by David P. Greisman
James Toney has won a championship in one division, world titles in two others. Roy Jones Jr. held titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight.
They have nearly 130 wins between them. Both will be in the Hall of Fame five years after they retire — if they ever retire.
Both are 43. The greats are no longer. Their names are all they have left.
Even that doesn’t mean as much anymore.
Toney fought Saturday night in a bout seen only by those in an arena in Mississippi. There was no television broadcast. There was no independent pay-per-view. There was no online stream. There weren’t even any highlights available on the Internet more than 24 hours after Toney beat Bobby Gunn.
Jones, meanwhile, spent one evening last week in Moscow, walking to a boxing ring wearing a robe and gloves while one of his rap songs played. He wasn’t there to fight, however, but to lip synch along to what could charitably be called his greatest hits, a musical interlude before the main event.
The feature fight was headlined by Denis Lebedev, a cruiserweight who had knocked Jones out last May and who defeated Toney by decision in November.
It was too fitting that the first song Jones performed was “Y’all Must’ve Forgot.”
“And I won’t stop boxing ‘til I retire,” he says at one point. Then later: “Y’all must’ve forgot. This is what I do. We could go on and on.”
The most recent bout mentioned in that song is Jones’ decision win over David Telesco in 2000. The album was released in 2002. Two years later Jones was knocked out by Antonio Tarver. He’s fought 12 times in the eight years since then, winning six and losing six.
Toney won a heavyweight title from John Ruiz in 2005, only to have that win invalidated because he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. In the seven years since he’s fought 10 times, going 5-3-1 with 1 no contest.
This is a sport where boxers can profit on their past when they’re past their primes. Like aging rock bands making repeated reunion tours, they don’t look the same or perform with the same energy, but they still can send the fans home happy.
These faded fighters face opponents who never would have deserved to share the ring with them before. Those are the harmless wins. Then there are the painful defeats, the struggles and sacrificial showings against the younger, fresher and better who benefit from whatever remains of their victims’ name value.
Nearly nobody can avoid the allure of the spotlight and the paycheck and the pipe dream of one last run at greatness.
George Foreman’s success has produced a series of failures since.
Nobody retires or stays retired. There are more name heavyweights remaining from the ‘80s, ‘90s and “the aughts” than there ought to be. Jameel McCline left the sport in 2009 but has fought three times since December. Monte Barrett’s retirement lasted as long as the next contract offer. David Tua finally gave up the ghost more than a decade after his one and only title shot.
Evander Holyfield is turning 50 this year.
This isn’t the parade down Canastota for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. This is closer to baseball’s Old Timer’s Game. They’re still trying to perform, in limited form.
Rare is the harmless return — Henry Maske coming back at 43 after a decade away to get revenge on a similarly ancient Virgil Hill, Jeff Fenech and Azumah Nelson returning to face each other again years after they had been inducted.
It’s easier to turn back the clock when your opponent is of the same vintage. Everything else is either careful — or gutsy — matchmaking.
Erik Morales nearly topped Marcos Maidana last year, his skill and experience carrying him oh so close to taking a win against a man who took him lightly. A year later and Morales looked brave but old and slow against Danny Garcia.
For every Morales-Maidana, there are far many more like Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Hector Camacho.
Morales would have been eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame next year had he not come back. Tommy Hearns’ repeated returns mean he won’t be enshrined until this year, at 53 years old, about six years after his last fight, about 35 years after his first.
Lennox Lewis wrote this message on Twitter just earlier this month: “I’ve enjoyed retirement, but there is unfinished business at hand and 125 million reasons to finish.” He finished by referencing Sept. 29 and a rematch with Vitali Klitschko.
It was an April Fool’s Day joke. It was perfect, as in this sport most retirements aren’t like those of Lewis and Joe Calzaghe.
Lewis left in 2003 after winning an entertaining war over Klitschko, turning down lucrative offers to return. Joe Calzaghe departed after 2008 and a virtuoso performance against Roy Jones Jr., of all people.
It is better to go out at the right time, to know when to hang ‘em up rather than hang on.
Nostalgia gets old. Name value lessens. Star power loses luster.
Those rock band reunions still play to sold-out arenas. That’s not the case for fighters like James Toney and Roy Jones Jr. Their stages are getting smaller. Their last act is dragging on.
Their curtain calls await.
The 10 Count
1. If you didn’t watch last week’s “Face Off” on HBO featuring Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather Jr., you didn’t miss anything. If you did see it, you weren’t exactly sold on the May 5 pay-per-view.
It’s not that boxing fans need selling. This is an event with two of the three biggest stars in the United States. But why spend the time and money putting together bland programming?
As with last year’s Pacquiao-Marquez 3 “Face Off,” much of the blame needs to go to the fighters. Mayweather wasn’t his usual outlandish self. He was confident, but neither cocky nor abrasive. At his worst during the 14-minute segment, he motioned for someone in his team to bring him a tablet computer so that he could check the score of a game on which he bet.
Either Mayweather actually respects Cotto, or he wants Cotto to think he respects him. And Cotto is such a stoic pro with anything not involving Antonio Margarito that he wasn’t going to spark any explosive verbal exchanges himself.
I’m not sure if confrontation is what the program’s producers are going for, but that approach would’ve been more fruitful than the line of questioning Max Kellerman brought to the (literal) table for this. I wish he’d taken the temperature of the room and then sought to stoke the embers and turned up the heat between the fighters.
2. Guess this means we can expect the “24/7” mini-series for this fight to spend a lot of time focusing on Cotto’s camp members and family, and for Mayweather’s camera time to be spent on touting his “Money” personality or trying to convince the world, post plea-deal, that he’s a changed man.
Here’s hoping the four-episode “24/7” isn’t eight times the drag that “Face/Off” was.
3. James Toney, Feb. 23, 2011: 257 pounds.
James Toney, November 3, 2011: 199.25 pounds.
James Toney, April 6, 2012: 248 pounds.
You can’t blame James Toney for the seasonal shifts in weight — the man clearly hibernates every winter.
4. I’m nowhere near the first to point this out about Bobby Gunn, who had gone from a Queensberry Rules also-ran to a bare-knuckle boxer…
…and then returned to gloved-up boxing and proceeded to break his hand.
5. Toney picked up something called the vacant IBU heavyweight title.
Nobody cared about it for six years. In fact, the last time there was a defense of ANY title bestowed by whatever the IBU is — that also was in 2006.
According to BoxRec.com, the IBU has only had titles in seven divisions and only had 27 title fights: lightweight (four fights), welterweight (five fights), junior middleweight (four fights), middleweight (one fight), super middleweight (five fights, all of which were Scott Pemberton wins), cruiserweight (one fight) and heavyweight (seven fights).
Here’s the heavyweight lineage, if it can be called that:
Oct. 1, 2001: Dirk Wallyn TKO9 Jukka Jarvinen
Feb. 4, 2002: Adnan Serin TKO3 Jukka Jarvinen
July 19, 2003: Shannon Briggs TKO1 John Sargent
March 24, 2005: Robert Hawkins TKO5 John Poore
Sept. 9, 2005: Eddie Chambers UD12 Robert Hawkins
May 20, 2006: Gene Pukall TKO3 Ingo Jaede
April 7, 2012: James Toney TKO5 Bobby Gunn
If ever this writing thing doesn’t work out for me, I’m heading to the local high school wood shop and putting together 17 DPG world titles…
6. We can criticize the Texas athletic commission all we want for its shoddy performance and regulation when it comes to boxing — and we do — but they don’t have the thin skin that Puerto Rico’s athletic commission does.
That commission issued a one-year suspension for Juan Manuel Lopez for his post-fight allegations about referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. stopping the rematch between Lopez and Orlando Salido because he’s supposedly a gambler. There also was a $10,000 fine. Oh, and 100 hours of community service.
Antonio Margarito tries to enter a ring with loaded gloves and he gets a year. Juan Manuel Lopez exits a ring with loaded words and he gets the same.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Former 130-pound titleholder Jorge Barrios has been sentenced to four years in prison for a hit-and-run crash in Argentina that killed a pregnant woman and her unborn child, according to the Buenos Aires Herald.
The charges stem from a January 2010 incident. At the time, news reports said that Barrios ran a red light in the coastal city of Mar del Plata and struck a vehicle, pushing that vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians. The pregnant woman died hours later.
Barrios, 35, last fought in October 2010, a win that brought his record to 50-4-1 with 35 knockouts and 1 no contest.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: Former 130-, 135- and 140-pound titleholder Hector Camacho Sr. has been arrested for allegedly “picking up his son by the neck, slamming him on the ground and stomping on him,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Camacho, 49, is facing one count of child abuse, according to Orange County (Fla.) online court records. The alleged incident occurred on March 22, 2011. Camacho turned himself in April 2 and has since been released on $5,000 bail, the newspaper reported.
The New York Daily News said the alleged victim is a teenager. That newspaper, citing the police report, said the teen thought Camacho was “high on drugs” and “upset about a bag of money he thought he had left at his ex-wife’s house.”
Camacho spent time in jail in 2007 for breaking into a Mississippi computer store. Camacho’s attorney said at the time that the fighter was attempting to retrieve a laptop he had recently purchased and had left there to be fixed. But the store’s owners said Camacho fell through the ceiling, relieved himself inside and then stole several computers and thousands of dollars in checks and cash, according to the Associated Press.
He last fought in 2010, losing a unanimous decision to Saul Duran that dropped his record to 79-6-3 with 38 knockouts.
9. From fellow writer Arvin Nundloll of Two Dice Boxing came a photo from a bar with an interesting mixed drink: “Tito Trinidad KO,” which sells for $14 and includes Ketel One vodka, Tanqueray gin, Malibu rum, tequila, triple sec, Chambord and Hpnotiq.
That’s a heavy hitter.
Clearly there’s been a missed opportunity when it comes to boxing and booze. Manny Pacquiao’s now touting Hennessy, but nobody looks at him and thinks “alcohol.” Why didn’t Ricky Hatton ever have his own brand of beer?
I can’t say for certain, but I’m not aware of Hatton ever endorsing an established beer either…
10. The Tito Trinidad cocktail — Roy Jones Jr. isn’t the only one who’d carry it for 12 rounds…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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Tags: Roy Jones Jr , James Toney