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Forgotten Champions: Vassiliy Jirov

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  • Forgotten Champions: Vassiliy Jirov

    Vassiliy Jirov (also spelled Zhirov) was one of the best cruiserweights of the 2000's, but for some reason, he never got his full credit. He is by most fans known as the man who fought and lost to James Toney in a great war. Also, some know him for his heavyweight fights against Joe Mesi and Michael Moorer. But, Jirov is in fact the man who beat Antonio Tarver in the 1996 Olympics, winning the gold there at light heavy. He was a teak-tough and aggressive fighter with power, who usually broke his opponents down gradually. At 6'2 he was of the right size for a cruiserweight, but slightly small for a heavyweight of the 21st century. He is one of the best, if not the best, Kazakh boxers ever and also one of the first ex-Soviet world champions on pro stage.

    Born in the city of Balkhash, which lies on the huge lake of the same name, in eastern Kazakhstan, 4 April 1974, young Vassiliy started training boxing at 12, incited by the movie "Rocky", as many others. As he grew bigger, his training eventually included running from German shepherds down a hallway in order to reach a door and escape! All this turned him into an extraordinarily tough and durable fighter. From 1989 to 1991, he was the Kazakh amateur champion and in 1990 he won the USSR Youth championship. That same year he received a degree as a Master of Sports of the USSR. He also took part at the 1992 European Junior championships and defeated Thomas Hansvoll in the first round, by a second-round stoppage. He became the champion here by defeating Sinan Samil Sam 11-7 on points. This was in the light heavy division. At the 1993 world championships, he came to the semi-final where he lost to Akin Kuloglu on points, 2-9. At the 1995 Chemistry Cup in Germany, he beat both Sven Ottke and Thomas Ulrich (another Olympic gold medallist) and won the tournament. At the World championships that same year, he lost in the semis to Antonio Tarver, 6-9. But at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he would have his revenge. He again met Tarver in the semis and beat him 15-9. He won the gold by defeating Lee Saeung-Bae by 17-4. After that, he had nothing left to achieve as amateur, so he turned pro in January next year.

    He fought as a cruiserweight from the first fight, which he won by TKO2, against the 4-0 Vincent Brown. He won his first 14 fights by stoppage. In May 1998, he won the vacant WBC International title by UD12 against Rich LaMontagne. In April 1999 he also won the vacant WBC Continental Americas title by KO5 over Onebo Maxime. On 5 June that year, he faced Arthur Williams, who held the IBF title. Williams was known as a rugged and hard-hitting fighter, but Jirov prevailed by stopping him by TKO7 and thus winning his first and only major world title. In his first defense, he beat the 19-0 Dale Brown by KO10, which was impressive knowing Brown later gave O'Neil Bell a tough fight which went the distance. In his second defense, he stopped the famous Mexican contender Saul Montana by TKO9 and then scored two first-round ko's in his next two defenses, against Alex Gonzales and Terry McGroom. He then decisioned Adolpho Washington in a non-title fight, because Washington came over the weight limit, before fighting the light heavy contender Julian Letterlough in September 2001 and stopping him by TKO8. His sixth and last successful defense came in February 2002, when he beat Jorge Castro by a wide UD. He then signed for his biggest fight, which would at the same time be his downfall. He faced James Toney on 26 April 2003, at Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket. It was a non-stop action fight where both guys got in plenty of leather, but Toney's defensive skills came to the fore and Jirov was unable to capitalize on his size advantage or bully Toney enough. In the 12th round, Toney went all out and after hitting Jirov with many punches, Jirov fell to the canvas at the end of the round, more out of exhaustion than anything else. This of course would cost him, as well as the one point that he got deducted for hitting low in the 8th. He lost by the scores of 109-117 twice and 110-116, but the fight was surely closer than that and the judges were prejudiced. Harold Lederman scored it 113-113. So, despite losing, Jirov was involved in one of the best fights of that year and in the cruiser division overall, and got the respect for giving Toney all he could handle.

    After stopping Ernest Mateen and Joseph Kiwanuka, he went up to the heavy division and immidiately got a fight against one of the hottest contenders there, Joe Mesi. Mesi was slightly shorter at 6'1, but a natural heavyweight who came in at 103 kilos or 227 pounds, to Jirov's 96 kilos/212 pounds. The fight happened 13 March 2004 at Mandalay Bay. Mesi was the better man for most of the fight, but Jirov came on strong in the last two of the ten scheduled rounds, sensing Mesi was tiring. He put Mesi down once in the ninth and twice in the tenth, but his momentum had come late and Mesi survived to the final bell, eventually winning by 94-93 on all three cards. After Mesi was suspended by the Nevada boxing commission for brain injuries, Jirov got to fight Michael Moorer, who was 37 but still dangerous with his power. The fight happened 9 December same year and this time, Jirov was the better man for the first 8 rounds, but in the 9th he was caught by a big straight left and knocked out. That fight marked the end of Jirov's prime. He had 3 more fights at heavyweight and in the last one he drew against Orlin Norris in an 8-rounder, but then returned to his old division, realizing perhaps he just wasn't suited to be a heavyweight. However, he only fought 3 times between 2006 and 2009 and retired after being dropped by the 7-6 Jonathan Williams before stopping him in the second round. He was 35 and had fought 12 years as a pro. His record is 38 wins with 32 ko's, 3 losses and 1 draw.

    Vassiliy Jirov now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and works as a coach for their boxing club. On his time as a fighter, he said:"I travelled the world, got paid and kicked some ass." He was honored by his native country by getting his face on a postage stamp, along with three other boxers. At his best, Jirov was a formidable offensive fighter, a threat to any cruiserweight. He always came to slug it out but his move to heavyweight ruined his career. I hope you enjoyed this presentation.

  • #2
    --- Top Shelf, Boz!

    Always a fond place in my heart of warriors. Been a while since I seen the Toney fight, but, yeah, felt the fight was up in the air til that 12 rd KD. Toney countered well, but couldn't keep him off him.

    IE, the Sheppards: always heard he was placed at the end of a locked door hallway to have two Sheppard attack trained set upon him that he'd have to fight off. Presumably they were semi muzzled so as not to do serious damage.

    He could get to the first, but that leaves him open to the second, and then vice versa if he can't KO the first. I'm familiar with the dilemma from my long experience with big dogs.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by LondonRingRules View Post
      --- Top Shelf, Boz!

      Always a fond place in my heart of warriors. Been a while since I seen the Toney fight, but, yeah, felt the fight was up in the air til that 12 rd KD. Toney countered well, but couldn't keep him off him.

      IE, the Sheppards: always heard he was placed at the end of a locked door hallway to have two Sheppard attack trained set upon him that he'd have to fight off. Presumably they were semi muzzled so as not to do serious damage.

      He could get to the first, but that leaves him open to the second, and then vice versa if he can't KO the first. I'm familiar with the dilemma from my long experience with big dogs.
      Thanks, that took you some time. Now that I remembered Golovkin is also Kazakh, I rank Jirov/Zhirov (it is pronounced "Zhirov") at #2 on the Kazakh fighters list. And as far as I remember, it only stood that he had to run from those dogs to reach a door that was at the end of a long hallway.

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      • #4
        --- We can never put ourselves into the goon mentality of those post Soviet years, but I'd turn on those dogs in a come to daddy nanosecond they'd never forget.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by LondonRingRules View Post
          --- We can never put ourselves into the goon mentality of those post Soviet years, but I'd turn on those dogs in a come to daddy nanosecond they'd never forget.
          Oh you would, would you?

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