Lee Groves

10: James Toney’s best performances

4. April 26, 2003 – W 12 Vassiliy Jirov, Foxwoods Resort, Mashantucket, Connecticut

Following a stretch that saw him lose two of three fights to Montell Griffin and Drake Thadzi, Toney found new life in the cruiserweight division, running off 11 straight to set up a title shot with IBF king Jirov, recognized by most as the best titlist for his seven defenses and crowd-pleasing volume attack.

Most experts anticipated a high-contact fight because Jirov produced a cruiserweight record 433 connects in his last fight against Jorge Castro while Toney remains the only fighter to record 400 or more connects in four championship fights.

Both men were coming off significant layoffs; eight months for Toney and 14 for Jirov due to managerial, promotional and legal issues. Once the fight started both were forced to shed rust quickly as Jirov fired both hands to the body and Toney nipped in and out to set up sizzling counter rights. Jirov hoped his 80-punch-per-round pace, ceaseless pressure and upper body strength would wear out the selective Toney over the long haul, but for now Toney landed lead rights with stunning regularity against the southpaw titlist.

The middle rounds saw Jirov step up the pressure even more while Toney revealed subtle signs of fatigue. Jirov lost a point for low blows in the eighth and the penalty sparked an even more energetic attack from the Kazakh, one that appeared to take the snap from Toney’s punches.

Toney shook Jirov with a right uppercut-left hook early in the 10th but Jirov collected himself and smothered the challenger with incredible pressure. The give-and-take was extraordinary given their cruiserweight size but the man expected to crumble under the stress instead upped his game in the end.

After Jirov dominated the final two minutes of the 11th, trainer Freddie Roach pumped up Toney by laying out the situation.

“Championship of the world, right here, this round,” he intoned. “You got to put this guy on his a**.”

With 17 seconds remaining in an action-packed round, “Lights Out” did just that with a series of flush power shots capped by two right hooks. Jirov arose at four but the damage had already been done – on the scorecards and to his title reign. The judges gave Toney a wider-than-expected 117-109, 117-109, 116-110 victory but more importantly Toney, now a three-division titlist, had put himself back on the path toward the big money – and perhaps the Hall of Fame.

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