Forgotten Legends: Vassily Jirov

By: Steve Gallegos

For many in boxing, the Cruiserweight division is known as the waste land before the promise land which is the Heavyweight division; however there was one fighter who put the division on the radar in the early 2000’s. That fighter was VassiliyThe Russian TigerJirov.

Jirov was an exciting, aggressive power puncher with knockout power in either hand. Jirov was born and raised in Balkhash, Kazakhstan and was a decorated amateur who took the gold in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta as well as winning the award for the most outstanding boxer at the olympics. He would turn pro in early 1997 and would go 20-0 with 18 KO’s over the next 2 1/2 years.

He would get his first shot at a world title in 1999 when he met Cruiserweight champion “King” Arthur Williams. They met on 06/05/99 in Biloxi, MS and it was for the IBF Cruiserweight Championship. It was also the first Cruiserweight bout to ever be shown on HBO. Jirov was impressive as he broke Williams down, particularly to the body en route to a seventh round TKO. Vassiliy Jirov was now a world champion.

He would close out the millenium on the undercard of the “Fight Of The Millenium” between Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya and he would score an impressive 10th round KO over “Cowboy” Dale Brown. Jirov would go 9-0 with seven KO’s over the next two years and would successfully defend his title five times, which included a big KO win over the very tough and durable Julian Letterlough.

Jirov would then face the toughest challenge of his career when he faced James “Lights Out” Toney. They met on 04/26/03 at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, CT and it was one of the most anticipated bouts of 2003. Unfortunately for Jirov, Toney’s experience and technique would be the story of the fight as Jirov was dropped in the 12th round and would lose a lopsided unanimous decision.

Jirov would bounce back with two KO wins to close out the year and would move up to Heavyweight. His first bout at Heavyweight was against unbeaten top prospect “Baby” Joe Mesi, who at the time was considered the future of the division. They met on 03/13/04 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Mesi was dominant throughout the bout and appeared to be on his way to an easy decision, however Jirov showed he had Heavyweight power as he dropped Mesi once in the ninth and twice in the 10th. It was a great way for Jirov to close the show and he would come up just a hair short on the judges scorecards as all three judges had the fight scored 94-93 for Mesi.

The shots from Jirov in that fight did further damage to Joe Mesi as he suffered two hematomas on his brain which sidelined him for two years. After proving he had pop at the Heavyweight level, Jirov elected to stay in the division and he would challenge former two-time Heavyweight Champion Michael Moorer. They met on 12/09/04 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, CA.

Jirov boxed well and dominated Moorer for 8 1/2 rounds, however Moorer learned 10 years earlier against George Foreman, that any fight can be changed with one punch. In the ninth round, Moorer landed a big left hand that put Jirov down. He was able to get up, however he was on wobbily legs and referee Pat Russell would stop the bout. It was a crushing defeat for Jirov and his hopes for potentially fighting for a Heavyweight Championship were crushed.

Jirov would go 5-0-1 with three KO’s from 2005-2009, however he would not challenge for another world title. His record as a professional stands at 38-3-1 with 32 KO’s. His all action style and power brought luster to a very lackluster division in the Cruiserweights. Did his first loss affect him negatively? Did his move to Heavyweight hurt his career. In the end it was a career that had high expectations, only to come up just a tad bit short of meeting or exceeding those expectations.

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