Much has been written, discussed and intellectualized about the current state of the heavyweight division. Many boxing historians and observers compare this era (in it’s sparse quality) to the period that immediately preceded Mr. Joe Louis himself. Given historical trends and shifts many believe that this is no cause for panic citing periodic lulls that usually occur before the next 'sheriff' saunters into town. This current 'dark age' is characterized by a lack of mainstream acceptance, splintered titles that spawn overpriced “box-offs” (see November 13th) and a less than potent amateur pool of talent. Now I am not one to over complicate matters by prophesizing about a young man who is most likely in the 6th grade; I prefer to address the root of the problem with what is available today. I am a big fan of the best seller “He’s just not that into you” because it reduces what women have long viewed as the mystifying phenomena of commitment phobia into a finite six word truth. As far as the heavyweight division goes I’ve come to believe in the same six-word solution for the 'in-ring' related ills we so often discuss. The-heavyweight-division-needs-a-badass. Enter James 'Lights Out' Toney.
As I write this James Toney is boxing's reigning badass, that boogeyman who goes bump in the night forcing light heavyweights with basketball height to keep eating salads. His resume matched only by his orneriness is the stuff of legend, including titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight. At 36 the Michigan badman is enjoying a late career renaissance with direct aim at heavyweight stardom. With his most recent boxing lesson over Rydell Booker, Lights Out is positioned firmly in the crosshairs of WBC kingpin Vitali Klitschko. The only fighter credible enough to pull off a portrayal of a prime 'Smokin' Joe Frazier (in Michael Mann’s “Ali”) makes no secret what he thinks of Klitschko and any other heavyweight with a belt. James affectionately refers to the current crop of 'titlest' as “bums” or “bitches” that don’t wanna fight. Coming from any other pugilist such tirades would be considered merely PR, but coming from a veteran of countless ring wars and, uh hem, 'incidents' and it’s a call to arms. Let’s face it fight fans, we like our heavyweights surly and James Toney is about as surly as they come.
Many fans don’t appreciate the antics of the combustible Toney, yet his foundation for taking such a belligerent stance is entrenched in the Old School. Toney is a throwback to a time when writers didn’t rave over body fat ratios and nutritionist, a time when fighters were in 'fighting shape'. Toney is arguably the best defensive fighter of modern times, with a granite chin tucked behind perpetually rotating shoulders he’s like a grunting computer programmed to counter anything an opponent can think of throwing at him. The reason I give him a shot at dethroning the WBC goliath is his advanced punch variation and commitment to breaking down the body. Toney is an old school technician; and it would be daunting for any heavyweight, despite the size disparity, to keep him at bay with a rudimentary jab. A lot of experts question whether Toney has the ‘power’ to get a legitimate big man's respect. I believe that Toney’s skill level would render the power of a bigger man ineffective due to the denial of angles and opportunities to get full leverage on power shots. In close quarters Toney’s deft acuity is far too advanced for any heavyweight titlest to defend against. Manny Steward can teach big guys to fight 'tall' but can he teach a guy to counter same-hand hook-uppercut combinations?
James Toney also enters the ring with a fighter’s mentality, one similar to the Archie Moores and Jersey Joe Walcotts he so idolizes. It would take a championship tenacity and fire to resist the attack of one of boxings few authentic tough guys. Examine the mental make up of the November 13th card with the exception of the gallant Holyfield and tell me what you see. James would call them 'bitches' but I prefer to say that most of these guys are either anxiety ridden, confidence challenged, underachievers or all of the above. Imagine Toney walking away from a fight after taking a couple of hard shots in round three or standing idly by as his trainer participated in the customary 'press conference brawl'. Listen, James Toney may not be the savior of the heavyweight division but he can certainly stimulate interest during lean times. Hopefully by 2005 Ring Magazine's 'most likely to go to my trunk and get my gun' will be healed up and ready to take a real shot at becoming heavyweight champ. With any luck by then I’ll be eligible for abuse from James in some of his interviews as 'the champ'.
Boxing Junkie: Wussup champ, how ya feelin?
Toney: Don’t be askin me shit, do you fight? You don’t know nothin' about boxing. How they gonna let a little midget write about boxing!
Boxing Junkie: (fighting off laughter) Uh, James, let’s talk about your reign as champ what would you say makes you a special fighter?
Toney: What kind of stupid ass question is that? Special? What the hell? Cus I’m James Toney, bitch!
Until the Next “Jones”
The “Boxing Junkie”
© Copyright / All Rights reserved: Doghouse Boxing 1998-2004