Associated Press - March 13, 2004
LAS VEGAS (AP) - For eight rounds, Joe Mesi lived up to his billing as a heavyweight star of the future. In two furious final rounds, Vassiliy Jirov
may have exposed him as something far less.
When it was over, Mesi remained undefeated - but just barely.
Jirov turned a lopsided fight around with shocking suddenness, knocking Mesi down three times in the final two rounds and leaving him hanging on
desperately to remain upright as the bell sounded to end the fight after 10 rounds.
Mesi was declared the winner by 94-93 margins on all three ringside scorecards, but his reputation took a beating as Jirov handed him one in the ring
over the last two rounds. The Associated Press had Mesi winning 95-93.
Mesi had dominated the fight, beating the former cruiserweight champion to the punch and bloodying his face when Jirov dropped him with a right hand
to the back of his head late in the ninth round. Mesi got up and traded punches with Jirov as the round ended.
``If I knew I was ahead as much as I was I wouldn't have taken that chance,'' Mesi said. ``I wanted to close the show.''
Instead, it was Jirov who nearly closed the show on Mesi. He hurt him with a series of punches early in the 10th round and Mesi went down to one knee,
getting up at the count of nine.
Jirov, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist, went right after Mesi, landing a left-right combination that put him down on one knee with 52 seconds left in
the fight. Mesi was desperately trying to hold and hang on as Jirov rocked him with another big left hand with 10 seconds left and was stumbling in
Jirov's arms when the fight ended.
``I'm inexperienced against this caliber of opponents,'' Mesi said. ``But I wasn't hurt terribly by it.''
The fight was on the undercard of the 154-pound (69.3-kilogram) unification fight between Shane Mosley and Winky Wright at the Mandalay Bay
Mesi, who improved to 29-0, was making his first Las Vegas appearance after fighting most of his career near his hometown of Buffalo, New York. Jirov
was supposed to be his toughest opponent yet, after a slow climb in the quality of opponents in a career that began in 1997.
For eight rounds, it looked like Mesi would pass the test easily. He rocked Jirov with punches to the head and, after a clash of heads in the sixth
round, Jirov was bleeding badly from a cut over his right eye.
``His experience led him to survive,'' said Mesi, who was also knocked down in his last fight against Monte Barrett in December. ``All the punches
cumulatively had an effect on him.''
Mesi, whose handlers want to match in a big fight outdoors in Buffalo in the summer, said he would not fight a rematch with Jirov.
``I've proved my point,'' he said. ``I'm still learning. But I'm willing to move up the ladder.''
Mesi, who weighed 227 pounds (102 kilograms) to 212 pounds (95.4 kilograms) for Jirov, earned $450,000, while Jirov (33-2) was paid $300,000.