James Toney really was a sensational fighter. Back in his prime, and even a good few years later, when Toney was still a genuine force, the naturally gifted but also exquisitely trained boxer from Ann Arbour – coached as he was by Bill Miller and later Freddie Roach, really two of the very best in the history of the game – delighted the purists along with those who love a war and a nasty KO.
One of Toney’s real masterpieces came on this day in July a quarter of a century ago, in a terrific battle with Prince Charles Williams. The two met in Las Vegas (with superstar Oscar De La Hoya topping the bill, if not providing anything like as memorable a fight in crushing a faded Jorge Paez).
Toney, already a two-weight world champ, was making the third defence of his IBF 168 pound title; the one he had brutalized an incredibly game yet woefully outclassed Iran Barkley to win. Williams was a former long-reigning IBF light-heavyweight champ who was dropping down in weight to challenge “Lights Out.”
Never before, or arguably afterwards, would Toney’ s ring moniker prove so apt.
The action was breathtaking right from the start – quite literally. Williams had vowed ahead of the fight to get in close, take the heat to Toney and work him to the point where the defending champ could not breathe. It was a brutal pace and the perhaps underrated challenger (not in any way underrated by Toney, who knew full well he had a tough one on his hands; the kind of fight he truly relished, indeed lived for back then) was winning rounds.
Williams also banged shut Toney’s left eye, as in tight as a fist shut. It was already Toney’s most physically demanding fight. Sure, Toney had been outboxed for long periods by Michael Nunn, before he came on to score the 11th round KO, but Williams was successful in roughing Toney up, he was out-working him and he was busting him up.
But Toney, showing his greatness allong with his ability to pace a fight quite brilliantly, came on in the second half of the fight. Able to make just a little more space between himself and Williams, Toney got his crisper shots going. Williams was fading, as was his punch output, while Toney was enjoying his second wind.
It was close all the way and some wondered who would get the decision. But Toney had a masterstroke to unleash to close the show. A clean right hand to the head that was followed by a jab sent Williams reeling. In absolute highlight reel fashion, Williams crashed, his body arched as he crumbled in almost slow motion
There were just 15-seconds left on the clock. As it turned out, Toney would have won the decision, yet his awesome KO assured many millions of fans that yes, he was the best fighter in the world.
Toney had put it all together in winning a fight that should be remembered for far more than its spectacular ending. Indeed, there was a time when James Nathaniel Toney really was an incredible fighter.