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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Titans of the Heavyweight Division: Evander Holyfield vs Michael Moorer II – 11/08/97

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By: Steve Gallegos

1997 was a rough year for the heavyweight division in boxing. Three heavyweight championship bouts all with ugly endings. The year started out with former heavyweight champs, Lennox Lewis and Oliver McCall fighting a rematch of their 1994 bout in which McCall won via second round KO. They met each other again in what was a stinker of a bout. McCall was acting strangely and was refusing to fight and he even broke down crying. After five rounds of this nonsense, referee Mills Lane finally stopped the bout, awarding Lewis the WBC Heavyweight Championship.

The second heavyweight championship to end disappointingly was the rematch between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. The fight billed as “The Sound And The Fury” was the most anticipated matchup of the year and after Holyfield dominated the first two rounds, Tyson lost his cool and bit Holyfield twice on both ears. These flagrant fouls caused referee Mills Lane to disqualify Tyson, causing an outrage and a near riot.

The third bout to end bizzarly was the Heavyweight Championship fight between Lennox Lewis and unbeaten, questionable number one contender Henry Akinwande. Akinwande like McCall refused to engage with Lewis and instead resulted to excessive holding. After five pathetic rounds, referee Mills Lane once again had stop the bout, disqualifying Akinwande.

Larry Merchant who called the fight for HBO that night, began to blame promoter Don King for these incidents as all three of the fighters disqualified were promoted by King. The heavyweight division was on life support and it was badly in need of a revival. They would get it that November when WBA Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield took on IBF Heavyweight Champion Michael Moorer in a rematch of their 1994 meeting won by Moorer.

Evander Holyfield was at the top of his game in late 1997. Having being written off just a year earlier, “Commander Vander” defied all odds by defeating the dangerous Mike Tyson twice and becoming the second man to regain the Heavyweight Championship three times. Although the second bout ended in disqualification, Holyfield looked spectacular.

Michael Moorer’s second reign as heavyweight champion wasn’t an easy one. After winning the IBF Heavyweight Championship by decisioning Axel Shultz in Germany, he had two tough defenses against Frans Botha and Vaughn Bean in which Moorer’s trainer Teddy Atlas once again scolded Moorer in between rounds. In the Botha fight, Atlas called referee Mills Lane over to the corner and threatened to have Lane stop the fight if he didn’t pick up the pace. It was worse in the Bean fight as Teddy Atlas brought a cell phone into the corner and told Moorer, “Your son is on the freaking phone right now and he’s crying. You know why? Because the announcers are saying his father doesn’t wanna be heavyweight champ.”
After the fight with Vaughn Bean, Michael Moorer and Teddy Atlas split, with Moorer hiring Freddie Roach as his new trainer. With the heavyweight landscape in shambles, boxing was looking to Holyfield and Moorer to revive the heavyweight division. Holyfield and Moorer met on 11/08/97 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, NV for the unification of the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles.

Holyfield was determined to avenge his loss to Moorer as well as have the peace of mind in knowing that he beat every man he faced. Moorer was determined to get the respect he felt he deserved and show the critics he was a legitimate heavyweight champion. Holyfield controlled much of the first round as he outjabbed Moorer and threw his right hand counterpunch to good effect. Towards the end of the round, Moorer landed a good right hook to side of Holyfield’s head which staggered him and pushed him back to the ropes. Moorer then jumped on Evander landing a good combination; however Holyfield came back landing a combination to the body and head just before the bell.

In the second round, Moorer was able to jab effectively setting up combinations and beat Holyfield to the punch. Holyfield was able to come back in the third and dominate the round by landing hard shots to both the body and head. In the middle of the round, the two fighters collided heads, causing a cut over Holyfield’s right eye. In between rounds, Holyfield’s cutman Jim Strickland told Evander that the cut wasn’t serious.

In round four, Moorer jabbed effectively and was starting to frustrate Holyfield, however Evander responded towards the end of the round by landing hard combinations and Moorer would respond with a combination of his own. The crowd was on it’s feet as the bell sounded to end round four. Commentator Steve Albert said at the end of the round, “This is the fight you wanted America”.

In round five, the fight was fought at close quarters as both men landed shots. Holyfield appeared to be tired. Moorer was in control of the round until the last 30 seconds, when Holyfield landed a combination to the body and head. He then landed a hard straight right hand that buckled Moorer and put him down. Moorer took the count and rose to his feet to make it out of the round.

Moorer responded in the sixth, boxing well and once again beating Holyfield to the punch. In the seventh, Holyfield rocked Moorer with a combination and pressured Moorer, putting him down with a right uppercut. Holyfield continued the onslaught, landing hard shots and put Moorer down again. Moorer rose to his feet and signaled to Holyfield to come on. Holyfield continued to land hard shots, however Moorer took them and fought back to survive the round.

Much of round eight was fought at a slow pace, neither man dominating. Holyfield then landed another combination to Moorer’s head that put him down again. Moorer once again rose to his feet, however Holyfield continued to pressure Moorer and landed to uppercuts followed by a left-right combination that put Moorer down again. Moorer laid flat on his back and appeared to be done, however he showed tremendous heart as he rose to his feet once again to make it out of the round.

In between rounds, Freddie Roach determined he had seen enough and stopped the fight making Holyfield the winner by eighth round TKO. Evander Holyfield was now the WBA/IBF Heavyweight Champion and he was closer to his goal of becoming “Undisputed” Heavyweight Champion. So the year 1997 ended with a bang. It was a fight that had drama, ebb and flow and it produced one of the last great Heavyweight Championship fights of the 20th Century.

Titans of the Heavyweight Division: 11/05/94- Michael Moorer vs George Foreman

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By: Steve Gallegos

In 1987, 38 year old former heavyweight champion George Foreman decided to return to boxing after being away from the sport for 10 years. The 1987 version of George Foreman was a much different man than the person who walked out of the ring on 03/17/77.

After losing a decision to Jimmy Young, Foreman had an awaking, a rebirth. He retired from boxing and became an evangelist minister in his hometown of Houston, TX. He also ran a youth center and he was in need of money to keep the center going, therefore he returned to boxing.

He was a new man in the ring, a much, heavier, jollier fellow. In his first career, Foreman was considered a bully, a brute. In his comeback he was the hero, a fighter that the fans quickly got behind. He would go 24-0 with 23 KO’s from 1987-1991. George controlled his own career, hand picking his opponents. Many of his opponents were overmatched against “BigGeorge and many experts didn’t take George seriously, thinking he was more of a sideshow with a big name. He would prove most of the experts wrong when he fought Evander Holyfield on 04/19/91 in Atlantic City, NJ for the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the world.

Foreman fought well in his fight with Holyfield. A lot of fans in the crowd were cheering Foreman on and he rocked Holyfield on a few occasions as well as taking everything Evander was throwing at him. In the championship rounds, Holyfield began to wear down and hold on until the final bell. The end result was a unanimous decision for Holyfield. Although Foreman lost, he proved he wasn’t just a sideshow, that he was a serious contender and threat for anyone in the heavyweight division.

Double MMichael Moorer began his boxing journey in 1988 under the tuteledge of Emmanuel Steward and the famed Kronk gym in Detroit, MI. Moorer began his career as a light heavyweight and went on a rampage knocking out his first 11 opponents on his way to capturing the WBO Light Heavyweight championship. He would defend his title 9 times, all by KO before deciding it was time to move up to Heavyweight.

As a heavyweight, Moorer continued to show his power against much bigger men. In May of 1992 after scoring a 5th round TKO over Bert Cooper to win the WBO Heavyweight Championship, Emmanuel Steward decided to part ways with Michael Moorer. Steward claims that Moorer no longer wanted to listen and he wanted to do things more his way. In 1993, Moorer began working with Teddy Atlas, whose approach was that of a tough loving, hard-nosed, disciplinarian. In just his second fight under Teddy Atlas, Moorer took on Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield. They met on 04/22/94 at the outdoor arena at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

In the second round, Moorer went down on a 1-2 combination from Holyfield and Atlas began to scold him in between rounds. Atlas was telling Moorer, “You’re lying to yourself and your gonna cry tomorrow. You’re lying to yourself and I’d lie to you if I’d let you get away with it.” After one of the rounds, Moorer went to his corner to find Atlas sitting on the stool, asking him if he wanted to trade places with him. Moorer eventually picked up the pace and went after Holyfield and took control of the second half of the fight.

The end result would be a majority decision win for Michael Moorer and he was now the Lineal Heavyweight Champion of the world and he was also the first southpaw heavyweight champion. His victory; however was tainted. After the fight, Holyfield was diagnosed with a serious heart condition and many also credited Teddy Atlas for willing Michael Moorer to victory.

In 1994, the heavyweight division was somewhat in disaray. Mike Tyson was in prison and Evander Holyfield had retired after the loss to Moorer. Lennox Lewis’ stock had dropped after being knocked out by Oliver McCall and Riddick Bowe was starting to fall off the map. The landscape was open and George Foreman seized the opportunity. Foreman hadn’t fought for nearly a year and a half since losing to Tommy Morrison; however Foreman was a star. Larry Merchant said “There are many fighters and very few stars, that’s why he’s here”.

The stage was set for 25 year old Michael Moorer to defend his heavyweight crown against 45 year old George Foreman. Foreman was determined to cement his legacy and become the oldest champion in boxing history. Moorer was determined to get respect and disprove the critics who gave his trainer the credit for winning the heavyweight title. Foreman and Moorer met on 11/05/94 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV for the Lineal Heavyweight Championship of the World.

It was a packed house at the Grand Garden arena and the majority of the crowd were there to root for Foreman. Many experts didn’t give Foreman much of a chance including expert commentator and former Foreman trainer Gil Clancy, who said he didn’t believe George had any chance other than the puncher’s chance to win.

The first round was a battle of jabs. Moorer used his right jab effectively and Foreman’s left eye began to swell. Foreman threw his left jab for most of the round and when it did land flush, the crowd cheered loudly. Teddy Atlas was calm in between rounds, telling Moorer that the hardest part was over. He also said that Foreman was just another guy and their sparring partners were better. Moorer used his right jab effectively in round two and began to throw his left as well; however he was fighting at a distance which gave Foreman an opportunity to land shots and he did so, to good effect.

Moorer began to step up the attack in the third, throwing a right hook off of his right jab and he began to put together combinations that staggered Foreman. The fight was still being fought at a distance that gave Foreman opportunities to land punches; however Moorer was taking them very well. The middle rounds were much of the same. Moorer continued to land his right jab and hook very well and was piling up points, however he still continued to fight at close quarters in the center of the ring which still gave Foreman opportunites to land shots. Teddy Atlas was pleading with Moorer not to stand in front of George, because he was looking to set Moorer up for a big shot. Michael didn’t follow instructions and decided to fight like a heavyweight champion.

Going into the 10th round, Teddy Atlas instructed Moorer to fight at a much faster pace and step to the side after landing a combination. Foreman had been throwing 50-60 punches per round, however his punch output had dropped significantly to around 35 punches going into the 10th.

Foreman began to Tee off on Moorer in the 10th, using his best weapon, his left jab and he began to land his right hand. Moorer continued to jab, however it lacked the sting that it had in previous rounds. With a 1:10 to go in the round, Foreman threw a 1-2 combination, then he threw it again, this time putting Moorer on the canvas. Moorer was in a daze and wasn’t able to beat the count and referee Joe Cortez reached the count of 10, making George Foreman the oldest Heavyweight Champion in History.

Jim Lampley cried out the now famous words, “It happened!!, It happened!!” Yes it did happen. George Foreman defied the odds and came from behind to knock out Michael Moorer and cement his legacy as one of the all time greats. After the KO, Foreman went to a neutral corner and kneeled down, giving thanks to God for this incredible victory.

Michael Moorer was still dazed and later on stated that he was out before the last 1-2 combination that put him down. Once Moorer regained his composure, he went over and kissed George on the head, showing his sportsmanship. One reporter told Foreman that some people thought the fight was fixed. George’s reply was “Yeah, I fixed it with my fist.” George would defend his title only once, winning a close, controversial majority decision over Axel Shultz five months later. After failing to defend his title in a rematch with Shultz as well as fighting mandatory challenger Tony Tucker, the WBA and IBF stripped Foreman of his heavyweight titles. He would then focus more on his endorsement deals, such as Meineke and he would make a fortune off of his now legendary George Foreman Fat Free Grilling Machine.

Michael Moorer would regain of piece of the heavyweight championship in 1996, when he outpointed Axel Shultz in Germany. 11/05/94 was a legendary night for boxing and history was made. George Foreman vs Michael Moorer will forever be one of the great events in the last great era of the heavyweight division.