Boxing is an integral part of any mixed martial artist's offensive arsenal, and it's about as necessary as wrestling when it comes to being successful in this sport. Many of the greatest fighters in today's era possess solid boxing skills, but the question that has never truly been answered on such a big stage is whether a pure boxer can transition to the sport and win against respectable competition. James Toney (0-0, 0-0 UFC) will serve as a representative of the fading sport of boxing on Saturday night as he battles UFC legend Randy Couture (18-10, 15-7 UFC) in heavyweight action. The bout has served as a potential draw for crossover fans, but it's more accurate to depict it as a way in which Dana White can prove that these pure boxers can't simply step into the Octagon and dominate MMA's elite.
Toney is no doubt an able combatant in the stand-up game, notching IBF middleweight, super-middleweight, and cruiserweight championships during his reign in the ring. He has the speed and power to down anyone willing to stand in front of him in the ring, but the question is whether he can transition those skills and learn the tricks of staying on his feet in a sport that encompasses combat in all situations.
The UFC isn't throwing Toney a meatball in his first professional bout. While Couture has slowed down in his old age, he still remains one of the best the sport has ever seen in utilizing his Greco-Roman wrestling background and pounding opponents. He's very good at controlling the clinch and neutralizing a fighter's strength, and Toney will need to somehow avoid those situations while unloading his power.
Toney's training camp has been of some interest in the lead-up to this fight. While many camps aren't secretive about what's going on, Toney's camp has remained rather silent in how he has been preparing for this match-up. Only tidbits of information that seem sensational have leaked from the camp, and some fighters who have been brought in have stated that Toney has the strength to be a threat on the ground if he can actually learn some positioning.
But I'm not buying that talk. For a man who has strictly boxed all his life to step in front of a nightmare in the clinch like Randy Couture, I'd have to believe time is certainly against Toney. Time, that is, in the training room, and Toney hasn't had the luxury of an extensive training camp nor a background in anything but the art of pugilism. Of course, that does play a big part in this fight, but Couture's gameplan will revolve around Toney's greatest weakness -- the ground game.
I'm not going to give this bout the meticulous comb through that I would normally give to a marquee match-up. It's just too obvious how this fight is going to go down. Either Toney bombs Couture with a fury of fists in the opening encounter, or Couture topples Toney into his world on the ground. I'll go with the latter.