Date with destiny for Toney or chance for credibility for Ruiz?


29.04.05 – By William Peden: It’s pretty fair to say that every era of boxing is considered to be interesting by everyone except those who live during it.In thirty years time, boxing fans of today will be envied by their children and grandchildren for living in such an exciting era (or at least an era that was better than their own “dull” era.) The May edition of Ring Magazine 1938 had Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey facing each other, with the headline “Louis Dempsey – Who would have won?.”

You don’t have to be a collector of Ring magazine to know the result that the writers predicted. When a young upstart called Cassius Clay signed to fight Sonny Liston, Milton Gross wrote “Cassius the fighter, like Cassius the recording star, is a figment of somebody else’s imagination. Only in this day of mediocrity could he be fighting for the world’s heavyweight championship.” This is a man many refer to as The Greatest he’s talking about, much in the same way that boxing experts (and fans, including myself) talk about fighters today. Milton Gross would have had to eat his words- so, perhaps, will we.

Another person who may well be eating words in the not-too-distant future will be Norman Stone. James Toney is also putting more that his chance at the title on the line tomorrow night. In many ways, Toney-Ruiz presents the kind of opportunity that fans have been dreaming about since Ruiz “won” the WBA title: the opportunity to get rid of perhaps the most hated heavyweight boxer in the world today. However, Ruiz-Toney also presents the chance for heavyweight boxing to (partially) redeem itself after four months so far into 2005 that haven’t been inspiring to say the least.

Firstly, I want to state that I don’t like either boxer, really. I find Ruiz’s style quite unbearable to watch, and the only fights of his that have interested me have been the Jones fight and Tua fight, both of which saw fighters force him to fight like a boxer should. Toney is much more exciting to watch, and is one of the most skilled boxers above middleweight today, but I don’t like his bragging, although I think it’s impossible not to admire his achievements.

Ruiz versus Toney is far more difficult to analyse than Klitschko-Rahman or Byrd-Klitschko (whether we’ll ever get to see either bout is still in question) because there are so many question marks over the fight. Has James Toney finally went one weight category too far? Will Ruiz be able to execute his stab and grab tactics? Will Toney’s promise to use the uppercut be upheld? Most significantly, will the judges be watching the same fight as the rest of us?

The first question of weight is perhaps the most difficult to answer. We still haven’t seen Toney face a decent heavyweight contender, and he certainly hasn’t been active recently to justify his worrying size. However, we saw Roy Jones step up to heavyweight and defeat Ruiz, and look perhaps better than he actually was. Provided Toney can get a sympathetic referee who doesn’t let Ruiz use his superior strength to wear him down with hugs and kisses, he should be able to survive the weight problem. Of course, I say should because this is James Toney and weight has proven to be his fatal flaw in the past.

So, the question of the rules arises. Will Ruiz be allowed to bend the rules, as has happened in the past, or will we see a repeat of Jones-Ruiz, with the referee not allowing him to perform his usual tactics? This is one question that cannot be answered. It we won’t have a clue until the first round, but considering how scared Ruiz looked at a press conference, I think any official worth his check should be able to keep the octopus’s tentacles firmly wrapped up.

Will Toney use the uppercut? It depends. Uppercuts can be very risky, especially when your opponent has a habit of “sneaking” punches in. They require either a great chin like George Foreman or skill and speed like Larry Holmes. Since Toney has both a good chin (at least below heavyweight), plenty of speed and excellent skill, I don’t see him having any problems using the uppercut to good effect, unless Ruiz shows exceptional counter-punching ability.

Finally, there is the judges issue. Every time I criticise judges in boxing for either being biased or corrupt, a bunch of the last good judges on earth come up with a major decision that is absolutely spot on. Poor decisions have been a feature of boxing probably since the first fight that wasn’t a fight to the finish, but I don’t think this fight will have any question marks over it. I think the winner will become quite apparent within the first few rounds.

And who will come out of this fight with the WBA title? Ruiz isn’t a fighter to be underestimated. He has an annoying habit, in fact, of winning the fights where he should lose (as in the Golota fight) and losing the fights where, if he had a legitimate strategy, he would have won (as in the Jones fight). Here, however, I think Toney will win, or at least should win. If he doesn’t, I predict his loss will be due to either poor enforcement of the rules or some dire decisions. I don’t think, due to the weight issue, this fight will be quite the dramatic triumph Toney could have hoped for, but I do think this will be one of the crowning moments in the career of James Toney, and one that the boxing historians of 2035 will be analysing when considering his amazing trip from middleweight to heavyweight.

Bonus prediction- we will not have a unified champion by the end of 2006 in either the heavyweight, cruiserweight or light- heavyweight divisions. However, I do predict that Vitali Klitschko will beat Hasim Rahman and finally gain the signature win that he needs to give justice to his ability.