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James Toney - the biggest waste of talent over the past 25 years?

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Post by 88Chris05 Mon 23 Apr 2012, 2:32 pm

Afternoon lads - is it me, or are Mondays back at work just horrible?

Anyway, let's talk some boxing. There are a lot of things which drive us fans of the sport around the bend, but surely wasted talent and unrealised potential must rate near the top of any such list of grievances. And the more time which passes, the more I find myself wondering if James Toney is perhaps the finest (a contradiction in terms, right there!) example of this over the past quarter of a century.

I could be wrong of course, and there are at least two arguments that I know of which will clash with my own. Does James Toney think he underachieved? Certainly not, it seems! Now a podgy caricature of the fine athlete he once was, Toney assures anyone who'll listen in his distinctly slurred voice that he's the greatest boxer to emerge since the days of Ray Robinson and Ezzard Charles. Moreover, he continues to model himsef as the Heavyweight champion of the world, thanks to a skewed take on matters north of 200 lb which even Albert Einstein would have trouble deciphering.

Lest we forget, also, Toney did scoop up world titles in three weight classes. A fourth was only rescinded upon failing a post-fight drugs test. He's beaten a large handful of world titlists. It's the sort of career which most young aspiring fighters would dream of.

And yet, I'm convinced that there could, and should, have been so much more.

As you all know, I love delving in to the annals of history to examine the greats of yesteryear, but in Toney you have a man with as complete and arsenal and skill set as you could wish for in any generation. He had the 'Philly Shell' defence perfected down to a tee when he was in full flow, but combined it, rather unusually, with a real tenacity in his punching. He had deceptively fast hands, could box on both the inside and outside when necessary, and was tough as old boots, too.

Now I'll be the first to admit that, as a Middleweight, 'Lights Out' could flatter to deceive a little. However, I'm inclined to cut him a little slack here, and I'll give you my reasons. First off, let's address the fight in which Toney claimed the IBF Middlweight belt from Michael Nunn. Now Nunn himself is another case of 'what might have been?' Like a Middleweight version of Muhammad Ali, he had hands that were a blur, an unusual style of defence which was based around pulling back from punches rather than blocking them, and a more than considerable whack in his fists. By 1991, Nunn was seemingly on his way to carving out a place as one of the elite Middleweight greats.

All of that said, I'm beginning to tire of hearing how Toney apparently 'got lucky' in that bout. We regularly hear how 'Lights Out' was outboxed for the whole ten rounds which went before the stunning end in the eleventh, how he was a mile behind on points, and how Nunn had controlled him like a sparring partner for long periods.

Sorry lads, but all of the above simply isn't true.

You can certainly make a claim that Nunn pitched a shut out for the first half dozen rounds. At the very least, he'd have secured five of them on the card of any sane man. But you'll also note a distinct change in the pattern of the fight from the middle point onwards. Nunn was a master of working at distance, but Toney's aforementioned aggression and inside game were causing real problems for the Iowa man in the latter stages. Just as Nunn dominated the early part of the fight, a realistic claim can be made that Toney swept up all of the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth stanzas. In my eyes, he certainly did enough to secure three of them. Nunn simply couldn't keep Toney off him. Had he won the last two rounds on the cards - an irrelevance as he found the perfect left hook and follow up attack to rip the belt away from the hitherto unbeaten Nunn - then Toney would surely have been good value for a draw, at least.

So can we cool the talk of Toney winning the proverbial lottery in that bout, please? A very fine win over a man who had looked imperious beforehand.

It's no secret that Toney didn't look all that impressive in defending his crown. He got away with murder against Dave Tiberi who, oddly enough, gave him something of a lesson in the department which would eventually become a forté of Toney's, the counter-punch, and his performances against Glenn Wolfe and Mike McCallum (first time out) can be described as, at best, workmanlike.

That said, I'd point out that Toney was still a young pup at this stage. He was still only twenty-two when he upset Nunn, and this after an amateur career which consisted of just twenty-four fights and absolutely no titles.

However, it's his Super-Middleweight exploits which really lead me to believe that Toney's career, ultimately, has been one of sever underachievement. The full range of his skills were on show at 168 lb; the demolition of Barkley to take the IBF title, the ruthlessly efficient turn of fortunes against Littles and, best of all, his masterpiece against 'Prince' Charles Williams. This final bout, in particular, was Toney at his best. He matched a monster of a Super-Middleweight punch for punch on the inside for the first six rounds, decided to give himself some space from round seven onwards, and promptly ran away with the fight. Counter rights, stining jabs, shoulder rolls and sublime lateral movement, he had it all that night, and topped it all off with a picture-perfect knockout. "We're looking at a great fighter" said Larry Merchant as Toney put the exclamation mark on his performance. And at that time, we really were.

But sadly, we need to address the darker side of Toney, or else this article wouldn't exist. And first off, it's clear that his indiscipline and, at times, sheer laziness has cost him dearly. The way in which the great Roy Jones Jr dazzled him to the widest of wide points defeats in November 1994 was the beginning of the end of any claim Toney had to all-time greatness. However, more infuriating is the fact that he simply didn't give himself a chance to win. Now I'm convinced that Jones would probably have beaten Toney anyway (no shame in that - Jones, although a few on here will abjectly refuse to acknowledge it, is unquestionably one of the greatest fighters of the modern era), and likewise you can't be anything other than highly impressed with his performance. But Toney's own showing that night can be described as flat, at best. His love for fast food was beginning to show; rumours abound that he was around the 200 lb mark just a few weeks before this Super-Middleweight showdown.

He should have learned from this. He didn't.

His Light-Heavyweight debut against Montell Griffin must go down as one of the most infuriating fights of all time if you're a Toney fan. Was the decision which went in Griffin's favour a bad one? Yes, absolutely. But was Toney blameless? Far from it! He had the fight under total control but, quite inexplicably, seemed as if he couldn't be bothered to fight the last three rounds. He effectively gave the judges an opportunity and reason to gift the fight to Griffin. And what was Toney's excuse afterwards? Yep, you've guessed it - weight making.

Inexcusable, really. Toney was a fairly big Middleweight. He was an average-sized Super-Middleweight. He was a small Light-Heavyweight. Absolutely no reason for a man of such dimensions to be struggling to get down to 175 lb other than a terrible lack of discipline and dedication outside of the ring. He was still only twenty-six at this point, too.

Since then, Toney's career has, for the most part, been an embarrassment. And I for one feel disappointed that his supreme talent has only shown what he has to offer in small spurts now and then. There have, of course, been brief reminders; his performance against Jirov to claim a portion of the Cruiserweight title was a gorgeous display of timing and counter-punching. Sadly, it came a little too late in the day, and more than anything served to remind us that, had he taken the sport more seriously, Toney could have been anything he wanted to be.

A thuggish personality, and often lacking in charm - but my God, he couldn't half fight when he wanted to. Skill wise, I'd say he was a far greater specimen than Bernard Hopkins, for instance. Sadly, what he'd have gone on to achieve if he'd had Hopkins' drive and discipline, I can only wonder.

Fire away with your particular take on how good he could have been, lads, or if you disagree, let me know why. Cheers everyone.
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Post by manos de piedra Mon 23 Apr 2012, 2:44 pm

Good article, I pretty much agree. He had a habit of fighting to his opponents level and being generally lazy in and out of the ring.

Strangely enough, although hes become a bit of a laughing stock for fighting up at cruiser and heavyweight as the Michelin Man, the fact that he can actually remain competitve at the highest weights despite being a good 50 or 60 lbs above what his weight should be I think is actually a real indication of his talents. His heavyweight resume is nothing special of course but cant think of too many ex middleweights that could turn up morbidly obese without having trained and still compete with the likes of Peter, Holyfeild, Ruiz, Rahman etc

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Post by 88Chris05 Mon 23 Apr 2012, 3:07 pm

manos de piedra wrote:Strangely enough, although hes become a bit of a laughing stock for fighting up at cruiser and heavyweight as the Michelin Man, the fact that he can actually remain competitve at the highest weights despite being a good 50 or 60 lbs above what his weight should be I think is actually a real indication of his talents.

True enough, Manos. It is a testament to his talents, but it also puts in to even more perspective what he could have achieved had he stuck to facing men he was evenly matched with in a physical sense. In essence, he was virtually giving his opponents a two round start at Heavyweight.

At 175 lb in the second half of the nineties or at the turn of the century, I really don't see the likes of Michalczewski, Johnson, Del Valle, Woods etc giving an in-shape and well conditioned Toney all that much of an argument. Had he dedicated himself a little more he certainly could have become a fine Light-Heavyweight champion and pushed for the rematch with Jones, which he so desired.

Roy really did do a number on James, in every sense. I'm not sure he ever really recovered mentally from having that intimidating aura around him smashed like that.
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Post by Rowley Mon 23 Apr 2012, 3:15 pm

Am racking my brains Chris and am struggling to think of anyone who can challenge the tag, think the only one who is coming to mind is Juan Guzman who has on occasions looked absolutely sublime, similar to Toney in showing some brilliant defensive work and a similar inability to walk past a KFC, however still think it would be a stretch to claim he peed it up the wall more than Toney, who for me was the more gifted of the two.

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Post by Mind the windows Tino. Mon 23 Apr 2012, 3:19 pm

Interesting stuff Chris and largely agree with the premise. There are a few guys who have underachieved over the last 25 years, but Toney has to be near the top. Anyone who can floor Holyfield and stop him, even though he was well past his best, deserves some credit. That came right after the Jirov win as well, so he was obviously hitting some good form at the time, but it does have to asked - why was he even fighting at that weight!

He reminds me of Riddick Bowe, actually. Both had an abundance of skills, could fight on the inside and out, but both couldn't stay away from the fridge, literally in Bowe's case seeing as he had one in his bedroom! Both could run their mouths as well.

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Post by manos de piedra Mon 23 Apr 2012, 3:34 pm

88Chris05 wrote:
manos de piedra wrote:Strangely enough, although hes become a bit of a laughing stock for fighting up at cruiser and heavyweight as the Michelin Man, the fact that he can actually remain competitve at the highest weights despite being a good 50 or 60 lbs above what his weight should be I think is actually a real indication of his talents.

True enough, Manos. It is a testament to his talents, but it also puts in to even more perspective what he could have achieved had he stuck to facing men he was evenly matched with in a physical sense. In essence, he was virtually giving his opponents a two round start at Heavyweight.

At 175 lb in the second half of the nineties or at the turn of the century, I really don't see the likes of Michalczewski, Johnson, Del Valle, Woods etc giving an in-shape and well conditioned Toney all that much of an argument. Had he dedicated himself a little more he certainly could have become a fine Light-Heavyweight champion and pushed for the rematch with Jones, which he so desired.

Roy really did do a number on James, in every sense. I'm not sure he ever really recovered mentally from having that intimidating aura around him smashed like that.

He might of had to play second fiddle to Jones at light heavyweight, although a rematch there would have nice. But even beyond that he could easily have acheived alot more at cruiserweight and been a dominant champion there with just a basic level of conditioning.

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Post by Imperial Ghosty Mon 23 Apr 2012, 5:48 pm

Toney against Hopkins would have been a fascinating match up, two throw backs in the ring against eachother would probably have been one for the purists if Hopkins had any choice in the matter.

Toney showed glimpses of sublime talent but in between he had lacklustre performances and in the process got gifted a couple of decisions.

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Post by bellchees Mon 23 Apr 2012, 6:03 pm

rowley wrote:Am racking my brains Chris and am struggling to think of anyone who can challenge the tag, think the only one who is coming to mind is Juan Guzman who has on occasions looked absolutely sublime, similar to Toney in showing some brilliant defensive work and a similar inability to walk past a KFC, however still think it would be a stretch to claim he peed it up the wall more than Toney, who for me was the more gifted of the two.

Juan Guzman is a big under achiever, he hasn't got the talent that Toney had but has royally messed up his career in a similar way, weighing in 9lbs over the limit at lightweight is embarrassing. I'd also mention Bowe as a case of what could have been, for me more talented than all of Tyson, Holyfield and Lewis but achieved far less than all of them.

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Post by John Bloody Wayne Mon 23 Apr 2012, 7:31 pm

He had it all apart from maybe one thing. A brain. He was certainly smart in the ring as a general, but he's never seemed to on the ball outside, which could explain his infuriating tendencies to give his opponents too much of a chance. Or maybe the way he talks just makes me think that.

I've heard it's a glandular thing, as far as making weight is concerned, but lots of fat people say that.

Sadly I've heard RJJ v Toney II is being made at cruiser. Hopefully not though.

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Post by Unbeatable Georgey Groves Mon 23 Apr 2012, 7:47 pm

Great article but would you not say Ike and Valero are bigger waste of talents??

Even Mijiares i used to think was the next big thing but what a waste he was Sad
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Post by bellchees Mon 23 Apr 2012, 8:08 pm

You could be right about Valero, completely forgot about him. Showed he was a lot more than a slugger in his final fight against DeMarco. Real shame we didn't get to see more of him, would have loved to see him vs Marquez at lightweight.

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Post by AlexHuckerby Mon 23 Apr 2012, 8:36 pm

Would have to agree Valero Marquez has FOTY written all over it, such a shame the guy was bonkers.

Great article Chris, fantastic read and completely agree.

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Post by 88Chris05 Tue 24 Apr 2012, 10:49 am

Thanks for the continued responses, fellas.

UGG, interesting shouts on Ike and Edwin, there. I guess much of it depends on how you gauge wasted talent; Toney certainly achieved a great deal more than the pair of them, so on that basis you're right in saying that they are more worthy of that status outlined in the article title.

But to counter that, he was certainly more talented than both of them, too. Swings, roundabouts and the like.
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Post by azania Tue 24 Apr 2012, 11:11 am

For me the greatest waste of talent has to be Tony Ayala. He was simply brutal. Shame he was even more of a nut outside the ring as he was inside it.

He had it all. Almost Duran like but threw it all away.

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Post by superflyweight Thu 26 Apr 2012, 11:43 am

Roy really did do a number on James, in every sense. I'm not sure he ever really recovered mentally from having that intimidating aura around him smashed like that.

Personally always thought the same about Toney.

Evident from reading Dark Trade and from his public utterances that Toney is a deeply insecure indisvidual. I think he just simply couldn't deal with someone having his number in the way that Jones did and no sooner had he lost than the weight making excuses were offered (a problem entirely of his own making). After that he just seemed to me to give up and no longer seemed to take the sport seriously. Glimpses of the talent were still there but there was no dediciation.

He should have been a very good lightheavy and it would have been interesting to see him rematch Jones as Roy slowed down. If Tarver could get to Roy, Toney was more than capable of doing the same.

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Post by manos de piedra Thu 26 Apr 2012, 12:24 pm

Im never too sure how much damage the Jones defeat did. I think even before then he had shown that he was a lazy fighter that was destined to drop decisions. Even before Jones his record was peppered with close calls and some decisions and performances that could have counted against him. He managed to turn Nunn around, grantd but there were other guys in there that he barely scraped by. A bit like Eubank with his fights with Close, Malinga, Sherry and Schommer. As with Eubank, there was often a sense with Toney that you were only seeing him at 50% but with Jones in the mid 1990s I think you had a fighter that was on another level to all the rest. Benn, Eubank, Toney, Collins, McClellan would have all been put to the sword pretty decisively I think.

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Post by 88Chris05 Thu 26 Apr 2012, 12:33 pm

All fair points there, Manos. However, before running in to Jones, Toney had been fighting with a flair and consistency that he'd never had before. The days of scraping by opponents he should have been breezing past seemed to have been left behind once he'd stepped up to 168 lb, where he looked much, much more at home.

There was nothing lazy about his performances against Barkley, Littles and Williams, all three of which were excellent for differing reasons. I think Toney had a real aura of intimidation about him before losing to Jones - after that, though he kept fighting regularly, he just seemed a different man in a lot of ways - falling out with Kallen, clearly negating training and so on.
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Post by manos de piedra Thu 26 Apr 2012, 1:09 pm

88Chris05 wrote:All fair points there, Manos. However, before running in to Jones, Toney had been fighting with a flair and consistency that he'd never had before. The days of scraping by opponents he should have been breezing past seemed to have been left behind once he'd stepped up to 168 lb, where he looked much, much more at home.

There was nothing lazy about his performances against Barkley, Littles and Williams, all three of which were excellent for differing reasons. I think Toney had a real aura of intimidation about him before losing to Jones - after that, though he kept fighting regularly, he just seemed a different man in a lot of ways - falling out with Kallen, clearly negating training and so on.

Littles was a great performance alright and I think you are right in saying that he was probably enjoying his most consistent run of performances prior to in the year before his fight with Jones. He had risen up to the top of the pound for pound tree. But to some extent I think the opposition he was facing was only in the decent category. But I would agree that it was during that period we probably saw the best of Toney.

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Post by Super D Boon Thu 26 Apr 2012, 3:17 pm

Not only was there a lack of physical discipline but a lack of discipline between the ears was also his undoing in my humble opinion. In so many fights he seemed to switch off for long periods and wasted a lot of rounds being lazy and this was when he seemed physically well conditioned.

Am happy to lick clean a dose of egg on my face but didn';t he put in fairly turgid displays against Tiberi and McCallum at middleweight? And therefore can't really have the excuse of being overblown because his days being a fatty were super mid and nothwards were they not?

A man of 5ft 9 with a fairly average frame should be nowhere near heavyweight and yet even in his crowning middleweight days he bragged about being the heavyweight champ of the world one day. This seems to suggest that he was never all there to begin because in his latter days of being fat in body he was always fat in mind. A head full of lard.

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Post by superflyweight Thu 26 Apr 2012, 3:26 pm

I remember seeing a piece on him on Trans World Sport many years ago - I think it was just after the Nunn fight. It's true that even then he was talking about his heavyweight ambitions (a quote by one of his corner men at the time that I always remember was that he had " a heavyweight's hands").

Light-heavy always seemed to me to be the perfect weight for him to grow and settle into.

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Post by milkyboy Fri 27 Apr 2012, 12:02 am

i think toney's strength was his lack of a weakness... never saw him as a great but a 'good at everything', with a great defence... I never saw him as an exceptional talent.

it might be my lingering memories of reading dark trade many moons ago, but i think the jones fight did kill his belief and direction, despite sporadic subsequent days in the sun.

manos, no doubt jones was the premier fighter of the era, the one in your list i wouldnt be sure about is mcclellan... that fight was the super fight waiting to happen, i think mcclellan genuinely fancied it after having success against him as an amateur. jones would have been favourite but its not a fight id bet my house on.

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Post by manos de piedra Fri 27 Apr 2012, 8:44 am

milkyboy wrote:i think toney's strength was his lack of a weakness... never saw him as a great but a 'good at everything', with a great defence... I never saw him as an exceptional talent.

it might be my lingering memories of reading dark trade many moons ago, but i think the jones fight did kill his belief and direction, despite sporadic subsequent days in the sun.

manos, no doubt jones was the premier fighter of the era, the one in your list i wouldnt be sure about is mcclellan... that fight was the super fight waiting to happen, i think mcclellan genuinely fancied it after having success against him as an amateur. jones would have been favourite but its not a fight id bet my house on.

Yeah its always hard to rule out someone as hard hitting as McClellan, especially as it transpired in later years that Jones wasnt the most durable of fighters.

But I think he was a genuine step up in from everyone else back then. Not many would have predicted he would be so dominant against Toney, who as Chris says was in the form of his life and had a real auro about him. Jones just didnt get hit much back then and I would have had to make him a strong favourite over McClellan. I never put a huge amount of emphasis in the amateur results becuase over history there has just been too many examples of it counting for nothing in the pro ranks and I think if they had fought in the mid 1990s Jones would just be too fast, slick and accurate.

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Post by 88Chris05 Fri 27 Apr 2012, 9:22 am

Super D Boon wrote:Am happy to lick clean a dose of egg on my face but didn';t he put in fairly turgid displays against Tiberi and McCallum at middleweight? And therefore can't really have the excuse of being overblown because his days being a fatty were super mid and nothwards were they not?

Thanks for contributing, Boon.

You're right, Toney didn't look all that impressive as a Middleweight champion after beating Nunn; I touched upon this in the article. I do think that he was pretty much dead at 160 lb, though, so I'm inclined to be a little more lenient there. But yes, his performance against Tiberi was poor.

As for the McCallum fights (the two at Middleweight anyway, not sure the third is really much of an indication of the quality of either man), well again Toney didn't look all that great - but who did against the 'Bodysnatcher', really? The second fight with McCallum was a fairly disciplined performance by Toney, I'd say, and a fight where his defence really looked the part.

Sound Middleweight, just about, outstanding Super-Middleweight, and should have made a fine Light-Heavyweight.
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Post by Mochyn du Tue 23 Mar 2021, 12:55 am

I've been getting in some James Toney education the last week or so and it astonishes me that the guy was a waster pretty much at regular intervals after the Nunn fight. I also agree that this fight was by no means one way traffic then Toney landed the jackpot. Toney was clearly winning the second half of the fight prior to the knockout.

However, what on earth he was doing at super middle is anyone's guess. So many pointless cruiser and light heavy fights in between dropping back down to defend the title instead of chasing unifications and cashing in on the title. This was bound to go pear shaped against a guy like RJJ. Toney was outclassed but his punches were slow and his head movement way off. The menace he showed against Nunn was completely absent. He was clearly drained in that fight.

Even more fascinating was his heavyweight stint. He must have been devastated to have the Ruiz fight annulled then gets another golden opportunity for the WBC belt and gets outboxed by the average Hasim Rahmam. It was never a draw. Rahman clearly won but to screw up that opportunity so royally by coming in so out of condition was insane given this was to make his heavyweight champion dream come true.

He clearly became brain damaged in the following years with his constant slurring bile about the K bros and bragging over his silly IBA belt.

He comes across as thoroughly unpleasant displaying a clear hatred and lack of respect for white European boxers so I have no sympathy anyway.

Mochyn du

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Join date : 2016-03-09

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James Toney - the biggest waste of talent over the past 25 years? Empty Re: James Toney - the biggest waste of talent over the past 25 years?

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