Fifteen years ago today in New York, James Toney seemed to have done everything right in outclassing and outpointing John Ruiz to take “The Quiet Man’s” WBA portion of the world heavyweight title. It turned out, however, how “Lights Out” had made one major screw up in training ahead of the fight.
Toney, by this stage, a wise veteran of the sport, having ruled the world at 160, 168, and 200 pounds, always said he was a heavyweight. A natural heavyweight. Nobody believed Toney until he began defeating bigger guys like Vassily Jirov at cruiserweight and Evander Holyfield at heavyweight. By now, the 35-year-old had the full respect of the big men of the sport.
But John Ruiz, who had previously lost to another former middleweight champ in Roy Jones Jnr, felt that history would not repeat itself; that no second smaller dude would take his heavyweight belt. Ruiz was wrong, but in the end, he was right.
Toney, weighing a fleshy but still loose and effective 233 pounds, challenged Ruiz inside a curious and quite pumped up Madison Square Garden, and it seemed to be a great night in the career of a man already destined for The Hall of Fame. Toney, giving away eight pounds in weight and over four inches in height, boxed superbly, masterfully. Befuddling Ruiz, confusing him, and at times totally outclassing him, Toney was in almost complete control.
It was so one-sided, a fan might have felt some sympathy for Ruiz, a good fighter who was seemingly destined to be remembered best for losing to middleweights. Toney even scored a knockdown (sort of; replays show Toney did a Chuck Wepner and stood on Ruiz’ foot as he landed his knockdown blow). In the end, the scores were wide in Toney’s favor – 116-111 twice and 115-112. Toney had won his fourth world title. Only he hadn’t.
Less than two weeks later, it was announced how Toney’s post-fight drug test had come up positive. Toney had tested positive for an illegal anabolic steroid. The glory was gone. Ruiz said, ‘I told you so,’ as in no aging middleweight would beat him. But Toney had beaten Ruiz, only not legally. The still-WBA heavyweight champ changed his mind on his retirement announcement of 10 days before.
Could Toney have beaten Ruiz without the aid of a steroid? We will never know for sure, but Toney looked brilliant on this night 15 years ago. What a shame. For both fighters.