Last week, at the open workout at the Fortune Gym in Hollywood, CA, I had the chance to speak in person with Pirog who addressed the press in a friendly and relaxed manner similar to Jacobs. Both men understand what is at stake but I got the impression neither had let it sink in yet. Perhaps it comes from years of amateur experience, fighting all over the world as both men did. I tend to think it’s because both men found what they were born to do at an early age. Years of ring combat has taught them technique and relaxation in the heat of battle. Years of doing it well has fostered a kind of winner’s swagger for both men but there is something else at play with Pirog, an intelligent and strategic mind that goes back to before he ever boxed a round.
At eight years old, Dmitry Pirog was a chess player. He had won a couple tournaments and was, by all accounts, a very good player. But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming the next Garry Kasparov: Dmitry found boxing.
“The way I got into boxing is very interesting, Pirog said. “When I was really young, I was actually a chess player. I used to play chess but I wasn’t getting enough activity, so I decided to join a sport. So I went to a local gym; it was like a sports gym that has a lot of different sports. You can play soccer; you can do different things there and I was going initially there to play soccer but I went into a boxing gym. I tried it and I really liked it and it just stuck to me and I was boxing from then on as an amateur and then I went to professional.”
What is he better at, asked a reporter, boxing or chess?
“Right now? Boxing,” said Pirog with a smile but added in all sincerity. “Anything you do you can become champion. You just have to be professional. Boxing was for me.”
The leap from sitting at a chair and moving pieces around to becoming a living breathing chess piece dodging punches and delivering checkmates is big one. But Pirog took to it naturally.
“As far as what I enjoy the most in boxing,” Pirog told me, “the two things I feel are the most important is the adrenaline during a fight. I really enjoy the actual fight. The second thing that’s important is that I’m fighting and I’m the only one responsible. There’s nobody else in the ring except for me and my opponent. It’s not a team sport and I really enjoy that as well.”
The Temryuk, Russia-born Pirog enjoyed a successful amateur career of 230 fights that garnered him several amateur titles and paved the way for a successful pro career. That number of fights can only relax and prepare you for everything that is to come. It was in the amateurs that Pirog developed his unusual style.
Most European fighters, particularly Eastern Bloc fighters, tend to fight upright, almost rigid. The punches are delivered in a straight and technical manner. The heads and upper bodies don’t bend or move much. It’s technically sound but not exactly geared towards improvisation and has trouble competing with more athleticism-based styles. Not so with Pirog. His trainers early on began developing a style that is, at the same time, European and American. Taking tools from both, what they developed and Pirog embodies is a mixture of the straight shots of a Euro along with the solid balance and footwork mixed in with knee-bending and a shoulder roll, Philly-shell defense. More of a volume puncher than pure puncher, Pirog is not your Grandpa’s Euro fighter. He brings a whole boatload of issues for Jacobs, who actually might be the less “special effects”-driven fighter in the ring tonight.
With Jacobs being managed by Al Haymon- a manager who has serious ties to HBO- it’s going to take more than special effects to win a decision in Vegas and on HBO against him. But still, Pirog, either a serious optimist or a man who never saw Felix Sturm vs. Oscar De La Hoya for the very belt he will fight for tonight, is hopeful he will get a fair shake in Vegas.
“I’m very happy to be here and even though it’s my first fight in America and it’s a world title fight right away, I’m still looking forward to it,” said Pirog. “I really want to get to July 31 because I’ve fought in Europe and I feel in America the fans are a lot more like fans should be and they understand boxing a lot better. I’m going to enjoy the fight a lot more in America. I’ve been looking forward to a fight in America because I think the fans will always appreciate good boxing from both of the boxers participating. I’m hoping to have a good fight, have a good time, and make sure the fans enjoy it from both myself and Danny Jacobs.”
Sometimes when a foreign fighter comes into enemy territory, particularly the U.S., the tendency is to fight out of character in a more exciting but reckless fashion in order to please both the judges and the audience. Pirog feels no change is necessary at all. He already fights in an entertaining way.
“I’m not planning on radically changing my fighting style,” Pirog assured me. “I don’t think it’s necessary. There’s a game plan for every fight but the fighting style I’m keeping I’m happy with it. I enjoy fighting in the style in which I fight and I think that every boxer should enjoy fighting the type of fight that he enjoys fighting.
“As far as fighting in America [for the first time],” Pirog continued, “the fights that I’ve had in Europe and all over the world, many times you feel like you’re coming from somewhere and you’re the underdog. What I like about fighting in America, and the reason I’ve dreamt of fighting in America, is that the boxing scene is a lot more developed. I think what’s most important is to give your best and fight well and everything should be fair, as far as the judging and the fans and everything else. So that’s why I think everything’s going to be okay and I’m very confident about fighting. I don’t feel like anything is going to happen that’s going to disappoint me.”
When asked if he felt he needed a knockout to win Pirog said, “I don’t think it’s the most important thing. I’m not going only for the knockout. I’m going for a good time and showing the fans a great fight.”
In Jacobs, Pirog faces a taller (6’1” to Pirog’s 5’11”), younger (23 to 30) and faster opponent. Power is about equal here but the styles vary greatly. Jacobs has grown into an aggressive but measured boxer-puncher who likes to control the action at long range. Pirog is not the best jabber in the world and carries a bit of scar tissue along his right eyelid. If he can’t get past that jab, it’s going to be a long night. Still, Pirog didn’t seem fazed at all by what he faces tonight as he broke down Jacobs’ style.
“I have seen all the fights I could find of [Jacobs],” he said. “He is a quick, interesting opponent and I think it’s going to great, great fight because I am ready for him. I think it is going to be a very interesting fight to watch. I am fine with him. Me and my team have looked at the tapes. We have worked on him. There are always things to work on but we know we are ready for anything that he will bring. There is nothing specifically I am worried about. I don’t think [Jacobs] is that different, especially as an amateur, than a lot of amateur styles. When you have that much experience, it doesn’t make that much of a difference.”
With the moment of truth just a breath away, Dmitry Pirog seemed to be going easy. Relaxed and smiling, he struck me as the kind of guy you’d want to be in a foxhole with. Happy-go-lucky with the world stacked against him, it was hard not to smile around him and believe him when he said he wasn’t worried at all about Jacobs’ speed, power, or few more fights which may or may not equal more experience, come fight night. If Pirog doesn’t get Vegas is as tough a place to beat the house fighter as there is, he does understand that, in the end, the man who wins is going to be the smarter, more willful one.
“I don’t think it’s a problem at all,” Pirog explained. “We both had an amateur experience, we both have the skills and we have the experience that we need for this fight. We’ve both had good fights. We’ve had oppositions. Many of the opponents I’ve faced previously thought they were going to defeat me and I had a record even lower, so I don’t feel that it’s that important. Psychologically, I’m ready for a fight like this, and that’s the most important. As long as I feel confident and I want to do it, that’s what makes the fight happen.”
Call it lazy; call it I was writing a lot stories this week, or call it backlash against a million “Whose fault is it?” emails, I’m only answering one, in my opinion, very important question today.
I am having a hard time thinking this fight card is worth buying on saturday night. But I also think about all the really horrible undercards we have had over the last 2 or 3 years(most by goldenboy), and it makes this card look as good as repeat or revenge from 1994. I am aliitle intrigued by the main event, even though Juan Diaz at sucha young age is already beyond his prime. I also feel that Daniel Jacobs is facing soft opposition on that night. And the other two fights are pretty one sided. My question to you is...is this card worth 50 dollars? If you tell me it is worth the purchase I will buy it gladly. Thank you for your time.
Hopefully by the time you read this, you haven’t had to make a decision. Of course I’m emailing it to you to make sure.
Initially, everyone went crazy for this card. “The night of the year” it was called and “the best PPV we’ve seen in years.” But to me, having a pay-per-view with a solid undercard is par for the course. When the Finals or the Super Bowl or any other championship type of event is on, what sport rolls out its worst? Promoters putting on solid cards for $50 are simply promoters doing their job. It’s when you give me something extra that I get all excited. Sadly, this isn’t quite there, in my opinion.
You have a rematch between an aging legend looking to get a second victory over Diaz who was in it the first time until he got cut, lost focus and started getting introduced to a Nacho Beristain-trained fighter’s uppercuts. This time, I think Marquez either gets him out early or goes the decision. I expect Marquez, who is as smart as they come to try and work in what worked last time: the finishing blow uppercut after a jab gets established and a right gets worked in and does its magic. If Diaz has solved his uppercut issue, we’re in for the long haul. I think Juan can only defensively adjust here. He’s a volume puncher and the adjustment there is throw more shots. I got Marquez by decision.
The best fight of the night is Daniel Jacobs and Dmitry Pirog. No question in my mind this will be a very good fight and a chance to watch a young fighter, no matter who wins, go from contender to titleholder. This is two undefeated, qualified fighters going at it for a (vacant) belt. Gimme some more of that. I like Jacobs to fundamental his way through to glory against the unorthodox and Euro jazz style of Pirog. Jacobs by UD or cuts stoppage (Pirog has some nasty scar tissue under his right eye).
Robert Guerrero is a man in need of two things 1) a big-name win and 2) a signature performance. I’m not sure if Joel Casamayor’s style will allow him to get those things. I think Guerrero gets the win but the stoppage? I’m not so sure. Casa is an old dog with very good tricks. I see him moving away from, frustrating, and tying up Guerrero a lot. A headbutt or two and we could get an early stoppage and an unsatisfying win. But you know what? Guerrero has had such a run of tough luck lately, I’m going with the Karmic late stoppage. Boxing Gods? Give the man a break and us a much needed KO on this card. Guerrero late stoppage.
Jorge Linares vs. Rocky Juarez has only one interesting question, in my opinion. I already know Juarez will not let his go. What I don’t know is if Linares has what it takes to get Juarez out of there. Rocky gives up 3½” in height but only a half-inch in reach. Still, I like Linares’ tall fighting style, combinations and foot work to baffle Rocky, keep him conservative and set him up for a possible late stoppage. In the end though, I think Rocky has enough left to finish the fight BUT if you hear the theme “You know Rocky has never been stopped before” more than a few times on the HBO PPV broadcast, well, Rocky, uh-oh. I say the safe bet is Linares by unanimous decision.
On Golden Boy Promotions’ Facebook account there is a line to their “Ustream” channel. Check it out if you want to see Sakio Bika vs. Jean Paul Mendy. I’m going Mendy in a very good fight by unanimous decision. Seth Mitchell will also be a part of that stream and he will win too.
So out of all those fights, there is really in my opinion, there are only two that that I am unsure of the outcome and that’s the undefeated fight for the title and the Bika-Mendy fight. The rest? Probably some good action even if they are predictable outcomes.
So should you buy it? Well, personally, I’m not morally outraged by this card so screw it; why the hell not? It’ll be a good night at the fights at least. And if you catch the stream, it’s a good long night at the fights. Hey, it’s not any of these guys had trouble getting a license. I say support your fighters and enjoy a better night at the fights than we have had in awhile.
Montoya’s Saturday Night Fight Picks
At The Mandalay Bay Casino, Las Vegas, NV
(PPV) Juan Manuel Marquez (50-5-1) vs. Juan Diaz (35-3): Marquez by decision
(PPV) Robert Guerrero (26-1-1) vs. Joel Casamayor (37-4-1): Guerrero by UD
(PPV) Jorge Linares (28-1) vs. Rocky Juarez (28-6-1): Linares by UD
(PPV) Daniel Jacobs (20-0) vs. Dmitry Pirog (16-0): Jacobs by MD
(GBP Ustream) Sakio Bika (28-3-2) vs. Jean Paul Mendy (28-0-1): Mendy by SD
(GBP Ustream) Seth Mitchell (17-0-1) vs. Derek Bryant (20-5-1): Mitchell by KO
In Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico
(FOX Sports) Simphiwe Nongqayi (16-0-1) vs. Juan Rosas (31-5): Nongqayi by UD
(FOX Sports) Jorge Arce (54-6-1) vs. Martin Castillo (35-3): Castillo TKO
At The O2 World, Hamburg, Germany
Sebastian Zbik (29-0) vs. Jorge Heiland (16-0): Zbik by TKO
Khoren Gevor (31-4) vs. Dimitri Sartison (26-1): Gevor by UD
Alexander Dimitrenko (29-1) vs. Yaroslav Zavorotnyy (14-4): Dimitrenko by KO
Karoly Balzsay (21-2) vs. Aziz Daari (24-14-4): Balzay by KO
You can email Gabriel at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoyaand catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into hear him live on Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST when he co-hosts the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.