James Toney Has Become the Rodney Dangerfield of Boxing, and It Ain't Right

James Toney can't get no respect. With three belts at three weight divisions, wins against Michael Nunn, Mike McCallum, Iran Barkley, Vassiliy Jirov, and Charles Williams, you would think this hall of fame boxer and living legend would get more respect than he does from today's fans. Toney has a problem keeping his weight down? Stop the fucking presses. When was the last time you heard someone say something--anything--about Toney that didn't wind up mentioning his weight? He deserves better, and he's going to get it here, at least from me.

James was once the most feared non-heavyweight in boxing. In the three and a half years after he first took the middleweight IBF from Michael Nunn, until his first career loss to Roy Jones, he faced and destroyed a jaw-dropping twenty opponents in three weight divisions. That's an average of six opponents per year, always taking on the best that dared fight him. Compare that to our current prima donnas. During that time, Toney had a reputation somewhat like Margarito's today--he terrified the competition--except Toney was unbeaten and was regarded with an aura of Tyson-like invulnerability.

Lights Out is known as one of the finest defensive boxers ever, especially on the inside, but few acknowledge that his hand-speed ranks among the all-time greats. In the 20-year history of CompuBox, Toney is the only fighter to land 400-plus punches in a title fight four times. He pummeled a tough Iran Barkley 401 times in under nine rounds. And these are knockout hands. Check out this crushing annihilation of then-undefeated Michael Nunn, this casebook KO of `Prince' Charles Williams, or this one, which seemed to liquefy Jason Robinson's bones.

Toney's comeback has been an almost complete success, the only blemish being his tie with Hasim Rahman. Yet with Jirov, Holyfield, Ruiz, and Guinn under his belt, how did the announcers at HBO treat him coming into the fight? Did we get the kind of standard build-up we expect, perhaps mentioning some of what I just discussed? What Toney fans got (how many "Rahman fans" are there anyway?) was relentless, asinine remarks about his weight, no mention of his greatness, and one of the most biased and inaccurate Lederman scorecards I've seen. Larry Merchant, trying to be cheeky, referred to Toney as a "tub of goo."

As with most truly great boxers, Toney's biggest enemy is himself. I think that tie with Rahman will be good for him--a wake-up call, hopefully, to take his fights more seriously, even with such poor competition in the heavyweight division. Toney rightfully turned down a weak offer from the Klitchko camp, and word is now that he will face Samuel Peter. You can probably guess who I think will win. But although cobwebs may appear under Peter's arms waiting for his punches to land, he is tough and a bulldozer when he does connect. This is a heavyweight fight that we can genuinely look forward to, but if the HBO crew acts as idiotically as with the Rahman fight, it might be best to watch with the volume down.

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