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