There has been a lot of talk about 41-year old boxer James Toney bringing the coveted boxing audience with him into the Octagon as he tests the rough waters of the UFC against Randy Couture. For years, boxing and MMA fans have engaged in a Cold War of words. Like traditional martial artists, boxing promoters and fans were quick to go onto the attack after the UFC made its debut in November 1993. They were clearly seeing the writing on the wall: a younger, hipper, and more violent spectacle was stepping onto boxing's turf, and boxing was desperate to avoid a direct comparison. In 17 years, despite plenty of big talk, no top level boxer has ever stepped into the Octagon or into Pride's ring, despite millions of dollars being on the table. That is about to change. Or is it?
Toney was once, indisputably, one of the very best boxers in the world. He exploded onto the scene with a shocking win over Hall of Famer Michael Nunn. That was in 1991. Great fights with Iran Barkley, Mike McCallum and Reggie Johnson solidified his status as a top guy. Those days have long since past.
When people talk about Toney bringing the boxing audience or proving a point to boxing fans remember this-his last fight was on the untelevised undercard of an Andre Ward bout on Showtime. His last headlining performance on PPV? 16 years ago against Roy Jones. Toney has never drawn boxing fans in, and as he's eaten his way out of weight class after weight class, he hasn't even been able to compel them to watch on free television. He was a complete flop on Fox Sports, where they attempted to use him as a headliner. The best Toney has ever been able to do in the ratings is a paltry .91 for FSN (Rydell Booker, 2004).
By the time he fought Samuel Peter on Showtime in 2007 fans had given up on him. The no-talent Nigerian fighter, grossly overweight, did the Ali shuffle to Toney, winning a disgraceful decision. Really. It was his last fight on premium cable. Reduced to fighting on Versus, Toney couldn't even live up to those modest expectations. His horrifying bout with Fres Oquendo killed not just the crowd, but boxing on Versus as well. Bad Left Hook was not pleased with Toney's performance in that fight, or his inflated reputation.
All we hear is what a wonderful throwback he is, such a delight to watch perform, and if you don't like watching the out-of-shape, blown-up middleweight fight lame, dreadful bouts at heavyweight, you're clearly not appreciating his art form.
I get it with Toney. He was a spectacular fighter up through cruiser, and he's been a legit heavyweight contender, which is a lot more than you might have thought to ask of him in his prime. Still, the guy has given the sport a black eye more than once, and nobody seems to care. The "boxing person" has a fascination with Toney. Is he really that charming?
He's charming enough to have robbed Fres Oquendo of a win on Saturday, which is just another chapter of the careers of both men, and it's the same as the rest of them. Toney is given a gift by judges, Oquendo gets one taken away from him. You can argue Oquendo deserved a win over Evander Holyfield a couple years ago, and he didn't get it. That fight was closer than this one. Oquendo beat Toney. Toney should be retiring or marching his way down the ladder to fight on with deluded hopes of winning a title again.
This is the James Toney that is supposed to compel boxing fans to buy a pay per view? A guy being called on to retire from boxing, a guy who has "treated" fans to a succession of bad fights, failed drug tests, and lackluster efforts at weight control? It will get plenty of media attention in the months ahead, but I don't think it will draw a boxing audience. They gave up on James Toney years ago.