Who was big enough? Who was good enough? Who had the most left? There were plenty of questions going into the clash between future Hall of Famers that took place at The Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on October 4, and fans were about as split down the middle as could be in picking who would win: James Toney or Evander Holyfield.
Holyfield was well into veteran stage at this point in his career, the former four-time heavyweight king having suffered a number of clear defeats and having to listen as plenty of fans called for his retirement. But against former middleweight champ Toney – who had slowly moved up the weight divisions over the years, winning a great title fight at cruiserweight in beating Vasiliy Jirov in April of 2003 – Holyfield would, in the opinion of many, be able to get himself back in the win column.
The first round was lively and Holyfield performed like anything but a man of forty years of age. He looked quite sharp and his physique was as magnificent as ever. Holyfield threw some good digging hooks but Toney’s defence was right on the ball. Still, it was round one to “The Real Deal”. He even put in a few seconds of overtime, throwing a couple after the bell, bringing a retaliation from Toney and a roar from the crowd.
Toney stood his ground in round-two and backed Holyfield up. His jab was accurate and he wore the usual smug look of complete self assurance. Again they fought at the bell and both men glared at one another. A fascinating fight was developing. At the start of the third, it looked as though Toney might be in a bit of trouble as he was cracked by a good right hand, but we were soon given the proof we needed as to whether or not “Lights Out” could take a top heavyweight’s shot.
He rolled away, nullifying any chance of further blows landing and continued with his game plan of going to Holyfield’s body. He got even more cocky near the end of the session and spoke to someone at ringside. Gaining the psychological advantage was never an option Toney strayed away from and signals such as this must have registered with Holyfield. He wasn’t used to such arrogance being shown from the other man in the ring with him, let alone when that man was a former middleweight. Toney, incredibly, was starting to gain the upper hand already.
Holyfield was badly hurt for the first time in round-four, when a Toney right whipped into his head as he was backed up onto the ropes. Toney followed up with a classy combination and the possibility of a KO win arose. “The Warrior” came back though, once again living up to the second of his apt nicknames, and he had some success on the other side of the ring as it was Toney’s turn to feel his back to the ropes.
It was a good burst from Holyfield and because of it you could make a case for scoring the round even. Toney was definitely the sharper of the two now though. A lot of young fighters really could learn a lot from watching some of Toney’s talented moves and by round-five he looked as though he was enjoying himself. Holyfield was tired now and he looked stiff and slow, throwing only the odd punch that landed. Toney was too quick to let him get the second shot home and he was starting to pull ahead, hurting Holyfield while taking him to school.
It was clear Toney had retained all his exquisite skills in boxing’s ultimate weight division. By round-seven it was a little sad to watch, as Holyfield was flat-out being beaten up. His chin was as dependable as ever but he hadn’t won a round for an alarming period and his only chance seemed to be him being extremely lucky with the perceived naturally smaller man suddenly getting tired. But there were no signs of this and the pain continued for Holyfield in round-eight. James Toney was putting on a master class.
In the ninth, Toney closed the show. He had landed a good number of right hands to the head along with some thudding body shots and suddenly all this seemed to catch up with Holyfield, as he crumpled to the floor after a series of left hooks. He beat the count but his corner man, Don Turner, had seen enough and threw in the towel.
Toney had kept his promise, becoming only the second man to stop the legend that is Evander Holyfield. All these years later, and this performance really does make you wonder what might have been had Toney been a heavyweight years earlier than when he became one.