Can James Toney Win The Heavyweight Title?

23.12.03 - MY TWO CENTS WORTH - by Kent Appel: First of all, I would like to wish the readers of Eastside Boxing.Com a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy Year! May they and all those special in their lives have a healthy and prosperous year in 2004.

If someone would have told me two years ago that former middleweight and super middleweight champion James 'Lights-Out' Toney would have a chance at winning the heavyweight championship of the world, I would have laughed at him and told him, yes, but only in the movies! After all, Toney had played Joe Frazier, who was heavyweight champion in real life, in the movie Ali, starring Will Smith.

My thinking was there was no way at 33 years old this blown up middleweight who was going to attempt a comeback in the cruiserweight division could possibly compete in boxing's glamour division, the heavyweights. I thought Toney would have a hard time making the transition from the super middleweight division, with its 168 pound limit, in which he had last won a world title years previous, to the cruiserweight limit of 190 pounds, let alone become a force in the heavyweight division.

I felt Toney's best bet on making a run at another world title would be in the light heavyweight division at 175 pounds. After all, although Toney is a fine boxer who knows all of the tricks of the trade, his body is just too small at 5'10" to carry the extra weight of 190 pounds effectively. Right? We will see.

I thought my view of Toney not being able to carry the extra weight effectively was confirmed as I sat ringside at Toney's fight at the cruiserweight level last year in 2002 against Jason Robinson. Sure Toney won by sixth round knockout but I didn't think he was moving well against a crafty opponent and while he was slightly ahead on my scorecard at the time of the knockout, it was his power that won it for him.

I was stuck in the mindset of Toney not being able to carry the extra weight. I remember my comments about Toney's chances of winning the cruiserweight title against then champion Vassily Jirov. I said, "If Toney fights the way he did against Robinson against Jirov, Jirov will out-hustle Toney and keep his title".

Well, fast forward to earlier this year and Toney proved me wrong by defeating Jirov for the cruiserweight title by using all of the tricks at his disposal. Not only did Toney move well in this fight, he systematically wore down the bigger Jirov during twelve grueling rounds in one of the toughest, hardest fought contests of the year 2003. If Toney had not been in the best possible condition, there would have been no way he could have won this fight. But could he carry even still more weight and fight at heavyweight?

The answer is yes! Toney came in at 217 pounds in his first fight at heavyweight against Evander Holyfield and he moved and punched just as sharp as he did against Jirov. Sure Holyfield was a faded version of his former boxing self but he was still a very formidable opponent and it was still quite an accomplishment for Toney.

Two of the questions about Toney's move to heavyweight is can he take a heavyweight punch and does Toney punch hard enough to hurt a heavyweight? The answer to both of these questions is yes. There were times in this fight that Holyfield tagged Toney right on the button and Toney still kept moving forward. Remember, power is the last thing that goes when a fighter is on the down side and those were some hard shots that Toney absorbed.

Toney's punches also shook up Holyfield, a fighter who had taken shots from Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Michael Moorer, among others in his career. Holyfield, not known for having a brittle chin, was visibly hurt by Toney's blows in this fight.

A lot of Toney's critics will say, what did Toney prove by beating up on an older, worn out fighter like Holyfield? But one thing the critics fail to realize is Toney's uncanny ability to step up his performance to match, and most of the time exceed, the level his opponent is giving him. I believe if Holyfield had brought more to the table, than Toney would have been able to bring that much more.

Could Toney have beaten Holyfield when Holyfield was in his prime? I would give Holyfield the edge in that one but it would have been a good fight. This is not to downgrade Toney's current quest into the heavyweight division as Holyfield is considered by many to be one of the top twenty heavyweights of all time.

I am picking Toney to win by decision this coming February 7, 2004 over Jameel McCline. Toney will come in and give McCline angles and make McCline miss and Toney, with his superior speed will make McCline pay for his misses. Toney will also be able to take McCline's best shots when McCline does tag him. Most of the time, I see Toney, who has excellent defense, rolling with the punches. The key to Toney's victory will be his staying in the 210 to 215 pound range or close to it in order to keep his advantage in speed.

This fight is seen as a preview of the old school skilled, but smaller heavyweights, such as Toney, who considers himself a throwback to the tougher era of the sixties and seventies, when everybody was fighting each other for a piece of the pie and the chance at the championship, verses the new bigger, supposedly stronger heavyweights of today.

This begs the question, can Toney, should he defeat McCline, overcome someone like the giant Vitali Klitschko, who destroyed Kirk Johnson in less than two rounds recently? I would say Toney would have a good shot at doing just that. Toney will not get hit with the same shots that took Johnson out as even Johnson, if he had not come in so out of shape, likely would have made a better fight of it. Klitschko is a very dangerous opponent but Toney could still find a way to win.

One factor that is in Toney's favor is the weakness of the current heavyweight division as a whole. I don't see many in the division giving Toney a difficult time. Other than the Klitschko brothers, who have a huge size advantage to go with some good boxing skills, Chris Byrd, and Roy Jones Junior, who are also both small, skilled heavyweights, there isn't anyone else who can come close to touching Toney.

I am purposely leaving out Lennox Lewis, the current linear champion, as I don't see Lewis having the fire anymore to continue much longer. I think Lewis may very well retire without fighting again. But even if Lewis is part of the equation, Toney has the skill to defeat him, just as he has the skill to beat all of the other heavyweights currently fighting. Could Toney have defeated Lewis in his prime? As in Holyfield at his best, Lewis is a legitimate top twenty heavyweight of all time but we are not dealing with Lewis at his best.

James Toney has always been an intelligent fighter who reads his opponents well and does what he needs to do to gain the win. He has a very real chance of winning the most prized sports championship in the world. James Toney, heavyweight champion of the world, it has a nice ring to it!

This has been My Two Cents Worth, if you want to give your two cents worth, leave a comment in the comments section or send me an e-mail at

Article posted on 23.12.2003

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