90 pro fights, many wins, a few losses – zero stoppage defeats. This is James “Lights Out” Toney, arguably, possibly, maybe the man with THE greatest, most constantly reliable chin in all of boxing history. Maybe.
Sure, plenty of fans will scream disagreement, pointing at a large picture of Jake LaMotta as they do so. Or maybe dissenters will argue Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s case, or, if we go up from middleweight, George Chuvalo’s entitlement to be ranked as the warrior with the most shockproof jaw will be passionately argued.
But let’s look at Toney’s amazing career and with it his almost unreal ability to take a shot – be it from the baddest middleweight in the world, from the baddest, meanest super-middleweight in the world, from the worst kind of cruiserweight nightmare imaginable for an aging fighter, or from some true heavyweight juggernaut bangers.
Toney, who sparred to get in shape, despising roadwork, hated even hitting the bag, says he always knew he would be a heavyweight. “Talked into” dropping down to 154 as an amateur, and then fighting at 160 as a pro, this because he was “too small” to be a heavyweight (Toney stands 5′ 10” and has a 72” reach), James duly won the middleweight title.
Toney’s chin wasn’t really tested in the Michael Nunn fight of May ’91, but he did take some shots from a motivated Dave Tiberi, this when Toney’s now legendary discipline/making weight issues really became a problem.
But the idea of Toney being stopped, of being knocked out, was nothing but a nauseating insult to the man from Michigan. As Toney would say himself, “these guys can’t even spell knockout.” No middleweight ever buzzed Toney.
Moving up to 168, Toney, who had outboxed the master in Mike McCallum , dug in on the inside against “Prince” Charles Williams, with nothing the former light-heavyweight champ was able to hit him with bothering him; Toney scoring a sensational late-rounds KO.
While before that, the lethally dangerous Iran Barkley was never close to getting Toney’s attention with a punch. Then, weight-drained and in poor shape, Toney was never hurt by Roy Jones Jr. Embarrassed, yes, but hurt, no (Toney suffered a flash knockdown, this when he was being cocky, but he was never hurt in the 1994 match).
Toney moved up again. While his superb defensive skills aided the ageing Toney, his rock of a chin was a constant asset. And then Toney went up to cruiserweight. And then to heavyweight.
Vassily Jirov, with his relentless pressure, his hard punches and his youth, was figured to be too much for the 35 year old Toney. Instead, Toney took all the heat Jirov could cook up and he won a classic. Against Evander Holyfield – who would in his career stop Mike Tyson, would heavily deck the huge Riddick Bowe and would wobble George Foreman more than once – Toney was never once hurt.
Toney’s chin was severely tested by Sam Peter, who cracked him flush with a bomb of a right hand in their first fight, and Toney’s mandible had to do its work in shaking off the blows Hasim Rahman (who KO’d Lennox Lewis) landed on his more and more hittable chin.
While against Peter in the return fight, and against the slow but big Lucas Browne, the faded Toney got hit in the head plenty. Yet even now, close to shot, Toney went nowhere close to going down.
In dropping back down to cruiserweight (this a couple of years before the Browne loss), Toney took a sad beating from the heavy hands of Denis Lebedev, yet once again Toney’s chin remained first-class. This should have been the end, yet Toney carried on. Club fighters such as Jason Gavern and Mike Sheppard couldn’t put a dent in Toney’s chin.
Toney may well be paying the price for it today, but the shots, the bombs, the hurt his chin soaked up were enough to have laid out many a fighter. Toney never once lost consciousness in the ring, neither did he get put on the floor during so, so many hundreds of rounds of hard sparring.
James Toney was a helluva fighter, a born fighter. Maybe he did have the best chin of all-time.