Thirty-two years is a long time.

For Hall of Fame three-division titlist James Toney and once feared heavyweight contender Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, thirty-two years (and change) is how long it’s been since both had their breakthrough star-making moments in boxing. For Toney, those moments were achieved in victory; for Ruddock, in gritty losses.

We’re a long way from 1991 and fans in Jamaica and tuning in on FITE TV (Saturday, 8 PM EST) will get to see just how far that is this weekend. Toney, 55, and Ruddock, 59, will be joining the occasionally lucrative and long-established tradition of exhibition boxing.

History says no one really gets hurt in these, and certainly no one has to watch. Maybe they’ll have some fun. Hopefully, they’ll make some money. 

The age of both men makes it closer to the old 1944 footage you can find on YouTube of Jack Johnson and Joe Jeanette shaking things out for war bonds in their sixties than even the fairly recent Roy Jones-Mike Tyson show that struck gold.

With a relatively slow weekend for the sport coming up, the simple existence of the event was enough to think about when both fighters mattered in the ring. Their tie to the same year made it worth a trip down memory lane.

Ruddock (40-6-1, 30 KO) was a known force in heavyweight boxing before 1991 began. His frightening knockout of former titlist Michael Dokes in April 1990 at Madison Square Garden left no doubts. 

His star power lingered though behind Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, and the short rise and fall of Buster Douglas. Ruddock’s name got into the Tyson sweepstakes, and that changed everything. March 18, 1991, selling just short of a million homes on pay-per-view just weeks before Holyfield-Foreman invented the new technology (forgive the sarcasm but that silly myth must die), fans were treated to a good old-fashioned puncher’s duel. 

Ruddock was down in the second and third but he kept coming, rocking Tyson in round six to truly turn the event into a fight. In round seven, Tyson sent Ruddock reeling, pressed the attack with a series of punches that mostly didn’t land, and Richard Steele cemented boos from crowds forever more when he stopped the fight for far less cause than in the controversial Junio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor I a year prior.

A post-fight melee between the corners made front page news worldwide and got the cover story in Sports Illustrated. Fans went into the night hoping to see Tyson-Holyfield next. Instead, the seeds were planted for a rematch on June 28. 

The second time around, they cleared a million buys, Ruddock went down twice again, but this time he heard the final bell. Ruddock landed bombs, Tyson landed more, and the loser walked away with public regard higher than it had been before the bell sounded in March. When Tyson went away to prison the following year, Ruddock was considered a serious threat to assume the mantle as the baddest man on the planet. 

While all of that was going on for Ruddock in 1991, James Toney was making a move few saw coming at the dawn of the year. Toney had been a pro less than three years when he got a crack at Michael Nunn for the lineal and IBF middleweight honors. Toney was 2-0 on the year, including a split decision victory over undefeated Merqui Sosa, but was a sizable underdog versus Ring Magazine’s #3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world at the time.

Early on, Toney’s underdog status was affirmed. Nunn was, on that night, every bit the star that he wasn’t in lackluster performances against Iran Barkley and Marlon Starling. He was fast, elusive, smart, long…Nunn was so good that night it was easy to miss, the first time one watched the fight, how much closer Toney was getting all the time. Toney was relentless that night, pushing the fight and punching through inexperience with speed and determination.

And, eventually, power. 

In the eleventh round, Toney caught up to Nunn and changed the face of the middleweight division. A star was born, though coming on a TVKO show almost no one one purchased it would take time for that realization to spread. Nunn-Toney was on May 10. On June 29, Toney got the national spotlight with a title defense on ABC’s Wide World of Sports against future titlist Reggie Johnson. Toney came off the floor to grind out a narrow win and finished the year with a TVKO pay-per-view draw against Mike McCallum that more observers seemed to feel Toney won. 

Toney was just about everybody’s Fighter of the Year.

When 1991 started, George Bush the elder was President, the Soviet Union still existed, and MC Hammer was a music god. For Ruddock, it would be the high point of his career. A 1992 loss to Lennox Lewis knocked him out of the title running and a memorable war with Tommy Morrison in 1995 was his last brush with the big-name heavyweights of his era. Toney would have plenty more highs, and some big lows, in a career that took him all the way to heavyweight before he was done.

Neither Toney or Ruddock can go back to 1991. They’re probably hoping they can take a few fans there this weekend.

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at