From Russia With Glove

Page 8 of 8

As he walks the grounds of the lavish CopperWynd country club in Fountain Hills, Vassiliy Jirov is greeted with waves or handshakes from practically everyone he passes. Through it all, he is supremely laid-back and unassuming.

He and Rebecca just moved into an apartment at CopperWynd three months ago, after living temporarily with her parents in Paradise Valley, but already it seems that all his neighbors know Vassiliy and offer words of encouragement to him.

With its tennis courts, heated swimming pools, ritzy club and scenic mountain view, CopperWynd is the kind of place he could have only dreamed about back in Kazakhstan, and it's a healthy reminder that even if he's not yet at the top echelon of boxing breadwinners, he's certainly not in need of a benefit either.

Jirov loves CopperWynd because it's so quiet. He gets enough excitement in the ring, and he likes a calm environment around him when he's not fighting. Rebecca says that no matter how nervous his handlers get, Jirov is the perpetual eye of the storm.

"I've never seen him have a bad day," she says. "I think of myself as an easygoing person, but next to him I'm wacko. He creates a very serene environment around him. He's not a big-city person."

All his favorite hobbies are outdoor activities: swimming, going for long walks and, most recently, tennis. He and Rebecca occasionally play each other, and she marvels at the fact that even though he's a beginner, he's already racing across the court with abandon and firing lethal serves past her.

As Jirov passes through the apartment complex's club, he sees CopperWynd sales manager Neville Ginsberg, a white, middle-aged native of South Africa. Ginsberg asks him about his next fight, and congratulates him on his July victory over Earl Butler, on the undercard of the Chavez-Tszyu fight. Ginsberg took several friends with him to see the fight, and he even takes some credit for advising Jirov to attack Butler with body shots, apparently unaware that Jirov has won most of his pro fights the exact same way.

At one point, they discuss the impending Trinidad-Vargas showdown in Las Vegas, and Jirov says that although Gotzev will be in attendance, to talk business with Don King, he's not sure if he wants to go along.

"Trinidad is really tough," Ginsberg says. Jirov agrees, but predicts -- wrongly, it turns out -- that Vargas will win the fight.

"Trinidad is good," Jirov says, "but Vargas is hungry."

Rebecca attended the Olympics in Sydney, Australia, three months ago with Jirov, where he was greeted like a conquering hero by the Kazakhstani boxing team. She says he would look in the eyes of each fighter before a match, and be able to tell her who had that hunger to win.

You get the feeling that Jirov's own hunger may never be satisfied.

"My trainer taught me that no matter how good you are in the ring, you should never be happy about it," he says. "If you relax, you'll never be good again. You'll go down and someone will beat you. So I always tell myself I'll do better next time."

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia