29.04.05 – By Don Caputo: Great champions are born, not made. Example: James ‘Lights Out’ Toney (68-4-2 43 KOs). The former middleweight, supper-middleweight, and cruiserweight champion came into this world thirty-six years ago with boxing just as much a part of him as the fingers on his once small, but now heavy and destructive hands.. His innate aptitude for the sport allows him to ply his craft in such a way that transports us back through time as we watch and admire the ‘old school’ skills of a fighter who could have easily been plucked from an era past. What Toney does in the ring cannot be taught, it is instinctive, it is in his blood.
Watching him as he baffles and then breaks down his hapless opponents with subtle, yet remarkably evasive defensive maneuvers, flawless punching technique, and pin-point accuracy, one can sense, almost eerily, the ghosts of Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles shadowing his movements.
Toney will one day have a place in the hall of fame next to those two great figures, of that I have no doubt, though at this present time his greatness must be seen as a level below theirs – quite clearly in fact. Now embarking on the final chapter of his illustrious career in the heavyweight division, there is still plenty of time to change that.
Toney’s undisciplined nature has resulted in an inconsistent career, his phenomenal talent rarely maximized in large patches as he would gauge himself between fights with fast-food and balloon to obscene sizes before boiling back down to make the 160 and 168-pound limits to defend his titles. One thing is clear; the struggle to shed the pounds severely impacted on his
increasingly unspectacular performances. Come fight time, he often had the drained and lethargic look of a man who had not eaten in days – he probably hadn’t.
Weight has always been James Toney’s biggest issue; he openly attributes all of his losses to not being in proper shape, the most notable blotch on his record of course being the thrashing he took at the hands of Roy Jones Jr. over a decade ago. Speculation has it that he went into training for that particular fight weighing in excess of 212-pounds and with only four days to go before the bout, still had 18 pounds to lose. Not Jones’ problem at the end of the day. Toney was well beaten and his legacy damaged because he lacked discipline.
Tomorrow night, Toney will make his bid to become only the second former middleweight champion to hold a piece of the heavyweight crown since Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897. It will be a potentially historical fight therefore, yet hype has not played a part in its build-up. The showdown seems to have slipped completely under the boxing world’s radar, despite its clear significance. Why? Lack of interest in the clash probably stems from the fact that John Ruiz, Toney’s opponent, was beaten so comprehensively by another blown-up middleweight, Roy Jones, back in 2003. To most, he does not represent a real heavyweight champion, or indeed, even much of a challenge for the slick Toney.
Add into the mix the unbearable boredom Ruiz never fails to inflict on us with his sleep-inducing punch and grab style, and the fog should begin to clear. Any event with him as part of the feature will not be easy to sell, historical or not; sorry Johnny. But with wins over Evander Holyfield, Kirk Johnson, Hasim Rahman, Fres Oquendo, and Andrew Golota, it is very hard
to dismiss him as anything less than a very good fighter. His style may not be aesthetically pleasing, but he gets the job done with the tools that his limited ability provides him with. Never has so much been accomplished with so little, he is not in Toney’s class as a fighter but with the Kung-Fu grip that he appears to have on his title, would I be surprised if he somehow finds a way to once again emerge victorious? In a word, yes.
Toney will be the smaller man in size only tomorrow night, for he out-weighs Ruiz considerably in ability, experience and ring smarts. “I am promising to knock him out. I told people I’d knockout Holyfield and that’s exactly what I did. Now I’m telling you I’ll knockout Ruiz.” Toney, volatile as ever, does not waste time mincing his words. The pressure is on him now to back up his boasts.