Forgotten Legends: Vassily Jirov

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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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Forgotten Legends: Montell Griffin

Montell Griffin

By: Steve Gallegos

Many fighters over the years give their all to the sport, accomplish amazing feats yet walk down any street unnoticed. James Toney and Roy Jones are recognizable figures, who most times draw a crowd anywhere they go. There is one fighter who knows both of these men very well and never seemed to get the shine he deserved. That fighter was former light heavyweight champion MontellIceGriffin.

Griffin was a slick, defensive wizard who also packed a decent punch. Despite being only 5″7, Griffin was a force in the light heavyweight division throughout the mid-90’s and 2000’s and he seemed to mix it up with just about everyone. Griffin grew up around a boxing gym as his father ran the Windy City Gym in Chicago, IL. His father passed away when Montell was just 12 and his mother would not let him box. He turned back to boxing when he was an adult and had a short, but stellar amateur career which resulted in a spot on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Boxing team.

He turned pro in early 1993 and would win his first 14 bouts, 6 by KO. Trained by the legendary Eddie Futch, Griffin showed a tremendous poise and sense of relaxation whenever he stepped into the ring. In just his 15th pro bout, he got a crack at a huge name when he faced two-time world champion James “Lights Out” Toney. Toney was coming off his first professional loss to Roy Jones Jr and he was fighting his first fight as a light heavyweight.

Griffin and Toney met on 02/18/95 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. From the opening bell, Griffin showed Toney he wasn’t there to take a payday. Griffin was relaxed and showed no fear of Toney early on as he used his jab to setup combinations and was able to control the pace of the early rounds; despite being rocked badly towards the end of round three. The middle rounds were fought more in the phone booth as both fighters exchanged hard shots. Toney appeared to be the harder puncher, however Griffin was able to take the shots well.

At the end of the seventh, Griffin got a burst of energy as he wobbled Toney, sending him reeling through the ropes, however no knockdown was called. Going into the championship rounds, Griffin got his second wind and out-boxed Toney, who was getting winded. Griffin controlled much of the 12th and unleashed one last flurry to end the fight. It was very close, tough fight that was left in the hands of the judges. When the scorecards were read, Griffin was announced the winner by majority decision. Montell Griffin had arrived and he would follow up this performance with 10 straight knockout wins.

He would face James Toney again in 1996 and this time the stakes were much higher. Griffin and Toney met again on 12/06/96 at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, NV. Alot of bad blood had developed between the two and a scuffle broke out at a press conference earlier in the week. While standing face to face, Toney pushed Griffin and Montell retaliated by decking Toney in the mouth. At stake was the WBU light heavyweight championship as well as a chance to challenge pound for pound king Roy Jones Jr, who claimed an interim light heavyweight championship just two weeks before. The rematch was a much different fight from the first encounter. Griffin elected to box more and avoid dangerous exchanges. He used feints, threw punches from different angles and had the tactical edge. The end result this time was a unanimous decision win for Montell Griffin. The stage was now set for Roy Jones Jr. vs Montell Griffin.

They met on 03/21/97 at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, NJ. Much of the publicity going into the fight was focused on Roy Jones’ new friendship with Muhammad Ali. As great as Ali was in his day, he did have an achilles heel in Ken Norton, who always seemed to give him more than he bargained for. Norton was trained by none other than Eddie Futch and both Futch and Griffin were looking to “Ken Norton” to Jones’ “Ali”. Jones himself, didn’t appear to worry much about Griffin and during the HBO opening, Jones recited a rhyme saying “I’ve been playing with my bag of tricks, Confucious says Griffin won’t see six”.

Griffin would prove Jones wrong very quickly. In the first round, Griffin took the initiative and pressured Roy right away pounding away to the body while Jones was in a corner. Jones was able to land a couple good right hands, which Montell took fairly well. All in all, Griffin had a decent 1st round in which he made a statement early and made Jones miss some big shots later in the round. Griffin would pressure Jones in the secpnd as he had Jones on the ropes and was able to land a good left hook as well as many shots to the body. Unlike in the Toney fight where Griffin was landing quick combinations, he was putting a lot more power on his punches in this fight.

Griffin controlled the pace of the action again in the third as he was taking Jones into unchartered territory. The Griffin camp knew that Roy had never been in a real fight before and they were determined to make it one. The fourth and fifth rounds were much of the same. Griffin was landing 47% of his punches throughout the mid way point of the bout and he had limited Jones to only 25%.

In the sixth, the pace began to pick up as both men exchanged punches, however Griffin was getting the better the of exchanges. Towards the end of the seventh, Jones turned the tide as he was able to put Griffin down with a left hook while in a corner. Griffin regained the edge in the ninth as he used a good, stiff jab and later in the round landed a hard counter left hook. His punches were starting to make its mark as Jones’ left eye began to swell.

Griffin started round nine pounding away to Jones’ body as he had been all throughout the fight. With 1:00 left in the round, Jones landed a big right hand that shook Griffin up. Jones began to pressure Griffin and had him reeling. During the assault, Griffin decided to take a knee and while down, Jones landed two punches which caused Montell to slump forward onto the canvas. An obvious foul by Jones and when the confusion cleared, Griffin was ruled the winner by disqualification.

He was crowned the new WBC light heavyweight champion and he provided Roy Jones with the first loss of his career. It wasn’t the way either fighter wanted the night to end and a rematch was inevitable. The emotions amongst boxing media was mixed. Some felt Griffin acted when the foul was committed. Other’s gave Griffin credit, believing he may have Jones’ number. KO magazine quoted, “Montell Griffin. On or off his knees, he’s trouble for Roy Jones.” The rematch was billed as “Unfinished Business” and it was scheduled for Thursday, 08/07/97 in Mashantucket, CT.

Griffin was determined to show his first victory was no accident, however on this night, Roy Jones Jr. came out with ferocity and knocked Griffin out in the first round. Griffin put the loss behind and moved forward winning 11 out of his next 12 bouts, 9 by KO before getting another crack at a world title. This time against WBO light heavyweight champion Darius Michalczewski. Griffin did what many other American light heavyweights refused to do and went to the champion’s home country of Germany to challenge for the title.

After winning the first three rounds against the champ, Michalczewski landed a hard right hand towards the end of the round that hurt Griffin. Michalczewski went in for the kill and referee Joe Cortez stopped the bout at the bell. Griffin hotly disputed Cortez’s call, feeling it was a premature stoppage. As usual, Griffin rebounded well and won his next six bouts before getting another title shot in April of 2003, however he was dominated by Antonio Tarver en route to a 12 round decision loss.

It was pretty much the end of Montell Griffin’s career at the top. He would go 6-4-1 over the next eight years before calling it a career in 2011. His record as a professional stands at 50-8 with 30 KO’s. Montell Ice Griffin was a very smart and skillful fighter who ducked nobody and gave everyone he fought a run for his money. In the end he was another very good fighter who didn’t get back what he put into the sport. He remains another unsung hero who deserves better that what he’s received. He remains another one of our “Forgotten Legends“.

Montell Griffin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgotten Legends: Gerald “G-Man” McClellan

McClellan

By: Steve Gallegos

Legendary boxing commentator Larry Merchant often referred to boxing as the “Theater of the Unexpected”. You never know what is gonna happen when 2 fighters step inside that squared circle to do battle. When a fighter steps through those ropes, they risk serious injury or even death. Some fighters end up not leaving the ring the same way they came in. This unfortunately was the case for former Middleweight champion Gerald “G-Man” McClellan.

McClellan was an all action, hard puncher with knockout intentions on every punch he threw. He was one of the most exciting fighters to watch in the early 1990’s until one night in 1995 when his boxing career and life were changed forever. McClellan was born and raised in Freeport, IL  and had a very successful amateur career before turning pro in 1988. Trained by Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, McClellan went on a rampage winning his first 10 bouts, all by knockout, not going past two rounds. He got his first taste of defeat in 1989, when he lost two fights back to back by decision; however it didn’t have any negative effect on the “G-Man“. He would go 12-0 over the next two years, 10 by knockout before getting his first world title shot against the very hard hitting John “The Beast” Mugabi.

They met on 11/20/91 in London where Mugabi had been in with some of the best throughout his career, however McClellan made easy work of Mugabi, dropping him within the first 30 minutes of the fight. McClellan kept up the attack and eventually stopped Mugabi at 2:51 of the first round. He would win his next four bouts, all  by knockout before getting another shot at a world title; this time it was against another very experienced and hard hitting fighter in Julian Jackson.

They met on 05/08/93 in Las Vegas. Jackson came into the fight as a 2-1 favorite, however McClellan proved the oddsmakers wrong by rocking Jackson in the first round with hard shots and immediately dictating the pace of the bout. Jackson would regain his composure and rock McClellan in the second. McClellan weathered more hard shots in the third while landing some hard right hands shots of his own. In the fifth, McClellan would land a huge left hook followed by two rights that put Jackson down. Jackson would get up and McClellan went in for the kill and would drop him again before referee Mills Lane stopped the bout.

A convincing win for McClellan and he was now a two-time world champion. He would successfully defend his title three times over the next year, all by knockout including a first round destruction of Julian Jackson in a rematch in May of 1994. He was at the top of his game and he then decided to move up to Super Middleweight to get bigger fights, however his career and life was about to take a tragic turn.

He would face WBC Super Middleweight champion Nigel Benn in Benn’s Hometown of London, England on 02/25/95. Their bout was one of the most anticipated bouts of 1995. A huge pro-Benn crowd packed the London Arena and over 17 million fans tuned in all over the world to see this much anticipated showdown. McClellan was a huge favorite going into the bout and was confident he could knock Benn out in the first round. McClellan came out landing hard shots going for the quick knockout. He would knock Benn through the ropes in the first round and was very close to ending the bout as he predicted. The very durable Benn regained his composure in the second and began landing hard shots of his own.

In the third, the hard punching McClellan turned boxer and began pumping out a hard left jab to set up hard right hands. By the fifth round, McClellan began to get winded as his mouthpiece was hanging out of his mouth. Benn was in control of the fight going into the eighth, when McClellan turned the tide by landing a huge haymaker that put Benn on the canvas once again. Throughout the course of the bout, McClellan had taken a lot of hard shots and they finally took their toll in the 10th when McClellan took a knee after a barrage of punches. He would take another knee moments later and decided to stay down for the count.

It was a huge upset win for Benn. While sitting on his stool, McClellan began wincing badly. Moments later, he collapsed onto the canvas. He was taken to the hospital where it was discovered he had a blood clot in in his brain, which required an immediate operation. He suffered extreme brain damage in which he was in a coma for 11 days. He would also lose his eyesight completely, became 80 % deaf and was also unable to walk without being assisted. Today, he is under the care of his 3 sisters who assist him with his day to day activities. A non profit organization called Ring 10 was setup to assist former fighters like him and by providing assistance for food and other necessities.

In 2012, McClellan had his colon removed which stemmed from his brain condition. His record as a professional stands at 31-3 with 29 KO’s. He is ranked 27th by Ring Magazine on their list of the 100 Greatest punchers of all time. From a boxing perspective, it was a career that was cut way too short. Who knows how his career would have turned out had he not suffered the injury against Nigel Benn. He more than likely would have won more world titles and possibly could have had classic battles with the likes of Roy Jones Jr, Bernard Hopkins and James Toney. He is now faced with a day to day battle more important than any battle he ever faced in the ring. Our hearts go out to him and his family.

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