James Toney: Legit contender or heavyweight joke?
By Benny Henderson Jr. (December 22, 2004)  
James 'Lights Out' Toney
He’s flashy, he’s ballsy, he’s arrogant, he's comical at times, he’s skillful and he just don’t give a $@%&. Yeah, it can only be the one and only James Toney. He’s been a contender, a champion, a boxer, a slugger, a winner, a loser and he has a mouth to go along with it. He is undoubtedly one of the most talented fighters in the world today with over sixteen years in the boxing biz and seventy-four total bouts, a three-time world champion who has competed in five divisions and at thirty-six years-old he is still moving on.

Regardless of whether you like or dislike his balls-to-the-wall, I-could-care-less-what-the-hell-you-think attitude, you have to arrive at the conclusion that 'Lights Out' knows how to put on a show. He’s skillful, tough as nails with a solid defense and is a superb counter puncher in one package deal.

After sporting a 31-2 (29) record in the amateurs, the twenty-year old Toney broke into the professional ranks in 1988 and went on to defeat forty-four opponents with no losses and two draws before he would taste defeat for the first time in his six year career when he faced the then undefeated Roy Jones Jr. in 1994. Before the first L on his record he would earn victories over the likes of undefeated IBF middleweight champion Michael Nunn, who he stopped in round eleven, win a majority decision over Mike McCallum, who he had previously fought to a draw, school an old school Iran Barkley and destroy the then undefeated Tim Littles eight months before he would take on Jones Jr. Toney would get a double whammy from Jones Jr. and Montell Griffin in back-to-back fights and then go on a winning campaign of nine fights before being defeated once again by Griffin, this time as a light heavyweight. After his second loss to Griffin, Toney would step in the ring for the third time against McCallum, earning a second victory over 'The Body Snatcher' in the rubbermatch of their trilogy. After dropping a loss to Drake Thadzi for the IBO light heavyweight title, which Toney blamed on coming in overweight, 'Lights Out' has flourished, pounding out fourteen straight victories bringing his professional ledger to 68-4-2 (43) and is still on the move, which brings us up to date.

After accomplishing so much from middleweight to cruiserweight in his career, does Toney really have what it takes to compete with the big boys of the heavyweight division? Is he a legit contender or just another heavyweight joke? Yes, he did defeat a forty-one year-old Evander Holyfield, who went 2-3-2 in his last seven bouts prior to Toney. And with disposing of a less than impressive undefeated Rydell Booker, whose biggest career victory was over Arthur Williams, 37-8-1, in 2003, does that really make James Toney the answer to the heavyweight division? After beating just two heavyweights Toney now has the WBC #1, WBA #2, IBF #4 and WBO #1 spots in the division. Okay, we know the rankings are corrupt so let’s look at Ring Magazines and USA Today’s ranking who are more respectable and credible. Ring Magazine has Toney holding down #4, while USA Today slots him in at #5.

Now I’m not here to debate the rankings. My question is has Toney showed the boxing public that he really has what it takes to take on the big guys and why does the boxing public think Toney is the answer for the heavyweight blues? I have come to the conclusion that Toney is the answer for the division for the simple fact of entertainment.

Entertainment – ah, what a funny word – is something the heavyweight division has lacked in the recent years. With mediocre fighters, lackluster performances and bad calls from judges who should know better, the division itself has become a mockery of the past and is without what the boxing public wants: entertainment. Sure a dominant champion is what the fans want, but they also want entertaining bouts mixed in the pot. Toney has the skill level and mind set to make an interesting run for the crown, but can he use his accolades to surpass the top guys in the division and reign as the superior one? After beginning his career at the weight of 160 and then blossoming into a 227-pound fighter at a late stage in his career, can he still pose a legit threat?

Sure there have been guys move up to rule the division and one in particular is four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, but look at the age difference between the two. Holyfield was in his early twenties, whereas Toney is in his mid thirties. But at this point with the heavyweight title holders ranging from thirty-three year-old WBC champion Vitali Klitschko, thirty-four year-old IBF Champion Chris Byrd, thirty-two year-old WBA champion John Ruiz and thirty-one year-old WBO champion Lamon Brewster, does the age difference even play a part in this equation? Toney has the heart, the talent and the skill level, but is it enough to compete in the heavyweight division against legit opponents or to beat a behemoth like Klitschko? Toney seems to think so, or he is just one of the best bull&@#$ artists of all time.

And is that what attracts the fans to James Toney the most, just knowing this guy is willing to go out there and give it his all to win and put on a show for the fans. It's what we all want, isn’t it, a guy who is willing to go for broke and to be entertaining in the process. But is James Toney that man? Sure he can kick around a few tomato cans, but can he keep healthy long enough to prove that he is the special someone by beating a top guy in the division? Should he actually beat a real heavyweight – or should I say defeat more than a washed up shell of a man or an untalented borderline journeyman – before he starts rattling off at the mouth to get THE MAN?

Well, that is the infatuation the fans have for Toney. There is never a dull moment when he is around and no matter at what cost or how foolish he may appear to be at times, he brings a show. For example look at Mike Tyson. What is his draw to the fans? It has been proven that Tyson isn’t what he used to be, but the boxing viewers still shell out their hard earned dough to witness the bombshell’s explosion. It is entertaining to see what will happen next, the element of surprise to see what the crazed fighter will do next captures our attention.

There are a lot of young guys and veterans out there in the division claiming to be the next big thing amongst the heavyweights, but are the fans responding to them as they do Toney? If not then why, what has James Toney accomplished in the division to get the total respect and attention from the fans? Let’s not take away his great career prior to his debut as a heavyweight. Toney has done more than enough to get his props from the boxing world for his past accomplishments but what about as a heavyweight, has he done enough to prove to be a legit contender? Has he done enough to continue to run off at the mouth to the heavyweight titleholders by calling them out and mocking them every chance he gets?

Regardless of whether or not you think James Toney has climbed that mountain to be considered one of the top dogs in the division, he is at this point the most unruly, outspoken fighter in this era. And if that is what entertains you, then you are always in for a show when the Toney Circus roles into town. So if you ponder on his performance so far as a heavyweight you can be the one to decide if James Toney is a legit contender or just another heavyweight joke, but for entertainment purposes 'Lights Out' is pound-for-pound the showstopper.

Make sure to take part in Big Dog's Punching Bag: Year End Review 2004 Benny Henderson Jr.
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