The Ultimate Fighting Championship made an interesting move this week with the signing of boxing great James “Lights Out” Toney, adding the boxing champion to the list of boxers looking to make a statement in the sport of mixed martial arts.
Speculation surrounded the situation between Toney and UFC President Dana White for several months and reached a high point at the beginning of the year when the two discussed a possible deal that would make Toney the most notable boxer to make the move to any mixed martial arts promotion.
However, Toney is not necessarily the most high profile man to make the move to mixed martial arts this year. The signing comes just over one month after world-renowned athlete Herschel Walker earned his first ever mixed martial arts victory in his debut with the sport at Strikeforce: “Miami”.
While Walker has spent decades of his life as one of the most impressive athletes the planet has ever been afforded, his move to mixed martial arts seemed to be a publicity stunt of sorts for Strikeforce, which is reasonable considering Walker’s bout took the spot on the main card of a match with welterweight title implications between Jay Hieron and Joe Riggs.
But is the UFC’s signing of James Toney as much a publicity stunt as Strikeforce’s signing of Walker seemed to be?
There are certainly going to be factions on either side of the argument, along with those indifferent to the situation as a whole. However, it’s going to be hard convincing anyone that the UFC signed the 41-year-old to be a large factor in any division, let alone a champion.
However, the simple fact that the UFC does not expect a championship level of competition out of Toney does not mean they do not expect him to be competitive. After all, the vast majority of fighters who begin a career in the UFC will end it without ever experiencing the feeling of the championship gold.
Perhaps Toney’s decorated career in boxing, which includes over 70 professional wins, is one reason to back up the claims at legitimacy concerning his deal with the UFC. “Lights Out” has had a successful career with enough world titles to go around.
That being said, whether or not Toney can compete at a high level or not is certainly not what this argument hinges upon. His legendary career in the ring is nothing to base this move off of either, considering the immense difference between mixed martial arts and boxing.
The most logical reasoning behind the UFC’s decision to bring in Toney lies in the fact that he has name recognition and will bring the promotion attention. Just as the UFC brought in Kimbo Slice to bolster ratings for its tenth season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, the promotion has brought in Toney to draw in the eyes of the fans and the green of their wallets.
And who is to blame them?
The UFC signed current heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar after just one professional mixed martial arts fight. While there is no comparison between Lesnar and Toney, the UFC champion’s history and fan base derived from the WWE just sweetened the deal. Toney is in a similar situation. His career in boxing has been spent accumulating wins, belts, and, perhaps most importantly, an enormous fan base, which the UFC no doubt looks to use to its advantage.
Not only will many mixed martial arts fans likely be tuning in with the hopes that Toney fails miserably, but many boxing fans will be tuning in to see the man they used to watch in the ring for many years. With the current state of boxing vs. mixed martial arts, perhaps there has never been a better time for a mixed martial arts promotion to grab a boxer from the dwindling list of boxing stars.
Yet whether or not the UFC is looking to Toney as a competitive mixed martial artist, a publicity stunt, or a statement to the boxing community, the notable signing certainly will not hurt the promotion.
The signing may seem like a complete publicity stunt, or even an absolute joke, in the eyes of the fans of mixed martial arts, but the business end of mixed martial arts hardly makes this move seem absurd. In fact, the business end makes this move seem a very lucrative one.
The name James Toney holds a lot of weight in the sporting world, and the UFC is looking to turn that weight into gold. With the drawing power likely leading to a nice increase in ratings, along with all the financial benefits to add to the , it is hard to imagine that this publicity stunt does not end up as a benefit to the promotion when all is said and done.
Tags: Boxing, Brock Lesnar, Dana White, James Toney, Kimbo Slice, Mixed Martial Arts, MMA, UFC