Randy Couture vs. James Toney was nothing but Dana White’s illusion

Both boxing and mixed martial arts are defined by those milestone matches that see one generation’s dominant champion finally being dethroned by a younger, hungrier fighter. Lennox Lewis was finally accepted as the best heavyweight in boxing after comfortably defeating Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. The era of Brock Lesnar and his fellow superheavyweights began with his demolition of Randy Couture. But sometimes fate conspires to deny a fighter this opportunity.

In such circumstances, promoter’s often move to give fate a helping hand and construct a fight that will give their young champion the “passing of the torch” moment that they have hitherto lacked. This usually involves throwing money at a faded former champion who is willing to take a sucker fight. Just as the UFC brought back Royce Gracie in 2005 to face then World Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes, Don King had a young Mike Tyson face inactive former champion Larry Holmes. These mismatches were completely without sporting merit as the younger, hungrier and better prepared champion demolished their outdated and unprepared opponent. But they succeed where it mattered, they added lustre to a young champion’s record and give them that milestone moment to maximise their marketability.

Ever since its creation in 1993 the UFC has been keen to have its own ‘passing of the touch’ moment with professional boxing. Back when Dana White was still a boxing instructor and the term mixed martial arts had not been used since Muhammad Ali fought Antonio Inoki in 1975, Rorion Gracie insisted that his brother Royce be given the opportunity to prove the superiority of Grace Ju-Jitsu against a professional boxer. The Gracies had long been obsessed with proving the superiority of their grappling against the sweet science, with family members having in the past challenged (and been ignored by) the likes of Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles and Mike Tyson. A desperate search for a boxer would only prove successful due to former top-ten ranked boxer Art Jimmerson’s desire to buy a house

In a fight that both Dana White and commentator Joe Rogan referred to repeatedly on Saturday night, Gracie was easily able to take Jimmerson down with the terrified boxer quickly submitting while Gracie was securing the mount position. The Gracies’ finally had their victory over a legitimate boxer but something was missing. Jimmerson did not mean anywhere near as much to his sport as the Gracies’ did to ju-jitsu or would eventually come to mean to MMA. It could therefore be dismissed as an uneven fight, a former contender versus a champion.

As the UFC exploded in popularity after 2005, fans, competitors and journalists couldn’t help but speculate about who would win a second crossover match between a world-class boxer and a fighter. This speculation was fuelled by the dismissive attitude of many in boxing towards the MMA and the enthusiastic but technically unsound boxing of many fighters. Dana White was fond of saying that boxing was “your grandfather’s sport” and that mixed martial arts was the combat sport of the future but he lacked that one milestone moment to prove it. And just like Art Jimmerson’s desire to buy a house all those years ago, James Toney’s desperation to have one more high-profile, well-paying fight match him the opportunity to arrange a fight and “make an example” of Toney.

Amid deafening chants of “UFC” Hall of Famer Randy Couture quickly took down the three-weight boxing world champion James Toney and choked him out. A smiling Dana White did not miss a chance to say that the result confirmed what UFC 1 had proven, that a boxer couldn’t succeed against a grappler or wrestler. Just like Royce Gracie against Matt Hughes or Larry Holmes against a Mike Tyson, Toney was nowhere near competitive in a mismatch that he never had the time to properly prepare for.

And just like those fights, Randy Couture vs. James Toney was nothing but an illusion created by a promoter seeking to make a point and even more money.

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