James Toney - What's Next With His Weight Issues

27.06.06 - By Ronnie McCluskey: In March of this year former middleweight, super-middleweight, cruiserweight and pound-for-pound king James ‘Lights Out’ Toney had a chance to claim the legitimate, linear World Heavyweight championship. In a twelve round battle with a surprisingly trim, fit, focused and busy Hasim Rahman, Toney ultimately paid for his weight. He was lucky to get away with a majority draw, after a pulsating contest, in which the Trojan Rahman seemed to outwork the smaller, chunkier man..

At the outset of the match, I had favoured the Ann Arbour man to become only the second the third man to go from middleweight to heavyweight, winning the title. Of course, Toney had already beat John Ruiz the previous March for the WBA version of the crown, though the match was later changed to a No Decision after Toney was found to have a banned substance in his system.

The cagey throw-back rubbished these allegations, saying that what he really took were pills intended to heal an injury. The debate wages on – many pundits found it very odd that a fighter of Toney’s stature and experience would choose to use the drug. It also seemed odd as Toney’s body was hardly toned or ripped. Indeed, he sported a decidedly ‘soft’ torso, and came in far from peak shape. To look at the man at least, he was not on any anabolic drugs.

Either way, he took his ban like a man, waved off the title he lost unjustly (in his words) and stepped right back in there, beating former top prospect turned top hype-job/let down Dominick Guinn, over twelve. This set up nicely the encounter with Rahman, a former undisputed heavyweight champion.

Of course, to even be in the mix at heavyweight is still pretty bizarre, for Toney. Remember, only three years ago he was IBF cruiserweight champion, having ripped the title from unbeaten Vassily Jirov at Foxwoods. Even then, ring experts were calling him out of shape, saying he should have stayed at light-heavy or criticizing his juddering appearance. ‘Lights Out’ knew different, pummelling out a tough victory in the Ring magazines Fight of The Year.

But now after that Rahman draw, we as fans must surely wonder what is next for the 37-year old. Naturally, Toney, a career loud-mouth you could say, has called for the return. He felt he won the first encounter with Hasim and he wants the chance to put it beyond doubt second time round (I had the ‘Rock’ winning by a single point). But perhaps it isn’t so much a case of can he beat Rahman, but can he beat himself?

Throughout his decidedly topsy-turvy career, James Toney has struggled with one particular problem; weight. Ninety per cent of prize fighters will agree that making the division limit is the toughest part of being in the sport. Hey, just ask Jose Luis Castillo. But Toney in particular has found it difficult to steady his poundage. At middle he struggled, at super-middle he claimed he had to lose 48Lbs in six weeks to meet Roy Jones, and his light-heavyweight career signified Toney’s downward pound for pound spiral, and his descent into obscurity in the mid-late nineties.

Personally, I want to see the Rahman return. Who doesn’t? The first was superb; the best heavyweight encounter perhaps since Lewis and Klitschko threw caution to the wind, and showed us what two giants colliding head-on looked like. But, the reality of the matter is, Toney will need to work incredibly hard to get down to his comfort-zone. L.A coach Freddie Roach has also blasted Toney’s cigar consumption, which he said affected his, mans breathing during the March fight.

What he will weigh on the Friday afternoon before show time is a guessing game, quite frankly. You got to love Toney for his slick, crafty shoulder-roll defence and his ring smarts, but he is not exactly the most reliable boxer out there. He came in for the biggest fight of his life, a heavyweight title shot, at his career-highest weight. Surely, he wont top that next time out?

Let’s hope not. What we can be sure of is that this former middleweight makes for an entirely more interesting heavyweight division. Can you imagine him in there with Wladimir Klitschko, Sam Peter and Nikolai Valuev? Just imagining the height difference in the latter, the contest could quite easily be mistaken for a freak show! But we’d pay to see it, and Toney has enough skills and intelligence even to make the contest competitive regardless of the weight. Hey, perhaps that’s the problem. With no set weight to make, and the knowledge that irrespective of your physical shape you are quite frankly good enough a fighter to hang with any of the lacklustre heavyweight division, it must be easy to let your weight slip.

But Toney’s has slipped too often in the past. One of these days, and against the super-heavyweights, he may just pay for his recklessness.

Article posted on 28.06.2006

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