Vassiliy Jirov: Eye of the Tiger

By Coach Tim Walker – In 2003 he resembled a potential world beater having posted wins over Dale Brown when he was undefeated and Julian Letterlough when he had only lost to Julio Gonzalez. Brandishing an exciting and enthusiastically earned 31-0-0 record crested with 27 knockouts he quickly became a fan favorite for his ability to take nearly as much pain as he dished out. During that time the former IBF champ was the face of the much maligned cruiser-weight division and based on his success few could argue that he wasn't a world beater. Vassiliy "The Tiger" Jirov brought truth to the saying, “If you trap a cat in a corner he will come out fighting!.

It was true and then he ran into James "Lights Out" Toney. Toney had flipped the power switch off on many boxing careers and intended to do just that against Jirov. In an amazingly entertaining and technical bout Toney was a split second faster on the trigger and a bit slicker in the ring as the action went back and forth for twelve rounds. Toney floored him in the final 20 seconds of the last round on his way to a unanimous decision win. It was awesome to watch!

Possibly feeling the effects of the Toney bout Jirov, in his next two ring-meetings, was pitted against competition intended to rebuild his mystique, re-establish his confidence and reground his career, and though he won both bouts by knock out he was a little off pace. At this the boxing community grumbled a bit. Maybe it was that grumbling that fueled his decision to campaign in the heavyweight ranks. Many felt the move up was a mistake from the onset, including this writer.

It was never a question of his heart or his talent for that matter. He has plenty of both. You don't beat Antonio Tarver, Julio Gonzalez and Troy Ross on your way to Olympic gold by chance. It's not by luck or a wish upon a star that a foreign fighter wins the Val Barker Trophy at the 96 Atlanta Olympics (awarded to the Olympic's outstanding boxer). The same Olympics that produced Floyd Mayweather Junior, Wladimir Klitschko, David Reid, Daniel Santos and was highlighted by Cuban legion Felix Savon.

What was in question? Jirov's size. He didn't have the overall muscle mass or physical build of a natural heavyweight nor did he work himself physically into becoming a heavyweight similarly to how Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones Junior had previously done. He just announced it and started fighting at heavyweight.

The mishandling of that decision came like thuds on a heavy bag. In his next two bouts he did not fare well. He lost a close somewhat controversial unanimous decision to “Baby” Joe Mesi and then endured a monumental dwindling in the overshadowing of former world heavyweight champion Michael Moorer. The two previous losses were substantial but the loss to Moorer, who is not a large heavyweight by definition of modern standards, was a preview of a violent future had chose to remain in the heavyweight division.

Jirov who continued campaigning at heavyweight had not yet accepted the reality that much of the boxing world saw clearly. It was simple, Jirov did not belong in the heavyweight division. Everyone knew it except him. Maybe he needed just a little more convincing before he believed it.

In July 2005 he battled fringe contender Orlin Norris to a draw. This is where I feel his star dimmed. As a cruiser-weight he was formidable but as a heavyweight he was less than stellar and offered little threat to any serious heavyweight.

In the wake of the draw he finally accepted his reality and moved back to the cruiser-weight division but maybe just a little too late. He had fallen too far off the public's radar. A fighter who was accustomed to being the darling of major fight venues was now consigned to relative obscurity within lesser venues.

Was he still as significant to the sport as he once was? Questions we hoped he would quickly answer now that he was back at cruiser-weight. The answers came slowly.. A nine month layoff then a fight in Idaho. An even greater layoff of 15 months then a fight in North Dakota. Then, like Panthera Tigris escaping to the bush, Vassiliy the Tiger was gone.

But the Panthera Tigris stays concealed only as long as he wants to and now Jirov is back.

In a few days (October 17) the Tiger makes his resurgence to the ring. He will take on Dominique Alexander (18-7-1 KOs 9) in Phoenix and more important than the opponent, the location, the ring size, the gloves or any other fight attribute is the weight, it will be an 8 round cruiser-weight bout. To the powers that be, you got this one right. The competition level has never been as high or its fighters generally as well known as they are in the cruiser-weight division right now and for lack of a better way of saying it, Vassiliy is not a heavyweight. He is finally back in the right weight division, now it only remains to be seen if too much time has passed and if he still has the eye of the tiger.

For questions or comments please contact Coach Tim Walker at or at his blog,

Article posted on 10.10.2009

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