The Greater Fighter: Roy Jones or James Toney? Three Experts Give Their Take

They only fought once and when they did meet, Roy Jones Jr. walked away a commanding winner over James Toney in November of 1994. Yet the two modern (some would say all-time) greats left behind another kind of rivalry: one between fans. To this day, these fans argue over who was the greater fighter of the two – Jones or Toney?

Toney showed up weight drained in ’94, the effects of dropping anything from 15 to twenty pounds leaving him depleted. But this wasn’t Jones’ fault, and the two unbeaten masters – Toney a master of the old-school way of fighting, Jones a naturally gifted master who had seemingly otherworldly speed and reflexive ability – fought the full 12 rounds.

Jones scored a knockdown over a somewhat off-balance Toney in the third round and then romped to a clear and wide unanimous decision victory. It was a performance from Jones to be cherished, but we saw no great fight. To this day, however, Jones lists Toney as by far the most skillful and talented fighter he ever met. There was talk of a rematch over the years, yet it never happened. Instead, both fighters went on to achieve plenty, with both men even going up to the heavyweight division (Jones beating John Ruiz to take a slice of the heavyweight title, Toney also outboxing Ruiz, only to flunk the post-fight drugs test).

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Both men are celebrated, respected and too many young fighters to name lookup the stuff these two did in their prime so as to learn. But who is the overall greater fighter: Jones, who finished at 66-9(47) in 2018, or Toney, who exited with a record of 77-10-3(47) in 2017?

It’s a question that has caused and will continue to cause, heated debate.

On the one hand, Jones won the only fight the two ever had, on the other, Toney was never once knocked out, whereas Jones suffered five disturbing KO defeats. This matter of superior chin means a whole lot to a whole lot of fans. Jones was faster, quicker, but Toney was a master at placing his shots. Who had the better defence – the super-fast Jones or the shoulder-roll, head movement king Toney?

Such a question has to come down to the experts if we’re to get anything like a halfway decent answer. So to three excellent fighters; two of them having faced Jones and Toney, the other having fought Toney and chased a fight with Jones – Michael Nunn, Montell Griffin and Merqui Sosa.

All three former champions were kind enough to answer the question: who is the greater fighter – James Toney or Roy Jones?

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Here’s what they said:

Montell Griffin (who went 1-1 with Jones and scored two wins over Toney):

“James Toney is the better technical fighter. Roy Jones at his best was God-gifted. I fought them both at their best.”

Michael Nunn (who was stopped by Toney and was “dodged” by Jones):

“Both of them are great fighters. But with the way things went for Roy later in his career, you might have to go with James. The reason is, with Roy being knocked out all those different times, yet James was always sharp enough not to have to take all those big hard power shots from the guys that he fought….. As you know I fought James and he was the first man to beat me, I was 35-0 when he beat me. So, yeah, my pick would be James Toney. Also, James fought me, whereas Roy has done everything possible not to fight me – even today. He is trying to fight Mike Tyson, when there was money on the table for me and him to fight. Anyway, you got it from the horse’s mouth, the way that Roy was knocked out, maybe he needs to find something else to do, because I don’t want to see anyone get hurt in the great sport of boxing.”

Merqui Sosa (who lost a split decision to Toney and was stopped quickly by Jones):

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“They’re both great but I will take James Toney.”

So, 3 and 0 in favour of Toney? It’s clear all the fighters you speak to have great respect for both Toney and Jones. Wouldn’t it have been great if Jones and Toney had boxed a rematch, sometime in 1995 or 1996?