BEFORE THE LIGHTS GO OUT: THE JAMES TONEY STORY PART 2

by Cain Bradley

We left Toney at a cross-roads in his career. Was he about to throw his success away?


On his return Toney went on a winning streak. Heavyweight Ramon Garbey was a victim of this run and in 2003 Toney got his chance against Jason Robinson in an IBF eliminator defeating him by stoppage.


Vassiliy Jirov, the unbeaten champion, would stand in his way. The aggressive Kazakh took it to Toney, making it a Fight of the Year contender. The final round was the icing on the cake as Jirov looked to catch Toney early. Toney fought back, countering shots whilst against the ropes and dropped Jirov for the first time in his career. He won a wide unanimous decision and Jirov was never the same.


Following this, he would move to the heavyweight division to take on Evander Holyfield. Holyfield was 2-3-2 over his last seven fights, but was still a top fighter. The previous year The Ring magazine rankings saw him fourth in the heavyweight division.


After a tight opening, Toney began to dominate with quick hands and clever combinations. A left hook to the body dropped Holyfield, before the towel was thrown in to stop the fight in round nine. Toney was a contender in the heavyweight division and won the Ring 'Fighter of the Year' for the second time in his career.

A couple of fights after this and he would take on John Ruiz for his WBA title belt. Roy Jones Jr. had beaten him a few fights earlier so Toney was confident heading into the fight. Toney was busier and landed 45% of his punches in a poor fight to take the title. A couple of weeks later and Toney had his title stripped from him. Toney had tested positive for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. His team believed the reading came from the medication he took whilst injured after having surgery on his ruptured left biceps and triceps tendons. As Toney quipped,


“If I’m the poster boy for steroids, steroids is going out of business.”


He returned just six months later with a unanimous victory over Dominick Guinn. Hasim Rahman and his WBA belt were next for Toney. As always, the pre-fight camaraderie saw the men exchange insults.


Rahman took the fight to Toney, trying to outwork him. Toney perhaps landed the cleaner shots against the volume of Rahman but the judges scored it a majority draw, much to the disappointment of both men. Freddie Roach waved away Toney’s post-fight apology as the judges did not understand countering, while Toney himself declared to his wife that he was still the best heavyweight in the world.

Toney received a mediocre offer to fight Wladimir Klitschko, which he turned down. Instead he fought a WBC eliminator against the highly regarded Samuel Peter. Toney mainly avoided the power-punching of Peter, making him miss the target more often than not.


Despite that, he lost a controversial split-decision. Given the controversy, an immediate rematch was granted. This time, it was clear-cut. Peter dominated behind his jab, using his reach to keep himself out of range. Another rematch came for Toney against Rahman. It was again tinged with controversy. After landing a great right hand in the second round, the two clashed heads in the third round. With blood leaking into Rahman’s eye, he declared he could not continue. The ref originally declared it a Toney win but was eventually ruled a no contest.


Fres Oquendo came next and the two engaged in an intriguing clash. Toney dominated early, but Oquendo came on strong, hurting Toney late. Oquendo dropped a split-decision thanks to a point deduction for rabbit-punching.


Toney was not done with desiring big fights. With his boxing career looking over, he cast a glance towards the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and the UFC. He terrorized UFC president Dana White, asking for a sit-down meeting. Toney eventually wore him down and soon a fight with UFC legend Randy Couture was announced. Of course, Toney talked a good fight. He insulted Couture, Brock Lesnar, Dana White, Joe Rogan and Jon Jones prior to the fight and insisted he would put Couture to sleep, even if Couture got him to the floor.