Will Age, Cigars, and Flab Finally Catch Up With James Toney?

29.01.06 – By Craig Parrish: It has happened time and time again in Boxing. A great Fighter, with years of superb performances under his belt, takes a long layoff between fights. He is getting up in years, has slowed a bit, but still comes out and dominates opponents through desire, skill, and experience. No, he’s not the fighter that he once was, but he is still competitive. After the layoff, a fight is set. The Fighter, realizing that he is out of shape, hits his training regiment hard. But this time, the pounds don’t come off as quickly.

The workouts and sparring are harder to perform and harder to recover from. And worst of all, the snap in the punches is not there and the combinations are difficult to put together. He gets winded easy. And he gets frustrated. Slowly, the thoughts enter his mind “It’s okay. I’m a better fighter. I’ll just beat him with skill. Nothing to worry about. I don’t need to kill myself with this. I am the best. No problem.”

James Toney is a magnificent fighter. He is more technically skilled and savvy than any current Heavyweight out there. He is also 38 years old, borderline obese, and a cigar smoker. So far, his superior skills have carried him through his Heavyweight bouts, although they have been against outclassed opponents for the most part. On Saturday, March 18th at Boardwalk Hall, Toney will face his toughest Heavyweight challenge yet when he takes on newly crowned WBC Champ Hasim Rahman.

Although Rahman has had a checkered career as a fighter and inherited the WBC strap when Vitali Klitschko retired, he must be considered the larger threats to Toney’s Championship run so far, given his last few perfomances. Toney easily bested John Ruiz earlier for the WBA belt but was stripped when he tested positive for steroids. Add Ruiz to the previously mentioned outclassed opponents. Given the fact that Ruiz has beaten Rahman, will he be anymore of a challenge for Toney? Again, solely based on Rahman’s recent pummeling of Kali Meehan, I would say yes if for no other reason than Rahman seems to be inspired. So it’s Toney vs. Rahman. James is getting another shot. Looking at the track records of the fighters, Toney would seem to be the logical choice to win this fight on points, unless Rahman can land one of the “Lennox Lewis special” punches.

But will this be the fight that the age and weight catch up with Toney? James has not been in shape for any of his recent fights, but again won on skill. Look at Evander Holyfield. In his fairly recent fight with Larry Donald, Holyfield looked like the same magnificent physical specimen he has always been. But he appeared to be ready to drop at any moment, not from punches, but from sheer exhaustion. Although his skills have been slipping for years, it was almost as if someone flipped a switch and Evander had aged 10 years overnight. No combinations. Single punches with no power. Evander even admitted afterward that he knew what to do, he could see the openings, but his body simply wouldn’t respond in time to what his brain was telling it to do. By the time he reacted, it was too late. And this was from a man, although a few years older than Toney, seemed to be extremely fit.

Everyone always throws out the George Foreman example when discussing aging Heavyweights. Yes, Foreman won it at 45 but George is also rather a freak on nature. He is certainly the exception, not the rule. Toney does not have nearly the devastating knockout power of George. George was slow as molasses but could stand there and take a beating, bide his time, and wait to unload. Toney does not really have this option. His game is based on skill, speed, and reaction time. At 38 and vastly overweight, will the physical ability still be there after this passage of time? We will see.

James Toney is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant division. One must admire his single-minded determination and respect is due given what he’s done, especially as he is not a true Heavyweight. But the clock is ticking. Hopefully James can win his title legitimately and with no controversy, before someone flips the switch and the game is over.