Vassiliy Jirov’s long, slow journey back to boxing fame and fortune begins Aug. 7 when the former IBF cruiserweight champ faces “Mad Dog” Ernest Mateen at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, CA.

Mateen’s nickname isn’t really Mad Dog, but it should be. He’s the guy who went after the referee following his recent loss to Rich LaMontagne on May 2.

The referee stopped the fight before the start of the sixth round after Mateen, with a nasty gash over his left eye, complained of double vision. With two LaMontagnes suddenly dancing around in front of him throwing punches, Mateen’s minutes were numbered.

Still, despite taking a licking, Mateen wasn’t ready to quit fighting just yet. And with LaMontagne proving to be a tough SOB, Mad Dog wisely turned his attention and fists in the direction of the referee, who stopped the fight in the first place.

After that didn’t work, he tried to sucker punch LaMontagne, who had come over to shake his hand. Discovering that Mateen still had some fight left in him, LaMontagne quickly picked up where he left off, pummeling Mateen until security showed up and stopped the beating.

Any way you look at it, it turned out to be a bad night for Mateen. After all, LaMontagne doesn’t exactly bring back memories of Jake LaMotta. He earns spare change as a part-time model and actor.

So now Mateen, whose nickname is really M-16, will get a chance to load, cock and take aim against Jirov, a former champ with only one loss on a pretty solid record. Among Jirov’s 31 wins in 32 fights is a 12-round win over LaMontagne in 1998.

You gotta love this game.

While Mateen hops from the pot into the raging inferno against Jirov, the former champ says he wants to fight the winner of the Evander Holyfield – James Toney heavyweight fight set for Oct. 4 in Las Vegas.

You remember James Toney. He’s the reason Jirov is fighting Mateen. In their brawl earlier this year, Toney won a decision over Jirov, who proved to be a tough fighter if not an especially gifted one. Jirov still claims he won that fight, though the record book and most of the fight world disagree.

If Jirov is looking past Mateen to Holyfield or Toney, you can’t really blame him. It’s hard to finish your meal of stewed cabbage when all you can smell is fresh apple pie for dessert.

Mateen is 27-10 and he’s been cut in three of his last four fights. He ’s lost eight of his last 14 fights stretching over the last nine years, and he was stopped in the first round by Antonio Tarver in February 2000. His chin reminds you of Kobe Bryant’s claim of innocence: very suspect.

Still, with a name like M-16, you’ve got to figure Mateen to put up some kind of a fight, even if it‘s with the referee. After all, Mad Dog did beat Uriah Grant last year.

Hmmm. So Vassiliy, how would you fight Toney the second time?