By Terence Dooley
Although James “Light’s Out” Toney (77-10-3, 47 KOs) had his major successes at middleweight, Super middleweight and cruiserweight—netting the IBF’s title in all three divisions—the former heavyweight contender believes that he would have had more of an impact at boxing’s highest weight had he campaigned there earlier in his career.
Toney told BoxingScene that he spent too long in the lower divisions and was a spent force on fight night in some of his major fights, particularly the decision defeat to Roy Jones Junior in November 1994 that stripped him of his ‘0’, his IBF 168lb title, and the mystique that he had built up in previous years.
“Roy knows I would have beat him if I would have been good at the weight, he knows that he escaped,” stated Toney when we caught up with him in Bristol last month, where he was engaging in a exhibition match.
“That’s the only fight that I regret taking. I shouldn’t have listened to the people around me. I should have postponed the fight then taken it and knocked him out, you’d have never heard from Roy again. I destroyed all the people I beat: [Michael] Nunn, [Iran] Barkley, [Tim] Littles and [Prince Charles] Williams—I put them all away and ended their careers.”
“I planned to go up earlier, but listened too much to the people around me,” he added. “I can’t blame anyone but myself for it, and I played the ultimate price. I should have been a heavyweight from the beginning. People told me I was too small.
“It killed me to get to middleweight, I played college football at 205lbs. I’d weigh in for a fight and the weight would start to go straight up. By the end of the night I’d be 172, it was crazy. I’d only weigh 160 on the scales for those middleweight title defences. The hardest fight was always the weight, the fights themselves were easy.
“Everyone was bigger than me up there (at heavyweight). I’m only 5’ 9’’, they say 5 10 or 11, but I’m not that tall. I still stood right in front of guys like Evander Holyfield and that bum Sam Peter and fought. You can be the biggest guy in the world, but if you are a p*ssy deep down then I’ll break your ass down real quick. I can see it before I even fight, once they sign the contract I have no respect for them.
“If you say something good about me the day before and then sign the contract the next day then I don’t like you anymore, we ain’t cool so don’t be approaching me. Now watch a fight today, do you notice what the first thing a fighter does when the bell goes? They go to their right or their left. I went straight for you to see what you’ve got and it is up to you to prove me wrong.”
A firm advocate in being relaxed, training hard, having a reliance on natural skills, and engaging in as much sparring as possible, the 49-year-old also argued that Britain’s Anthony Joshua is lighting up the division again after partially unifying the belts following Tyson Fury’s recent out-of-the-ring struggle with the UKAD, which has now been resolved.
He said: “The kid came to talk to me at Prizefighter in 2013. I told him he’d be Champion of the world. He thanked me, and I appreciate that because he knows greatness when he sees it. I bet Joshua gets up in the morning for his runs. Deontay [Wilder], I don’t know him and we had a beef, but I bet he gets his ass up in the morning. It is all about hard work. Kids see people making it on TV and want that fast track money, the Ferrari and the homes—that sh*t gets old quick.”
Still, Toney was less than enthused when talking about the recent reign of Wladimir Klitschko, who announced his retirement earlier this year following defeats to Fury (L12) and Joshua (L RSF 11). “Oh god, Wlad and his sister Vitali were both overrated,” blasted Toney.
“They were robotic. Being relaxed helps conserve energy, it keeps you focused, physically, mentally and all round, and it is great to be like that. Before a fight, someone like Wladimir was a scared dude, he’d practically have a fever before a fight and that guy was very overrated. Those two came around at the right time.
“Everyone wants to be big, strong and bulky now, which is cool, I used to do weights all the time, but my thing is that it doesn’t make you a fighter. Look at fighters from the 1970s, 80s, 90s and even the early 2000s, they had skills and wanted to be the best, now it is just about money and bullsh*t.
“The real skills are going because people want to get rich quick. It is a sad sport now. There are some young bangers coming up, though. I like people like Errol Spence, Terence Crawford, ‘Triple G’, Daniel Jacobs and [Sergey] Kovalev, those are the guys I follow.
“Andre Ward was also a very underrated boxer. He’s walked away from the game, which shocked me, but he will be back, they always come back. He’ll be waiting for someone to call for him who can bring the money and wants to try to beat ‘S.O.G.’—he’s a good boxer.
“Golovkin and Alvarez should have a rematch because I believe that Golovkin was going to knock him out and would of if Canelo didn’t run, which is what he did for the last round rounds to make it a draw. ‘Triple G’ fights like me, a pressure fighter who brings it to you. He was bringing Canelo down, landing head shots and body shots, and he made him fight like a sissy.”
Despite his admiration for what Joshua has achieved so far, Toney told me that “AJ” will have to crack American if he wants to really make an impact on his division. “Joshua has been fighting all over here (the UK) so that your people can see him, but he needs to come to the States,” he said.
“The money was always better in the American casinos and sites. I fought over here for Prizefighter (in 2013), and it was OK, but I always wanted to be where the best competition was. If you think you are better than me then we’ll fight and we’ll let’s see who is the best. We bred the best fighters in the world in America, and especially in Detroit. Vegas, New York or Detroit were always the places to be in boxing.
“Detroit may be in bad shape right now, but it is still the boxing capital of the world because so many great fighters came through it: [Ray] Robinson, Joe Louis, James Toney, [Tommy] Hearns, Ezzard Charles and even Stanley Ketchel. People forget that Tommy was a very accomplished boxer, he out-boxed Sugar Ray Leonard before getting stopped and should have won the rematch. He is a legend, an all-time great. I still love Detroit. I started my career in that city at the Premier Centre in 1988. It was packed. [Floyd] Mayweather is from Michigan too.
“We had all the boxing skill in the world in the Detroit gyms. I learned how to adapt to different fights and styles. I even sparred your guy, the one who fought Tommy and moved to America, Dennis Andries. He got beat by Tommy in Detroit then came to the gym to become a Kronk fighter and a James Toney punch bag. He was strong, though. Then you move on to Vegas, where the best actors, TV stars and sports stars go to watch the fights. If Joshua wants to be the biggest then he has to break the States.”
Floyd Mayweather retired earlier this year after reaching 50-0 by stopping Conor McGregor in round 10 of their August showdown to remain undefeated. Labelled a sham and a money grab, the fight earned “Money” a reputed $100 million dollars and captured the wider public imagination.
Toney, though, believes that “Notorious” should go back to the UFC, saying: “Floyd makes everyone look bad, just like I did. When Floyd is right there ain’t no one who can touch him. I love Floyd, he is a great fighter who fought the main fighters and did what he had to do. Floyd did what he had to do in that fight, he carried McGregor and then stopped him. I have no problem with it, but they are talking about McGregor fighting other boxers, he should go back to MMA.
“Don’t get me wrong, MMA is good, it is cool, yet when they get tired of being hit what do they do? They hug and fall on the ground because they don’t want to be hit anymore. In boxing, it is man-to-man. If you get tired then that’s your ass, get your lawnmower out and start mowing grass. I also love football, it is my favourite sport. I love anything that is rough and that’s why I don’t like basketball or baseball, it is for girls, and tennis definitely is for girls—if it ain’t rough then it ain’t for me.”
Now semi-retired, his last official fight was sixth-round KO win over Mike Sheppard in May, the former trash talker extraordinaire feels that modern boxing has lost more than just what people call old-school skills, arguing that, despite his continued love for it, the sport has been in a steady decline for years now. “If you go from the 1990s down, then it is good,” lamented Toney. “Go up from there and you can forget about it, apart from a few years in the 2000s.”
“Boxers of today aren’t like the ones in the past, hell no. Could they live with [George] Foreman, [Joe] Frazier and Ali, nope. Even Ernie Shavers, are you kidding me? He made people see stars. These middleweights today couldn’t deal with Marvin [Hagler]. I loved Marvin, he was one of my favourites. Ray Robinson was the greatest fighter of all time, Marvin was the greatest middleweight. Even Ray Leonard couldn’t beat Hagler. I don’t care what anyone says, Hagler won that fight.
“Marvin should have fought for the title earlier yet if he’d have fought for the title earlier no one would have had a chance to fight for the title because he was a beast. Even Mustafa Hamsho and Wilfred Scypion would do something today. Then you had the light-heavyweights: Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Dwight Muhammad, they were all killers. For fighters today living in that realm would be murder.”
As an aside, Toney was trained by Mustafa for a spell, so did they discuss what would have happened had they met at 175lbs? “I used to tell Eddie that I’d have kicked his ass,” he said with a grin before disappearing into the Bristol night.
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