By Paul Upham: IBF cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov is relishing the opportunity of appearing on HBO on September 8 when he faces power-punching crowd favourite Julian “Mr KO” Letterlough, 17-1-1 (16), at the Reno Hilton in Nevada.
The 27-year-old 1996 Olympic Gold medallist, 29-0 (26), has been unable to secure any big name opponents so far since winning the IBF title in June 1999 and has received little recognition despite his impressive undefeated record.
“This is the most important fight of Vassiliy’s career being on HBO,” said Jirov’s manager Ivaylo Gotzev. “He won the IBF title on HBO, which was great, but two or three years later I think people should recognise the skills and ability of Vassiliy Jirov. They should recognise his potential and also how exciting the cruiserweight division can be with guys like him.”
The southpaw native of Kazakhstan has been training in Big Bear, California for the last four weeks and is focused on the job at hand, despite the knowledge that his wife is back at home in Phoenix expecting their first child which is due on September 25.
“We have had probably our best camp ever. Vassiliy is in tremendous shape and the sparring has been very good and he is working on some new moves. We expect a very good showing on September 8,” said Gotzev.
“Julian Letterlough is made to order for us. I think he is one of the better opponents as far as style goes that we have ever had. He is a big puncher and he only fights in one style, coming forward and throwing bombs and we are going to have a little surprise for him.
“He is a tough kid and he can really punch, so therefore it makes it a good match,” he added.
Along with WBC champion Juan Carlos Gomez, WBO champion Johnny Nelson and WBA champion Virgil Hill, there is some very interesting matches to be made at cruiserweight.
“For once, I think this division can be recognised as one of the best in the sport and there can be a lot of exciting matches to come out of it,” said Gotzev, who revealed that the on-off match with James “Lights Out” Toney may eventually happen, if the former two-weight champ can show he can make the 190lbs weight limit in his next fight.
“Now we have a commitment from him (Toney). If he wants to be considered as a legitimate opponent, in his next fight he has to get down closer to 190lbs. His camp is assuring us that he can make the weight. He needs to get in shape before he challenges Vassiliy again,” said Gotzev.
“He is due to fight again in October and if he comes in close to 190lbs, we know we have a chance of making that match. I believe that is going to be a very good fight for the cruiserweight division. We would like to make the fight by the end of this year We are looking for another big fight before the end of this year, if not Toney then someone else.
“Johnny Nelson the WBO champion from England has been doing a lot of talking so we’ll see if he is willing to back it up. I can’t tell you how easy it is to make a big fight on our end because we are not afraid of anyone out there. We are definitely not afraid of Juan Carlos Gomez and we would like to get him first. By beating him, that is instant clarification on who is the best cruiserweight in the world. After that we will take on any challenge that comes along.”
Vassiliy Jirov has always dreamed of a clash with light heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr, although it appears unlikely if he decides to go back to super-middleweight to face Felix Trinidad.
“We were always hoping that there would be a potential fight with Roy Jones, but he is going down south. He is looking for a mega pay day against Felix Trinidad, but I anticipate problems in making that fight, too,” said Gotzev.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to what kind of deal they can close and are willing to sign for. I’d like to see them negotiating, because you have two egomaniacs who are going to have a very hard time agreeing to terms.
“If Jones doesn’t find any success in fighting Trinidad in the lower weight division we would love to fight him. We would make an exception for Mr. Jones and take some precious weight off for him.”
Despite weighing in at 200lbs for his last non-title fight against Adolpho Washington on July 20, which he won on points over 10 rounds, Gotzev says there is no plan to move to heavyweight permanently in the near future.
“Vassiliy is a natural 190-pounder. Everyone has mistaken that we wanted to move to the heavyweight division. The only reason why Vassiliy weighed 200lbs for his last fight is because we fought a guy who was weighing 232lbs. A lot of people thought we were tying to campaign him as a heavyweight, which was a big mistake and they misunderstood. We don’t want Vassiliy to be a heavyweight,” said Gotzev.
“If he is to ever become a heavyweight, it would be against someone like Chris Byrd, John Ruiz or Evander Holyfield, smaller heavyweights and even Rahman.”
“He is a natural cruiserweight, but he will put on 10 or 15lbs and go and bust up some heavyweights when we are properly trained for it.”
Jirov and his team will travel to Reno, Nevada, next Tuesday and can be seen in a public workout at the Reno Hilton the next day.
Before Jirov can think of any other future fights, he has to deal with the power-punching Letterlough whose fight with Julio Gonzalez has been nominated by many as the fight of the year.
“Boxing is about being concerned about the other guys power and ability. I’m not going to tell you we are laughing about it. No, we are taking it very seriously. This is boxing. One punch can change the whole fight,” said Gotzev.
“There is going to be no fluke in our life, he is training for the fight of his life. Come September 8, we will be making a statement. People will be able to judge for themselves who Vassiliy Jirov is.”