Best Professional Athlete (Individual Sport) (2001)

Vassily Jirov

In his native Kazakhstan, International Boxing Federation cruiserweight champion Vassily Jirov learned to develop his boxing footwork by being forced to outrace angry police dogs down a narrow hallway. By comparison, facing a 190-pound pugilist in the boxing ring has to seem like a snap. Sure enough, the self-proclaimed Russian Tiger -- who moved to Scottsdale in 1996 after winning a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics -- has cruised through his unheralded weight division like it's just a preliminary to some anticipated main event. That main event would be either a heavyweight title shot or a step down to take on light-heavyweight king Roy Jones Jr. But, with his unmatched knockout percentage and relentless body-attacking style, Jirov might continue to be a victim of his own success, scaring away opponents unwilling to tangle with a tiger.