Boxing fans will approach the April 30th James Toney vs. John Ruiz clash with nervous anticipation. Of course we will be faced with the very real possibility that the ‘fight’ could unravel into an agonizing clutch fest courtesy the bigger stronger Ruiz. But then there is the chance that Toney, a technician with more tools than Home Depot can impose his will thus ushering in an ‘interesting’ (37 year olds can’t be called ‘new’) era in the heavyweight division. Let’s face it though, likable all (Byrd, Brewster, Klitschko) the last time a ‘celebrity’ held a title dates back to when Mike Tyson said “Boo!” to Bruce Seldon in 1996. Back then James Toney was a light heavyweight and just beginning his self imposed spiral into pound for pound obscurity. Now in 2005 that same guy who lost his way may end this year as not only a heavyweight titleholder but also more importantly to mainstream sports fans a star!
Does the belt make the Man? Hell no, it’s the other way around.
They never stop holding heavyweight title fights, yet the value of the belt is as turbulent as any stock on the Dow Jones. Funny how the value tends to go up when Joe Louis wears it as opposed to Max Bear. If James Toney can block, slip, dip and chop down the Quiet Bostonian he will take his seat as a forerunner in what constitutes a renaissance year in boxing. Many people a lot smarter than me believe great fights (see Morales vs. Pacquiao) will bring the sport back but I believe there’s so much more to the equation. Guys like James Toney satisfy the public on all fronts, it takes a big personality to reach big audiences. If Spike TV is sincerely developing a reality series on boxing’s boss trash talker it is based on his performances as a guest on the Best Damn Sports Show Period, not his ability to throw hook uppercut combos with either hand.
Watching James banter with John Salley and NFL legends in between meltdowns is the modern day equivalent to the exposure that Olympians enjoyed with NBC back in boxing’s heyday. Is it the symmetry of Ali and Cosell on Wide World of Sports? No, but in today’s world of ‘crass sells’ it works. Toney, believe it or not, is the kind of guy mainstream sports fans want to call ‘champ’. Lennox Lewis only reigned with dignity, beating all comers as well as avenging all defeats. The only thing mainstream (is that code for American?) sports fans wanted to know was when someone like James would come along and knock Lennox out. So let’s face it, many of us will be watching on April 30th secretly rooting for the heavyweight title to return to a real Badass.
Easier said than done.
What will happen the first time ‘Jawny’ attempts to engage Lights Out in what I call ‘The Muscle Hustle’. Say what you want about John Ruiz but don’t forget, he’s imposed this ‘will over skill’ on much bigger and stronger men than James Toney. I believe the referee (as in the Jones fight) will matter in deterring Ruiz from being so, uh hem… affectionate. I also believe there’s a window of space (where Ruiz tends to lunge) where Toney will catch Ruiz with blistering uppercuts and hooks to the body. I’m in the minority when it comes to Toney’s ability to knock Ruiz out because I believe the Quitemans style will only enhance the velocity of James’s punch. Remember, Roy Jones buzzed Ruiz several times; it was RJ’s style that saved Ruiz from falling by accumulative affect. James Toney on the other hand has no problem with in his own words “beatin’ yo ass down”.
And if it can be done, then what?
The ripple affect will be felt far and wide my children; you’d be amazed what adding one loudmouth middleweight to the heavyweight mix can do. Suddenly, ‘part timers’ and the ‘semi retired’ will amazingly recommit themselves to fulltime pugilism. If James Toney puts a real hurting on John Ruiz, Roy Jones will put down the salads and call Mackey Shilstone. It’s no secret that RJ’s legendary stubbornness is the only thing that keeps him at ‘deadweight’ (uh, I meant light heavyweight). The last time Roy Jones resembled Superman was at 193lbs yet that cape is gathering dust. Let’s see if James Toney strutting around with the WBA strap dismissing RJ as a ‘bum’ will give Roy that little ‘something’ he’s been looking for. Money? Hell, Roy would take a cool million, set a few chickens free and give Don King 10 options just to stop that torment.
Hasim Rahman, who provided a glimmer of personality before Lewis vaporized him in a rematch, will train like a demon for his upcoming fight with Vitali Klitschko. Not that facing the recognized Ring heavyweight champion isn’t enough motivation for Rahman, it’s just that guys like James make it personal and most of the best fights are. If Rahman can get by ‘Dr. K’ a macthup with Toney will present him with his first legitimate heavyweight threat. Let’s not leave out Chris Byrd who would gladly take on Lights Out in a ‘loser leaves Michigan’ fight in Motown. Imagine the buildup to ‘Civil War’ with James giving Chris hell about “letting yo woman talk for you”. James Toney may produce enough venom and trash to provoke Christian Chris to use profanity, and we’ll love it.
And last but not least, yep you guessed it…
Do you think Mike Tyson would sit by and let a former middleweight reign as ‘the Man’ in the division? Tyson has an ego (among other disorders) and one of the things he coveted most was his impact, as ‘old schoolers’ would say ‘juice’. Tyson was very aware of the difference between himself and Lennox Lewis. He once said more people would come watch him use the bathroom than watch Lewis fight. Though always an icon, don’t tell me Tyson would be content in a world of ‘James TV’ all day, all the time. Not to mention Mike’s beloved ‘street cred’ will also be infringed upon by James Toney; I can hear the slurs of ‘Fake Thug’ flying right now. If I were Don King I’d have Leroy pack the briefcase with 20’s and call my lawyer.
The Media will open the floodgates to James Toney; we’ll converge on him like long lost cousins that didn’t even know uncle ‘Jawny’. We’ll tolerate his every rant and try to say that we all knew he would ultimately win a belt at heavyweight. We’ll do what you’re supposed to do when guys like Rodman or Tyson excel at a high level we’ll over saturate. And what would James Toney say to all of this?
“Bum writers! Ya’ll don’t know nothin’ about boxing! Always writin’ about fake ass fighters, punks that dance around the ring… Thought I was gone when I got hurt? Well I’m back, bitch.”
Until The Next ‘Jones’
‘The Boxing Junkie’.
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