Are we in the twilight of “LIGHTS OUT” or will James Toney shoot down David Haye’s STAR?

James Toney10.09.08 - By P.H. Burbridge (A voice in the crowd)- James "Lights Out" Toney (70-6-3-1 NC, 44 KO's) has long been one of my favorite fighters and over the years I’ve watched him re-invent himself time after time. I go back with Toney. I’m talking about the James Toney who was managed by Jackie Kallen. The James Toney who had a special relationship with a little disabled girl named Elizabeth. For a time having a prominent female manager in a male dominated sport along with Elizabeth at ringside not to mention the much publicized once strong relationship he had with his mother, Sherry seemed to soften James Toney’s tough guy image.

Well, that was a long time ago and over the years things have changed significantly. The James Toney of today has a kind of love-hate relationship with the fans and the press. Today, his public persona is full of contradictions. He has made many controversial statements often demeaning his opponents but at times he has also shown a great sense of humor as well as showed sensitivity when talking about issues that matter much to him such as Autism. He is the quintessential tough guy to figure out.

I generally try not to judge a fighter on the aesthetics of the game especially the trash talk that often accompanies the build up for a big fight. It’s something I wish wasn’t so prevalent in professional boxing but it is one aspect of the game that always get’s the casual observers attention. And in that regard James Toney never fails to disappoint. I prefer to focus on his ring performance since exploding on to the scene with a crushing left hook in May of 1991.

On May 10th, 1991 James Toney pulled off an unlikely victory when he won the IBF Middleweight Championship of the world via 11th round knock out over the highly favored Michael “2nd To” Nunn in Nunn’s hometown of Davenport, Iowa. Through the years Toney has won world titles in three separate weight divisions. He’s won at middleweight, super middleweight and at cruiserweight. In April of 2005, Toney won the WBA Heavyweight Championship of the World against John Ruiz via 12 round unanimous decision but that result was later over turned due to a positive post fight drug test that detected steroids. For Toney it was a painful loss and a missed opportunity to enjoy what should have been the crowning moment of his ring accomplishments. Instead it turned out to be only the first of two very public steroid controversies that have plagued him in recent years. The second being a positive test after a match with Danny Batchelder in May of 2007. While he’ll never be confused with Mr. Universe he has added considerable muscle to his shoulders, arms and neck. Unfortunately, his waist has also expanded which has caused problems with his balance and that is clearly evident when he loads up and misses. He’s absolutely carrying too much weight for his 5’ 9 ½” frame.

As a heavyweight, his best weight to date is still the 217 lbs he came in at against Evander Holyfield in October of 2003. He looked fast and was able to keep his hands busy throughout that entire bout in route to an impressive 9th round TKO. Unfortunately, that was 5 years ago and he hasn’t fought at that weight since. In his last fight on July 16th he weighed 226 lbs against Hasim Rahman at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California. That was his lightest since the Holyfield fight. The rematch with Rahman didn’t do much to tell us where James is at physically because it ended so early. When it was stopped by the doctor after round 3 on a cut suffered by Rahman ruled to be an accidental head butt it seemed that Toney was just getting warmed up. Toney seemed to shake up the Rock in that 3rd round with a hard right hand but aside from that one shot there was just too little action to make a judgment. I personally feel that Toney’s weight was an indication of how seriously he took that fight and believed he would have won. Considering he’s come in as high as 237 lbs as he did in the first Rahman fight the 226 lbs he weighed for the rematch seemed reasonable albeit not great.

On August 24th, James Toney turned 40 years old and that milestone is significant because he’s a fighter who relies on speed and the ability to make bigger foes miss. That becomes more difficult the older you get. And it’s also something that you may not necessarily notice in the beginning stages because it happens in such a subtle manner. A trainer capable of detecting when his fighter has slowed ever so slightly is the difference between his charge staying healthy and getting seriously hurt in the ring. It doesn’t matter how tough you are. If you’re battling bigger men and you can’t get out of their way or hurt them with your own power then you ARE going to get hurt, period!! Naturally bigger heavyweights can rely on their punching power and natural size to even things out but not James. He is not a natural heavyweight. He’s an over achiever who fights at heavyweight. He is more of a stinging puncher at this weight and his speed and accuracy has always been the key in deterring opponents from walking right through him. His toughness is always on display but what happens when his once incredible defensive skills begin to erode? He’ll start taking those shots that he was able to slip against the likes of Sam Peter and Evander Holyfield. And that will be a sad day for those like me who remember James in his prime when he was one of a handful of fighters in our sports history who could stand right in front of his opponent and flat out make them miss. But, at this stage we don’t know if James can even come in under 220 lbs and we surely haven’t seen him let his hands go recently so the big questions remain. Is James Toney still a player in the heavyweight division or is it time to move on in life? That’s the million dollar question. Hopefully, Team Toney already knows the answer to that question. If they are confident that James can still compete at a high level then the most logical fight out there is one I think represents a calculated and SERIOUS risk!

In order to re-establish himself as a force in the heavyweight division my recommendation to Team Toney is to do everything possible to secure a fight with Great Britain’s rising star, David “the Hayemaker” Haye (21-1, 20 Ko’s). Start calling him out in the press or whatever it takes! James Toney vs David Haye would be a trash talk lovers dream. I could do without that part of it but I’d certainly be intrigued by all the questions surrounding both fighters’ futures. For Haye he needs a big win in the heavyweight division over a credible world class opponent like James Toney, NOT Hasim Rahman! Toney is a much more credible fight then Rahman on ALL fronts. Haye would learn much more about himself in a fight with James Toney then he could in 10 fights against Hasim Rahman. Plus if he could actually score a knock out over the iron chinned Toney it would be a huge feather in his cap considering the biggest puncher in the division, Sam Peter couldn’t do it. For Toney, he needs a big win over a big name opponent to re-energize interest in his career and position himself for another shot AND he needs it ASAP!

Many see David Haye as the possible future of the heavyweight division. At this stage there are many unknown factors about Haye. You simply don’t know how he’ll react when he gets tagged by a full fledge hard punching heavyweight. What we do know about David Haye is that he has excellent hand speed and has showed tremendous punching power at cruiserweight. He also has great lateral movement and is well conditioned. People have good reason to root for him because he does appear to have the potential to do great things in the division. The fan allure of this fight from Haye’s perspective is the usual cautionary tale used to keep young up and coming fighters focused in the gym. There’s always that chance of meeting up with the wrong guy at the wrong time and ending up with an Amir Khan-style disaster on your hands! We’ve all seen that play out time after time and Khan is just the latest installment of that tale.

I can see Haye out hustling and doing some damage along the way to Toney for a win but I could also see Toney catching him with a solid right hand which is a punch that Carl Thompson seemed to land with great frequency in Haye’s only loss. Haye and his team have got to work on his defense and there’s no better fighter to learn from then James Toney. Fortunately, for Haye, Toney is not a big puncher at this weight so I don’t think there is any danger of him getting seriously hurt but there is a danger of him being broken down by Toney on the inside. Toney’s combination punching and well placed shots could make this fight fascinating. I’ve seen the guy land so many left hooks over the last 17 years that I’m sure he’s added many a name to that long list for liver transplants! I’ve also seen Haye land that booming right hand of his to get his guy out of there.

Regardless of the fan fare and high hopes for Haye I would call this one a “pick em'” fight with my “sentimental” edge going to James Toney. I also give Toney the edge in intangibles. He’s been in big fights and seen the bright lights so it won’t be a new experience for him. Haye has yet to fight in Las Vegas so we don’t know how he’ll react to being in a big show. I think a challenge as great as David Haye would really get Toney motivated. Toney and his team know what a win over David Haye could do for his career and even though I see nothing but trouble for Toney on the other side if he DID get past Haye I think he can win this fight. After, Haye there are nothing but giants left in the division and that’s bad for Toney. But, in this match up from a technical standpoint, James is the better fighter. He can fight in so many ways. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the center of the ring or if his back’s against the ropes. I just can’t see Haye seriously hurting Toney being that Sam Peter couldn’t do it. Toney and Goosen have expressed interest in the press for this fight so it’s seems to be up to Haye and his team to decide if there is enough of a payoff to fight James Toney. From a fans perspective there certainly is!

The intrigue is there no question!

Are we seeing the beginning of the end of James Toney or is he about to put the “Lights Out” on another “highly” favored star?

Is David Haye ready to send a message to the rest of the division that he’s taking over and putting EVERYONE on notice?

Or will we find out that he made the grievous error of underestimating an aging but GREAT fighter in James Toney?

This is what the fight game is ALL about!

Article posted on 10.09.2008

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