The Mid 90's - The Lowest Point In James Toney's Career

25.02.06 - By James Slater: In the penultimate month of 1994, James Toney's world was about to come crashing down around him. James was struggling with his weight, more so now that his body was older and had thickened out with maturity, and making 168 was an almost impossible ordeal. Stepping up to light heavyweight would have been a far more practical move at this point. But a huge money fight with Roy Jones Jnr was simply irresistible and James almost killed himself dragging his weight down one more time.

Entering training camp approximately six weeks before the scheduled fight date of November 18th, Toney weighed a staggering 214 pounds! He somehow shed the excess pounds but was incredibly weak as he climbed onto the scales to weigh in at 167 pounds. Immediately afterwards he was hooked up to an IV to replace his body fluids and he remained on it all night until the next day when battle was due to commence.. On the way into the ring his weight was checked again and he tipped in at 186 pounds. Amazingly he'd regained almost twenty pounds in just twenty four hours. What a draining sacrifice he had gone through in the name of pride. He simply wanted to beat up on Jones so badly and the fight could only be made at super middleweight, Jones claiming he couldn't go any higher as of yet. The fact that he entered the ring weighing 186 may seem like an advantage, but far from it. Toney was soft looking around the middle and his performance was sluggish. Despite this, and Jones being the more sharper of the two, Roy still refused to fight in a style that would in any way deviate from his overly cautious game plan, much to the infuriation of the crowd. A boringly one sided bout dragged on, something no one had predicted in the days of hype leading up to "The Uncivil War".

Jones scored a flash knockdown in the third round when he caught Toney slightly off balance, and a count was administered. Unhurt, James was soon up but, try as he did, he couldn't get into the fight. He was just too weak and lost a lopsided decision. He'd lost for the first time and he was devastated.

Out of the ring for only three months he was to lose his very next fight also, albeit controversially. Up at the much more natural 175 pound division, he took on 1992 Olympic medallist Montell Griffin. Appearing to score the more hurtful blows, staggering Griffin on occasions, he nonetheless lost a majority decision. Losing twice in a row, the second loss he felt very unfair, was too much for Toney and tension started to mount between him and his trainer and manager. The glamorous Jackie Kallen, one of only a relative few female managers in the sport, was relieved of her duties and James' long time trainer, the vastly experienced and knowledgeable Bill Miller, also parted company from him. Replacements came with the former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad coming on board as his new trainer and Stan Hoffman in the managerial role.

Again neglecting a lay off, he fought only a month after the Griffin setback. He won an eight round stoppage victory over Karl Willis and was hungry to prove that the two defeats hadn't finished him. He was better suited to this, his third weight division, and went on to win another four fights in 1995, all inside the distance. The following year he was fined for failing to make weight when in his fight with Richard Mason, at the cruiserweight limit of 195 pounds, Toney weighed in at 210, the heaviest yet of his career. After the $25,000 fine, Toney proceeded to give a crisp and sharp performance, in spite of the bulk, and he picked up a ten round unanimous decision win.

He had now proved he could handle himself as a cruiserweight but, for the time being, James would continue fighting in the division below. He desperately wanted a rematch with Roy Jones and was hopeful that, by now, Jones would be willing to fight at light heavy and grant him one. While this chance at revenge was still his number one priority, he first got the chance to redeem himself against the other man to have put a negative on his record, Montell Griffin. James still insisted that no redemption was necessary to his mind as he knew in his heart he had been robbed in the first fight. But, for the purposes of making it official and tidying up his record for the history books, another fight with Montell was still an attractive option.

In the last month of 1996 he was the recipient of yet another sickeningly low blow thanks to the judges. James clearly won this rematch and many people were disgusted when Griffin was given the decision win. He had now lost twice to the same guy, at least according to the officials; you will, however, not find many fans or experts who will agree with their decisions.

Toney did some soul searching - how had it come about that he had lost three fights, and in the space of only two years! Although he had been robbed and knew, in his heart, that only one of these defeats had been on the level, and this due in large part to the awfully drained and weakened condition he had attempted to fight in, this came as no consolation. Start losing and you run the risk of being left behind at the elite level, such is the trend in the ultra competitive world of professional boxing. It can be tough and even unfair at times. This is why being placed up on the plateau of true greatness, recognised by all as one of the best ever, is such an achievement. An achievement that is reliant on so many factors, good luck definitely being one of them. At this time it must have seemed to James Toney that he had not been blessed in this department. He could be forgiven for feeling an amount of bitterness. Still, what else could he do but continue to fight? It was all he knew.

It may seem strange now, with Toney fighting so successfully as a heavyweight, but during this spell of two years or so things looked as bad for him as could be imagined. Many wrote him off as a result. James was crushed at losing to Jones and desperately craved a return fight. As we know, it never happened. However, due to Toney's return to top form and Jones' fall from grace, the history books will more than likely remember "Lights Out" as the better fighter of the two.

James' climbing back to the very top of his sport really was quite an accomplishment. One that didn't seem at all likely back in the mid 90's, when he was losing three times in an alarmingly quick space of time. Toney's perseverance and refusal to give in is definitely one of the reasons he is held in such high respect by all today.

Article posted on 25.02.2006

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