by David P. Greisman
BOSTON – It was only natural that this would happen. All of the pieces fit together as expected. All of the actors played their roles to a tee. All of the events transpired precisely as imagined.
There was James Toney, defenseless and flat on his back, his left arm trapped, the pressure preventing blood from flowing forth to his brain. Consciousness – like his prospects of winning once both he and the fight hit the ground – was vanishing rapidly.
There was Randy Couture, dominant and mounted atop Toney, his left arm curled under the back of Toney’s neck, his left bicep cinching Toney’s blood vessels and airway, his right hand grabbing the left and closing the choke. Victory – like Toney’s head and neck – was firmly within his grasp.
It was only natural that this would happen.
James “Lights Out” Toney had spent more than 25 years in the sweet science, more than two decades as a professional boxer. He had been paid to fight 83 times within a boxing ring, compiling a Hall of Fame career as a middleweight champion and a titleholder at super middleweight and cruiserweight. He continued to fight until he had slipped into the fringe, a rotund 42-year-old no longer considered a viable heavyweight contender.
He had spent less than a year attempting to be a mixed martial artist. The marketing said he had been training in MMA for nine months. He had signed to fight in the UFC just six months ago. Couture was selected as a stiff test for Toney’s foray into the cage, a noteworthy foe who, despite his age, would provide credibility on the off chance that Toney actually won.
Toney might have been attempting to be a mixed martial artist, claiming to be taking a crash course in a combat sport that incorporates wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai and judo, but his talk centered around using the one element of mixed martial arts that he was already most familiar with – boxing.
Randy “The Natural” Couture had spent more than 13 years in mixed martial arts. He had been paid to fight 28 times within an Octagon or a ring, compiling a Hall of Fame career as a light heavyweight and heavyweight champion and then continuing to fight upper-level opposition, a robust 47-year-old who less than two years ago had regained the heavyweight throne.
He had taken up amateur wrestling as a teenager and continued into adulthood, not making his mixed martial arts debut until he was 33 years old. He succeeded in incorporating new skills into his wrestling background, and he often implemented the perfect strategy for getting the win.
Couture would be the overwhelming favorite no matter how hard Toney trained over these months. Toney would still be judged, first by what kind of shape he arrived in, then by what kind of form he showed in the fight.
The final media workouts tend to be more about the media than about the workout. Toney arrived first on Thursday afternoon, two days before UFC 118. He promptly sat down on the platform ringing the exterior of an Octagon set up at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.
He did not train that day, saying he never did so at such events – “I don’t want nobody to see what I’m doing,” he said. Instead, he kept on his black shirt, black pants, a hat turned slightly sideways that still had its sticker attached, and what he said was hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry. Instead, he held court for 25 minutes with the assembled mass of video cameras, digital audio recorders and notebooks.
“What’s your prediction?” a writer asked.
“What’s your prediction?” Toney retorted.
“I’m asking you,” said the writer.
“No, I’m asking you,” Toney volleyed back.
“Nobody wants to know what I think.”
“I want to know what you think. Because you the reporter.”
“I’m the reporter. You’re putting me on the spot?”
“I’m putting you on the spot.”
“Alright, I’m going to say Randy Couture. Submission.”
Toney didn’t say anything.
“Don’t hit me,” the writer said to break the tension. He was mostly joking.
Toney glared, then laughed, lightening the mood once more. Then he gave the writer grief.
“Why would you say that shit to my face?” Toney said. “Don’t you know what the fuck I can do to you?”
Toney shook the writer’s hand and then finally offered his prediction.
“I’m going to knock his ass out. First round.”
Randy Couture came into the expansive convention center room at about 2:30 that afternoon, quickly stripping down to short black and red boxer briefs, showing off a tanned, toned, 6-foot-2, 220-pound physique that should not belong to a man just a few years away from 50. He gloved up and stepped into the Octagon. His fists pounded pads. One-two. One-two-three. A right leg kick.
The workout was brief. He walked over to the same spot Toney had been sitting, talking for half the time Toney talked. He offered volumes of insight within those 13 minutes.
“I don’t want to come right out and get into that range of exchanges and try to get into a firefight with James, especially early on. That would be stupid,” Couture said. “I have to stay away and be more patient, be a little bit less aggressive than I’m used to being. And then it kind of depends on how James wants to play it.
“Is he going to come out and stand in the center like he does in boxing and kind of wait and see what his opponent does? Or is he going and try and walk me down and pressure me to land that shot? I’ve got both things ready to go. One’s going to be easier than another, I think.”
He broke down the story of the fight:
“I take James very seriously,” Couture said. “He’s obviously a very dangerous striker. How much of the other stuff he’s learned is the question. Is he going to learn enough to survive? Can he make it three rounds? If we hit the ground, how’s he going to do? Those are all questions everybody’s asking. I’m not worried about it. I’m prepared to go as long and as hard as I need to go.”
How long would he need to go?
“I’m not big on predictions,” Couture said as the session wrapped. “It’s a fight. I’m training to go out and do my job, and I think it’s going to go well. I feel the peak here, and I’m ready to have a good performance. But anything could happen.”
It was only natural that it happened the way it happened.
Their walks to the Octagon in the TD Garden arena lasted longer than the actual fight.
Toney came to the center of the Octagon with his left arm dropped, his right hand cocked, hunched down in anticipation of Couture attempting to shoot forward for a takedown. Couture feinted such a move several times before sending out a half-hearted jab from a distance, a punch that was merely meant to distract from the single-leg takedown that followed.
Toney flailed his arms in a downward reach but grabbed nothing. His rear end hit canvas. His back was on the mat. Couture was mounted on top of him. Less than 20 seconds had passed. Nearly all of the five-minute round remained.
“Exactly how I saw it in my head,” Couture would say following the fight. “I had no illusion to stand around and trade any blows with James. I had to pull out the low single. It’s hard to counter-punch that. You’ve got to be within arm’s length to counter a double-leg. And guess what, he’s got arms.”
As for kicking at Toney’s legs?
“Counter to those things is a good, hard right hand” Couture said afterward, noting that Toney has a good, hard right hand. “I didn’t spend time thinking about it.”
Toney, who is 5-foot-9, had weighed in at 237 pounds, matching the highest weight he’d ever been in a boxing ring, back nearly four-and-a-half years ago when he fought to a draw with Hasim Rahman in their first bout against each other. He had reportedly lost considerable weight since signing with the UFC, but not enough to keep flab from flowing over his shorts.
“He’s got two handles ready for Randy to grab,” one writer had joked after the weigh-in.
Couture was eyeing something else: Toney’s footwear, which partially covered his feet and came up to his ankles.
“I got something I can grip,” Couture recalled thinking. “If it gets dicey and he tries to step [out of the takedown], I’ve got something to grab onto other than his sweaty leg.”
Toney, once taken down, was trying to grab onto Couture, too. He tried to pull guard, bringing Couture down to him to try to keep him from raining in punches from above. He didn’t have much success with that.
Toney’s training camp partners had been training to teach him technique. Their level of resistance couldn’t compare to that of Couture.
Couture had been training to teach Toney a lesson.
Couture dug punches to Toney’s ample body, sent shots from up top, pushed Toney toward the cage and sank in an arm triangle choke, wrapping his own arms around Toney’s neck and left arm.
Toney had been resting on his right arm during Couture’s initial submission attempt. Soon he would be on his back. Soon it would be over. Less than 200 seconds into the fight, with 1 minute and 41 seconds remaining in the first round, Toney waved his free right hand, signaling that he was tapping out.
Toney never even threw a single punch.
“I didn’t expect him to be so aggressive at first,” Toney said immediately afterward. “He just caught me.”
Couture didn’t just catch him. Toney had given Couture the equivalent of a fastball grooved down the middle. Toney was a boxer in a mixed martial arts bout. Couture was a mixed martial artist facing someone who only knew how to box.
“I didn’t feel like he demonstrated any real solid skills once he hit his butt and his back,” Couture said. “He didn’t close his guard. He didn’t protect himself that well. I was able to maneuver and get to mount easily. I could hear what they were trying to get him to do, but I think he was more interested in trying to punch me in the head from his back.”
Toney didn’t say much to Couture afterward – “He said ‘Good job,’ and that was it,” Couture recalled. “At least I think that’s what he said.” – and aside from his very brief interview in the Octagon immediately afterward, Toney would say nothing else, skipping the post-fight press conference.
Toney had both the hubris and the courage to step into the cage, and he took his lumps for his trouble. He now must take the embarrassment that comes along with overconfidence, the consequences of picking the kind of fight he never could truly be prepared for.
Toney already respected mixed martial arts but did not realize the competitive advantage a mixed martial artist has when fighting involves more than punching. Couture respected boxing but recognized the difference between the two combat sports. He would not be foolish enough to fight Toney in a boxing ring. Couture is an all-around fighter, but that does not make him a boxer.
“I will respectfully decline such an offer,” Couture said. “That would be as silly as I think it is for James to step into mixed martial arts here. It would go probably the same way. James would knock me out in the first round.”
Toney was a great boxer. Couture was a great mixed martial artist. In nearly 30 MMA fights, Couture has long shown that he is a natural. In one night in MMA, Toney proved that he was a disaster.
The 10 Count
1. Some conclusions to take out of last week’s big news that Mikkel Kessler has dropped out of Showtime’s Super Six super-middleweight tournament, citing “a weakness of the superior oblique muscle of his left eye” that requires Kessler to rest in order for him to recover.
Here we go:
This takes some air out of the tournament but does not make it a failure. The appeal of this tournament was that the best fighters at 168 were facing each other, and that one loss didn’t eliminate a fighter, which meant that it was more likely to show, truly, who the top guy in the group is. Kessler had lost in his first round fight to Andre Ward. Carl Froch had won his first round fight over Andre Dirrell. Arthur Abraham had won his first round fight over Jermain Taylor.
Which fighter is better? Well, Kessler beat Froch in the second round. Dirrell beat Abraham. And Ward beat Taylor’s replacement, Allan Green.
While it stinks not to have the rest of the tournament play out as planned, it will still play out. So far we’ve gotten top fighters to face each other when such a thing is usually approached like pulling teeth (see exhibits 1 and 2: Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr., Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander).
Multiple reporters with inside sources believe the Super Six will go immediately into the semifinals, with what would have been the last group stage fights deciding the two finalists. Ward would face Dirrell, Froch would face Abraham.
This would produce a clear top dog of the four, though not as clear as if the Super Six tournament had been able to play out as planned. Kessler’s win over Froch still must be respected, and he should face the tournament winner at some point.
I don’t think he should be allowed to just cherry pick the winner, however. I think he should first go through the second-place finisher and/or, Ward or Abraham, two of the four he hadn’t faced before.
Before, we had thought that the Super Six winner would someday face Lucian Bute for recognition as the true super middleweight champion. Now it’s a bit more complicated. And it’s not like Kessler can just go face Bute – Kessler likely has obligations to Showtime as part of the tournament, and Bute is signed with HBO.
One parting thought… Kessler said the injury had been bothering him since before the first-round fight with Ward. Well, how did two commissions allow him to compete? Or was this a lesser problem that was made worse with two grueling fights?
2. Less than four months after he was cut from the UFC, Kimbo Slice (né Kevin Ferguson) has signed a boxing contract with promoter Gary Shaw.
Uh, he does know he’s going to have to shave his beard, right?
At least we’ve already learned that one doesn’t need to remove said facial hair from Kimbo to make him more Delilah than Samson.
There are some who choose to root against Kimbo because of the Internet buzz that developed following his series of unsanctioned, bare-knuckled fights on YouTube, and how heavily he was marketed once he entered mixed martial arts, especially when he first entered MMA as part of the now-defunct EliteXC (which Gary Shaw was involved with).
But Kimbo never hyped himself up. His time in the UFC saw him attempting to learn the sport, attempting to get better as an all-around fighter, trying hard even if it just didn’t take, even though he just didn’t have it.
Yes, he’s been a ratings draw because he’s a character. But he’s also remained popular because he’s likeable and gives his all, even though his all ain’t enough.
Will Kimbo Slice make any impact in boxing? No. Will he be moved very carefully in order to minimize risk and maximize his drawing power? Of course. And will people still watch, following his story much in the same way they would a protagonist in a book, movie or television show? Definitely.
Sure, there are plenty of other boxers with more talent and more of a future who are more deserving of the spotlight. But it’s not like Kimbo’s some unlikable train wreck getting money merely for having eight kids and a failed marriage.
3. Says the writer who never missed an episode of Flavor Flav’s dating show…
4. Dear anyone and everyone writing about Manny Pacquiao,
Please stop repeating the myth that Pacquiao’s fight with Joshua Clottey this past March had a crowd of 50,994 in Cowboys Stadium.
There were 41,841. As I’ve noted before, Bill King of the Sports Business Journal reported in June that Pacquiao-Clottey sold 36,371 tickets and then gave away more than 5,000 complimentary tickets (for sponsors and media outlets and the like).
And yet the myth keeps getting repeated. And repeated. And repeated again.
5. I’m among the chorus of those who’ve given heck to welterweight beltholder Andre Berto for his demands of purse parity for a fight with Shane Mosley, demands that kept Berto-Mosley from happening.
Berto’s promoter, Lou DiBella, says there was more to it.
DiBella tells BoxingScene that the offer Golden Boy Promotions (Mosley’s promoter) made wasn’t just for a 60-40 purse split in favor of Mosley, but also for the fight to be held in Los Angeles and for Golden Boy prospect Saul Alvarez to be on the undercard.
DiBella said he countered with a 52-48 purse split in favor of Mosley, for the fight to be held in another venue, preferably at Madison Square Garden or in Atlantic City, and that “the undercard would be what the undercard would be.”
This scribe tried to confirm those details with Golden Boy, but a publicist did not return an e-mail seeking comment.
Meanwhile, Mosley is instead facing Sergio Mora on Sept. 18 on pay-per-view. And while Berto’s facing criticism for not taking the deal to face Mosley, it’s at least more understandable – from the promoter’s perspective more than the fighter’s perspective.
Mosley-Berto under those terms would’ve been better than the limbo Berto is in now, though there are reports that Berto could face his mandatory challenger, Selcuk Aydin, now that Aydin has expressed an interest in fighting in the United States rather than staying in Turkey or Germany. And there was a brief mention from Steve Kim of MaxBoxing.com that HBO might now be willing to air Berto-Aydin so long as it’s an undercard fight, not a main event.
Perhaps that’d mean less money for a fighter HBO’s been overpaying.
6. So, apparently judge Jack Woodburn didn’t mean to score the 11th round of Jean Pascal-Chad Dawson – a round Dawson was dominating until it (and the fight) ended early due to a clash of heads – for Pascal.
“What had happened was, in the 11th round, the fight was stopped by a cut from a head butt and I was thinking it was a TKO and put the cards away in my pocket [for] the 11th and 12th rounds,” Woodburn was quoted as saying by Fightnews.com.
“Then, about three to five minutes later, with everybody in the ring and cameramen on the apron, referee Michael Griffin came over and said ‘Score the round.’ So I took the card out of my pocket and I reversed the numbers. It should have been 10-9 Dawson and [I] put 10-9 Pascal,” Woodburn said.
I’ll take the man at his word, but dammit, his job is to judge, to watch a fight for three minutes at a time, and at the end of those three minutes to write down his score with the numbers in the right spots.
7. We all make mistakes. To this date, I still pain myself over a mistake I made as a 13-year-old umpire standing behind the plate at a baseball game involving a bunch of 8-year-olds. The only consolation I can take is that my mistake didn’t affect the outcome of the game.
Woodburn’s mental lapse didn’t change the outcome of Pascal-Dawson. This wasn’t Burt Clements and his 10-7 first round making Pacquiao-Marquez 1 a draw rather than a razor-thin split-decision win for Pacquiao. This wasn’t Eugenia Williams’ scorecard somehow favoring Evander Holyfield in his first fight with Lennox Lewis. And this wasn’t Jose Armando Santa Cruz getting downright robbed against Joel Casamayor.
But this isn’t little league baseball. This is a sport where a judge’s mistake can derail a boxer’s career. Balls should be called as balls, strikes could be called as strikes, and a boxing judge should put his tens and nines where they belong.
8. “hi david greisman,” reads the e-mail purportedly from Michael Wayne Landrum Sr., the man suing Mike Tyson for $115 million, the man who is claiming the former heavyweight champion stole his Iron Mike nickname.
“thank you for haveing me on your page you are good man from iron mike landrum”
My column a few weeks ago had mocked Landrum and his lawsuit through the form of sarcastic praise. I wonder: Is Landrum returning the favor? Or is he merely just enjoying the publicity?
I’m just glad he didn’t say anything about suing me.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly: Nine days after appearing on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights,” Marvin Cordova was arrested and charged with failing to appear in court, according to Colorado television station KKTV.
Cordova, 25, was pulled over Aug. 22 on a traffic stop when police found out that there was a warrant out for the welterweight’s arrest. The report says Cordova is also facing charges of criminal trespassing and contempt of court.
Cordova took part in an entertaining bout Aug. 13, losing an eight-round decision to Josesito Lopez. That defeat brought his record to 21-2-1 (11 KOs).
10. Ivan Calderon + Giovanni Segura + 21 pounds = James Toney.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. He may be reached for questions and comments at email@example.com