Vassiliy Jirov Speaks On The Toney Epic, His Fights With Moorer, Messi
“His face looked like it had been hit by a hammer,” Vassiliy Jirov on how his rival, James Toney, looked after their fight.
The greatest fight in cruiserweight history? Chances are, if you, fellow fight fans, do not point firmly at the Evander Holyfield-Dwight Muhammad Qawi slugfest from 1986, you will point to the April, 2003 war between Vassiliy Jirov and James Toney. These two warriors gave us 12 rounds of awesome action, with both men throwing and landing a ton of leather.
Toney got the win, reviving his career in doing so, yet Jirov, to this day, feels he won the fight.
Speaking excellent English and being a genuine pleasure to speak with, Vassiliy kindly gave this writer some of his time earlier this month.
Q: The fight with James Toney has been called the second-greatest fight in cruiserweight history. First of all, all these years later, you still think you won the fight?
Vassiliy Jirov: “Yes, to this day I still believe I won the fight. Because, looking by points [scored], I scored more points than him with my punches. Simple. Yes, I was one time knocked down, but that’s just one point [extra to him], but still I won the fight, because I got so many jabs in his face. His head was burning, swollen. I tell you truly, the next day, I saw James Toney and his face looked like it had been hit with a hammer! He looked like somebody had beaten him up with a hammer. I was looking better than him, put it that way.
“And he never wanted to fight [me] again after that fight. He was so beaten up, he said no, he didn’t want to fight me again. I said to him, ‘hold on, hold on, we must have a second fight.’ He didn’t want to fight. I was better than him and the second fight was supposed to be, you know? He had now the belt but I still felt good, I felt I was still a champion. He went up to heavyweight instead of fighting me again.”
Q: How hurt were you when Toney knocked you down in that 12th and final round, and were you shocked when you heard the score cards were so wide in his favour (117-109, 117-109, 116-110, all for Toney)?
V.J: “You know what, I don’t want to complain, but it was bullshit! The way they were scoring was just unbelievable. The judges were not on my side at all, I know this for sure. I was asking, ‘what’s going on?’ I knew the judges were on his side, in his pocket – they were bribed. I know it. This is the boxing game, and there’s a lot of politics going on. It is what it is, just a part of the experience and I took it. The knockdown, I was not hurt. I was just tired and he caught me with a shot while I was a little off-balance. He caught me in the right place but I was okay and I got up, and if you watch the fight, you see I was still beating him up after [the knockdown]. I was still backing him up.
“I outworked James Toney in every round apart from the last round, this because of his knockdown. That fight, something was wrong, it was impossible for him to take the shots he took. Any time before, any opponent I hit like that, they went down. I think he was on some kind of, I say, medication in that fight. He was taking everything [I threw at him]. But as I say, this is boxing, this is life and I moved on. I am healthy and I am happy today. I am strong and I can live my life.”
Q: Was Toney one of your best fights, despite the loss ?
V.J: “I say no. A guy I fought before James Toney, Rich LaMontagne (12 round UD win for Jirov in May of 1998), he was tough. They called him “The Italian Stallion.” He was a very educated guy [in the ring], more of a boxer. That was such a great fight for me, for experience. He was tough and he made me show my heart. Also, he was a good person. That is one of my fights that I look back on with a smile.”
Q: Aside from the loss to Toney, which you have made clear you feel you won, have you any regrets when you look back on your career?
V.J: “Only that I never got the rematch. I would have fought James Toney again at heavyweight. I moved up too. Here too I was unfairly treated. I really did beat [Joe] Messi yet again the judges were against me (Messi getting a ten-round decision). And the Michael Moorer fight, they were looking for any chance to stop the fight (Moorer getting a 9th round TKO). It made me angry then; these fighters benefiting from getting my name on their records. But today, I am happy. I still watch boxing sometimes. I had a good career. Life is all experience. And boxing was a part of my experience. If the people liked what I did in boxing, that’s great. I had a goal of becoming world champion, the best in the world, and I did that. I did what I set out to do.”