posted on Apr, 27 2003 @ 11:58 PM
MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) - James Toney had just finished a slugging contest with Vassiliy Jirov for the IBF cruiserweight title when his thoughts
turned to bigger things.
``Chris Byrd better watch out,'' Toney said at the postfight news conference early Sunday after he earned a unanimous decision and handed Jirov his
first professional loss. ``If the opportunity came for me, I'd fight Lennox Lewis or Chris Byrd.''
Lewis is the WBC heavyweight champion. Byrd is the IBF's. The name Toney didn't mention was WBA champion Roy Jones Jr., the former middleweight who
took the title away from John Ruiz last month. Toney already has lost to Jones - back in 1994, the last time Toney was a world champion.
Now Toney is talking about following in Jones' footsteps and going after the heavyweight title.
``I'll fight anybody, anytime,'' Toney said. ``Is Chris Byrd here?''
As luck would have it, Byrd was in the room.
``I'll fight him right-handed,'' he said with a laugh, adding that he didn't think a fight with Toney was likely. ``I don't think James really wants
it. I don't think his heart is in it.''
Toney caused a stir at Thursday's news conference when he upended two tables in a screaming match with Jirov's cut man. On Friday, the two fighters
had separate weigh-ins.
Toney was ready for Saturday night's fight, shaping his gray goatee into a scowl from the opening bell and getting angrier - if that's possible -
after a third-round low-blow sent a thud across the Fox Theater. (Jirov had a point deducted for another, less willful, low blow in the eighth.)
But most of the fight featured clean and violent punching. Toney landed 47 percent of his punches, and half of the 590 power punches; Jirov attacked
more, but landed less, winning the first few rounds but failing to wear down the bulkier challenger.
Toney tagged Jirov at the end of the fourth, drawing blood from the champion's nose. At the end of sustained two-way punching to finish the fifth, the
fighters glared at each other as they went back to their corners, a routine they repeated from then on.
Toney landed a couple of good shots to the head in the 10th. In the 11th, Jirov bullrushed him into the ropes with a series of body shots and
staggered him in the middle of the ring, but referee Steve Smoger ruled that Toney slipped.
Both fighters appeared out of gas as they bobbed together against the ropes while saving their energy for a big blow. Then, with just seconds left,
Toney landed a combination that sent Jirov to the canvas - the only knockdown of the fight.
Although most ringside observers thought the fight was in play going into the 12th and final round, the judges scored it a blowout: 117-109, 116-110,
``That right hand was something terrible,'' Toney said. ``It's like a Mack truck behind a 190-pound body.''
Toney (66-4-2, 42 KOs) was the middleweight champion in the early 1990s and held the super middleweight belt before losing to Jones on Nov. 18,
``I've been waiting a long time for James to wake up,'' trainer Freddie Roach said. ``He really got motivated.''
A native of Kazakhstan who lives in Phoenix, Jirov (31-1, 27 KOs) won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics and was selected the most outstanding boxer in
the Atlanta Games. But he hadn't fought in 14 months, and it hurt him after 36 minutes of pounding.
``I hadn't fought in a long time,'' he said. ``I'm going to go back to the gym and shake off the rust.''
As a co-featured fight, Antonio Tarver (21-1, 17 KOs) easily beat Montell Griffin (44-4, 29 KOs) to win the IBF and WBC light heavyweight titles
vacated when Jones decided to become a heavyweight.
All three judges gave the fight to Tarver, 120-106.
Tarver, the bronze medalist at 178 pounds in the 1996 Olympics, earned the first belts of his professional career. Griffin is the only man to have