The sport has given us so many forgotten treats and so many times a fighter who is involved in one instant classic has their other bouts overlooked and forgotten. Whilst some fighters are known for consistently putting on a show, others are known for one amazing bout, and nothing can ever match it. Today we're looking at one such fighter who is well known for one bout, but was in some other great fights. In fact both men here were involved in some great bouts, but now, just 16 years later, their all out war, with multiple knockdowns and serious controversy, is often forgotten.
Vassiliy Jirov (33-1, 29) vs Joe Mesi (28-0, 25)
When we talk about Vassiliy Jirov the first bout that spring to mind, for every fight fan, is his sensational 2003 clash with James Toney. That bout saw Jirov suffer his first loss in one of the best Cruiserweight bouts of all time. That is the Jirov bout, it's been featured in this series and is one of the sports genuine must watch bouts. After that loss, which saw Jirov lose the IBF Cruiserweight, the Kazakh fought a couple of Crusierweight bouts before mounting his campaign on the Heavyweight scene, with his first bout as a fully fledged Heavyweight being his 2004 clash with the then unbeaten Joe Mesi.
At the time Mesi was building a cult following, he was 28-0, a a former football player who was now being developed into being the new Great White Hope of American Heavyweight boxing. He had been really active early in his career and had run up his 28-0 record in less than 7 years. Whilst some of that was some early career record padding, whilst he gained some in ring experience, he had picked up some wins over recognisable names, such as Jorge Luis Gonzalez, Bert Cooper, David Izon, DaVarryl Williamson and Monte Barrett. Although still a rather raw and crude fighter, he was tough, strong, exciting and full of confidence. He was also the natural Heavyweight, despite being the slightly shorter man.
Given that both men were aggressive, both liked to come forward and both liked to fight, rather than box, the ingredients were here for something very special.
The fight started at a high pace, with Jirov coming forward and Mesi boxing behind his his jab, moving well and showing good restraint early in the round before finishing well, potentially stealing what had been a very, very good round. Jirov seemed like he had been rocked late in the round, as Mesi's natural Heavyweight showed.
Jirov seemed to slow down in round 2, showing a respect of Mesi's powerful right hand. Despite the slowdown Jirov was still regularly coming forward, but was being punished, repeatedly, by Mesi who was using his power and strength well. It seemed as if the move up in weight, and giving away significant weight to Mesi, was an issue for Jirov. Jirov again struggled in round 3, as Mesi's size continued to give him issues.
Despite taking some solid shots in the first 3 rounds, and never being known for his defense, Jirov began to rely on his amateur boxing skills a bit more as we entered round 4. He was beginning to make Mesi miss more, holding when he needed to. It was a smart change from Jirov, but not a perfect one and he did take some more big shots late in the round, before both men were rocked in the dying seconds.
Despite the change in tactics from Jirov in round 4 Mesi managed to take control somewhat in the middle rounds, landing some gorgeous shots whilst not being too worried about what came back at him. Jirov began to look tired, his footwork getting sloppy and some desperation showing in his offensive work. Then in round 9 things turned, as a tired Mesi got dropped.
From there it was a matter of time. Could Jirov turn things around? Could he break the heart of Mesi? Could he even survive himself?
This was brutal, it was exciting, hard hitting and both men had to go through hell in a brilliant, often forgotten, Heavyweight thriller. This one is well and truly worthy of a watch!
Over the last few years we've seen the Cruiserweight division really start getting the long over-due attention it's deserved. The division has consistently delivered amazing action and has been a division that has deserved a lot man eyes on it than it's had. Sadly for the fighters they've not managed to get the eyes on them as many of the fights took place in Europe, and not the US. Thankfully though there have been the occasional great Cruiserweight bouts Stateside, and today we look at once of those!
Vassiliy Jirov (31-0, 27) Vs James Toney (65-4-2, 42)
In one corner was former Kazakh amateur star Vasiliy Jirov, the then unbeaten IBF Cruiserweight champion and the first Asian fighter to claim at title at Crusierweight, back when the division's limit was 190lbs. In fact not only was Jirov the first Asian fighter to claim a title at Cruiserweight but he was the first Kazakh fighter to claim a world title at any weight, opening the door for the likes of Gennady Golovkin and Beibut Shumenov. Talented, heavy handed, aggressive, tough and fun to watch Jirov was great proof of how good the Soviet boxing scene had been in bringing talent through. Coming in the Kazakh was seeking his 7th defense of the title, and was returning after a lengthy break from the ring due to an acrimonious split from his former promoter.
In the other corner was charismatic American James Toney, a brash, arrogant loud mouthed fighter with the skills to back up his talk. Toney was a natural talent, and someone who had the skills to live in any era. He had started his career back in 1988 at Middleweight and had won world titles at Middleweight and Super Middleweight before moving up to Cruiserweight, after he had essentially eaten his way up the scales. Despite being a freakish natural talent, and knowing so many old school tricks, Toney was a man who really should have done more with his career, had he had the commitment to do so, he had failed to win a world title at Light Heavyweight, and had toiled for a few years. In fact it seemed like Toney just struggled to get up for bouts that he should have won and at the age of 34 many viewed him as fighter coming to the end of his career.
What we ended up getting with these two men in the ring was a truly spectacular fight between aggressive monster and defensive master. The 29 year old Jirov looked to set the pace from the off, throwing a lot of leather at Toney, who took to the ropes, countered, slipped, and showed off his incredible defensive skills. This was pure intensity and incredible from both men, who's styles were so polar opposite that they worked so well together, from the first round to the last.
Although Toney showed his age at times, taking to the ropes a lot and not using his legs too much, his clean counters were so effective and neutralising the pressure and aggression of Jirov that he was able to win rounds on the back foot. On the other hand it seemed, almost inevitable, that the pressure and work rate of Jirov would eventually force the 34 year old Toney to break down.
This was action, this was thrilling, and this was proof to American fans that the Cruiserweight division can be amazing. Just a shame that there wasn't many great Cruiserweight bouts in the US in the years that followed, with the next arguably being the 2008 war between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham, it's self a highly under-rated thriller.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features