James Toney has always been a bit of an anomaly in boxing. In the prime of his career in the mid-90s, he stood out as an old-school fighter in the increasingly flashy modern era. Possessing what seemed to be an inherent knowledge of defense, Toney was rarely hit clean and tagged opponents often with precision seldom seen.
Toney made his big splash in ‘91, upsetting celebrated middleweight champion Michael Nunn. For ten rounds, Toney followed the script most experts had written, falling far behind on points. But in the eleventh, he dropped Nunn with a big left hook, and a new star was born.
Despite his nickname being “Lights Out,” that knockout power rarely showed up in Toney’s big fights. But while he didn’t always produce the highlight reel knockouts, he was still able to compete for the spotlight with entertainers like Roy Jones Jr. and Pernell Whitaker by fighting often and running his mouth even more.
After two exciting defenses against Mike McCallum (one of which was ruled a draw but both of which seemed to belong to Toney) and a controversial win over journeyman Dave Tiberi, he captured a super middleweight title by stopping Iran Barkley in a classic battle.
The fight the public demanded, however, was a bout with Roy Jones Jr in a matchup of undefeated fighters and arguably the best two boxers in the world. While they toyed with the idea, Toney would balloon up to as much as 175 pounds for interim bouts. When the fight finally came together, rumors of Toney being weight-drained seemed to hold water as Roy humiliated his stationary rival for twelve rounds.
Following a pair of disputed losses to Montell Griffin, Toney slipped into the realm of obscurity for a period of six years. Then, he shocked the world by topping cruiserweight champion Vassily Jirov in the runner-up to 2003’s Fight of the Year. That same year, Toney seemed poised to make a serious run at the heavyweight title when he became only the second man to stop Evander Holyfield.
Unfortunately, injuries and serious weight problems held Toney back. He made easy work of John Ruiz for one of the heavyweight titles in 2005, only to be stripped of the crown when he tested positive for a banned substance. Next, he appeared to have done enough to beat powerful heavyweight Sam Peter in 2006 but lost a decision. When Peter made easy work of him in the rematch, Toney’s 20-year boxing career seemed to have finally run its course.
In 20 years, Toney has lost only three clear-cut fights. The others have all been debatable, many of them downright bad decisions. He was knocked down only three times, two of which seemed to result from being off-balance. Toney is one of the few fighters who can say with a straight face that he’s never been hurt in the boxing ring. He stands as a three-division champion who should have added a heavyweight title to his repertoire had he taken his career more seriously in those final years.
Against Randy Couture in the Octagon, Toney stands virtually no chance. He’s 42 years old, has not taken care of his body for the last five years and brings a style that will not transition well across sports. Toney’s balance was never great to begin with but it has severely eroded in recent years – never more apparent than when he slipped all the way out of the ring against Fres Oquendo in 2008. A laid back counter-puncher who won’t be able to get off his back if he ends up there, Toney’s only chance is if Couture gives him one by standing and boxing.
But Toney still knows how to sell a fight. He talked his way into this one, and even in defeat, he’ll probably have something to say worth hearing. They say the last thing a boxer loses is his punch. It’s safe to say Toney’s mouth will still be around long after his punch leaves him.
Learn more about his opponent:
Introducing Randy Couture
Tags: Boxing, James Toney, Mixed Martial Arts, Randy Couture, ufc 118