – that’s it. It’s simple. It doesn’t matter where I am. I’m not out and about on the strip; it’s not me. I’ve never been like that. I’m just goal-driven – solely focused on my craft. That’s it.

It doesn’t matter where I am, but Vegas allows me to get into the zone – just so I don’t have other priorities, besides boxing. I’ve got my chef here; I’ve got my coach, my brother [Nikita] joining me as a training partner, and that’s it. We keep it simple. It’s as if you’re going to war – the camaraderie. Just boys. We’re that type of mindset. We’re here.

The fight’s going to be two minutes off the strip. Beautiful, man. Get the job done and come back home. Simple.