- BOXING - Jirov's message: I talk by fist

Tuesday, June 3
Jirov's message: I talk by fist

Vasilliy Jirov has a message for James Toney, who he faces in defense of his IBF cruiserweight crown this Saturday night on HBO from the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.

"James, please talk," said Jirov, when asked if Toney's trash talk had gotten to him at all. "It's your mouth. You talk by mouth. I talk by fist. That's it."

That's about as wild an outburst as you'll get from the normally mild-mannered and reserved Jirov. If Toney is boxing's Gary Payton, with his constant jabbering, Jirov is its John Stockton.

Despite coming out of the 1996 Olympics with a gold medal while representing Kazakhstan and winning the Val Barker Award for the most outstanding fighter in the Olympic Games, stardom has eluded 'the Tiger'.

Since winning his IBF title in June of 1999 by stopping Arthur Williams in seven rounds, Jirov has basically defended his titles against second-tier opposition like Dale Brown, Saul Montana, Terry McGroom and Julian Letterlough. Coupled with the fact that the cruiserweight division is about as deep as a kiddie pool, it's easy to understand why Jirov has been an anonymous champion. This bout against Toney, not only represents a step-up in class but a chance to raise his profile to the general boxing fan.

"It is big, but not the biggest," he said, when asked if this was the most important fight of his life. "I need this one for a big future. So he's a nice name and I'm glad to fight him and it's going to be a nice fight."

Depends of course on your definition of 'nice'. On paper, this looks like an evenly matched fight with two contrasting styles that complement each other well. Jirov is the classic pressure fighter who goes to the body as well as anybody, and Toney is the crafty counter-puncher who relies on his foes coming right to him. It has the looks of a grueling and maybe brutal bout.

But one distinct advantage that Jirov may have is that Toney's best days came as a middleweight and then super-middleweight. Jirov has fought his whole career as a cruiserweight.

"I am a cruiserweight," he pints out. "I'm a cruiserweight from the first day and I don't care how much James Toney weighs. He can be 200, 190, 180 -- that's his problem. I go there to take him out."

But according to Jirov's trainer, Tommy Brooks, that's only part of the equation.

"That (size) is not the only advantage," Brooks said, after Jirov's afternoon workout last Friday afternoon. "I think another advantage we have is that James has been going up and down in weight for so long and he's not what he used to be. Sure, he's an old pro, he's a craftsmen and you want to try and take advantage of that. The guy, he's sharp, don't get me wrong, for the first five, six rounds, he's a dangerous opponent. But as I said before, we're going to beat on this guy. We're going to cut the circuits so he can't cut anybodies 'lights out' because he wont have any juice."

And the game plan from Jirov's braintrust is very simple -- hit James Toney wherever he can be hit.

"We've put our heads together," said Brooks, who's been aided by Thell Torrance, "and we've formulated a plan for this particular fight. As you know once you get to the championship level you plan for each fight. We're going back to the old-school on James Toney. We're gonna use something that Archie Moore and Rocky Marciano used to do and that's beat these guys in the arms, beat 'em in the body and don't even particularly look for the head shots. I mean if the head shots are there, we'll take it but we're going to start out beating this guy in the body."

Jirov, who has trained in the skiing resort town of Big Bear, California, looks to be in outstanding shape. There doesn't seem to be an ounce of fat on him and his legs look as thick and sturdy as oak trees. He swears that he is completely recovered from a rib injury that caused the postponement of this bout with Toney back in late January. An ailment, that Toney has openly questioned and ridiculed Jirov about.

"What he says is his problem, I don't want to talk about it too much but I was injured and three doctors can prove this," said Jirov, who now calls Scottsdale, Arizona his home. "I wanted to fight and I was actually training for another ten days and I just felt pain. I said 'Y'know, something's not right'. I go to the doctor and he told me that I had a broken rib. And I said 'Y'know we still have a couple of weeks, so maybe this will be better'. And my trainer said 'You better be 100-percent, it's a nice fight. You have to be 100-percent for this fight.'"

And getting prepared again for Toney hasn't been difficult for Jirov, who's work ethic reminds Brooks of another fighter he was involved with.

"He's so much like Evander Holyfield it's unbelievable," Books claims. "Both of these guys, they train like mad dogs. And the both of them you have to say 'That's enough champ'. and Vassiliy's just like Evander, he'll say 'One more round, one more round' and you say 'No, that's it. You've got to go. Don't leave it in the gym' and Vassiliy's just the same way."

A win over Toney opens many doors for Jirov, who hasn't quite lived 'the American Dream' since turning professional. In the last few years he had a disappointing end with his first promotional firm, Top Rank Boxing, and has gone through a myriad of changes in his management, promotional and training teams.

Currently, he is being promoted by Al Haymon and he had an acrimonious split with his long-time manager Ivaylo Gotzev last year. It's one of the reasons that it's been more than a year since he laced on the leather for a real fight (as he beat Jorge Castro via 12-round decision in February of 2002). But Jirov is accustomed to much worse adversity.

"I came from a country where life is much worse," he said of his upbringing in Kazakhstan. "I've watched a lot of true stories and I've had a lot of changes and this has been a nice life experience. But I'm glad I passed all these tests and right now I'm on a new level with new people and I'm very glad I have a new team and I'm very happy. I enjoy working with these people.

"The story is the same, I still want to be the best and go kick some butt."


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