I was looking at the long list of heavyweight champions and their title fights, going back to the likes of Paddy Ryan, John L. Sullivan, James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons in the late 1800s right up until today. In most of them, the names and the bouts jump off the page at you.
There were the aforementioned names. There was Jack Johnson. There was Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney. Joe Louis. Rocky Marciano. Cassius Clay. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. Larry Holmes vs. Ken Norton. Mike Tyson. Evander Holyfield.
Now comes the latest heavyweight title bout: John Ruiz vs. James Toney. This one has so much interest that thousands of fans will show up at Madison Square Garden disguised as empty seats. There is a real possibility that John Ruiz, holder of the WBA title belt, will win this fight. And that’s too bad. He is about as exciting as watching moss grow on a shady rock.
There’s also a real possibility that James Toney will win this fight. That too, fight fans, is a shame. While his personality and charisma is certainly more exciting than the drab Ruiz, that personality and charisma will definitely not transcend boxing and make fight fans out of non-fight fans. Middle-class America is not looking for a trash-talking fighter they can bring into their homes on a regular basis.
And speaking of foul-mouthed, Toney looks like a professor of literature when compared to Ruiz’s guttural, low-rent trainer/cornerman, Norman “Stoney” Stone. I didn’t think anybody could actually do it, but Stoney actually out-foul-mouths two of boxing history’s most polluted mouths, the late Al Braverman and the even-later Jimmy DiPiano.
Braverman is best-known for being the manager/trainer of heavyweight Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner, whose gallant effort against Muhammad Ali in 1975 for the heavyweight title was the basis for the first “Rocky” movie.
Up until his death in 1997, Braverman was also promoter Don King’s right-hand man for years. Braverman was with Wepner in 1976, when Wepner took on wrestler Andre the Giant at Shea Stadium. In the night’s “Main Event,” on the other side of the world, Muhammad Ali faced Japanese wrestling star Antonio Inoki.
Following the Wepner-Andre the Giant match, which ended when Andre lifted the 6’5”, 230-pounder over his head and threw him over the ropes onto the Shea Stadium infield, Braverman and Wepner faced the media.
“He’s an out-and-out ox,” said Wepner.
“No he’s not!” bellowed his manager. “He’s a triple-f-in’ ox!”
Rare was the Braverman sentence that didn’t have a curse word.
Nobody was ever worse than DiPiano, however. DiPiano was the father of former light heavyweight champion Mike Rossman (who used his mother’s maiden name). His mouth was so vile that Gangsta’ Rappers would probably blush in his presence. DiPiano was such a gutter-mouth that he thought he was being polite when he addressed someone with a curse word included (“Hey, Gordon, nice to f-in’ see you. How the f- are you?”). He was the only man I ever knew who could out-curse Braverman. One time, we were in the Sands’ Hotel Casino in Atlantic City. DiPiano was hungry (his belly was the only thing larger than his vile mouth). Instead of saying, “Let’s go to the cafeteria,” which is something you or I would have said, he said (nope, he did not say “Let’s go to the f-in’ cafeteria”) . . . are you ready for this one? . . . “Let’s go to the cafef-interia.” He actually broke up a word so he could install a curse inside of it! The day DiPiano passed away, I had been on the phone with Braverman. I informed him of DiPiano’s passing.
“Good f-in’ riddance!” was Braverman’s reply. Did you expect anything else?
After leaving the presence of either one of them, I always felt I needed to take a shower.
Norman Stone must be a disciple of one of the two of them. Maybe he is a graduate from the Al Braverman/Jimmy DiPiano Diction School. He is loud, crude, obnoxious, vulgar and a sore-loser—qualities Braverman and DiPiano envied.
When Roy Jones Jr. put on a clinic and boxed the title away from Ruiz, all you heard was whining, complaining and cussing from Stoney.
Last November, he wound up being tossed at Madison Square Garden by referee Randy Neumann for assaulting the senses with a constant barrage of obscenities.
An interview with Stoney (would anybody really want to interview him???) would look something like this:
Interviewer: If John Ruiz gets past James Toney, would you like to see him face Roy Jones again?
Stoney: First of all, what the @#$% do you mean “If” John Ruiz gets past James Toney? We’re gonna’ beat the *&^^%$ to death! As far as Roy Jones is concerned, he’s a @#$%^& little *^%!@. I could take him myself and @#$% him up. One @#$%^&-handed.
Of course, the above interview never took place. Had it been a real interview, there would have been a lot more @#$%’s and *&^^%$’s.
* * *
When the MSG bell rings for round one, my heart will be pulling for Toney. My head tells me it’ll be Ruiz who wins.
Ruiz’s boring personality and just-as-boring boxing style is not the reason I am pulling for Toney to win. Boring is boring and dull is dull. Boxing has been through boring and dull before. It’s Stoney we want to see disappear. It’s time for him to work corners in club fights and sit at Fenway Park and curse out the umpires. He’s had more than his share of airtime and fame. HBO’s cameras and microphones don’t need to be focused on his filth after Saturday night. We can only hope, can’t we?
But is Toney up for the dethroning of Ruiz? With “Lights Out,” you never know what you’re going to get.
Will it be the James Toney who thoroughly wiped the floor with Evander Holyfield and who pulverized Michael Nunn in 1991 or will it be the James Toney who was trashed by Roy Jones in 1994 and outpointed by Drake Thadzi in 1997?
I have a special place for the Thadzi-Toney fight. I promoted it when I was the Director of Boxing for the Foxwoods Resort/Casino.
The fight was supposed to have been for the WBU light heavyweight crown. Toney swore to me he’d make the light heavyweight limit of 175 pounds. When he arrived at the hotel three days before the fight, he looked at least 10 pounds over that weight.
“Don’t worry about me,” he told me. “My weight is fine.”
The next morning, I watched him train in a rubber suit for over an hour. Most of his time was spent on a Stair Master. He also shadow-boxed and jumped rope. When he was finished, he returned to the locker room and peeled off the rubber suit. Water poured out. He stepped on the scale. It said 175 pounds.
“I told you not to worry,” he said. “I’ll dry out tonight and weigh even less tomorrow.” Then he added, “I can fight at light heavyweight, I can fight at cruiserweight and I can even go up to heavyweight and be successful. Don’t doubt me. I’m telling you, I can be the heavyweight champion of the world!”
That night, at around 11:00, I was sitting at the bar on the exclusive 8th Floor—where most of the casino’s “high-rollers” stayed—talking with a few sportswriters who were up to cover the bout. They were devouring plate after plate of jumbo shrimp and other goodies from the food bar directly behind us. As I looked in the mirror inside the bar area, Toney’s image behind me caught my eye. He had a suspicious look on his face, as if he was doing something wrong. I watched him. He was. He was breaking training.
Only that morning, he trained incredibly hard in a rubber suit, killing himself to make weight, anxiously waiting to fight Thadzi. Now, there he was, fighting his junk food craving—and losing. I watched him take handfuls of chocolate and stuff them into his right pocket. Then he took another handful and stuffed them into his left pocket. I turned to face him.
“James, what in the world are you doing?” I asked him.
He was truly the kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. In this case, it was on the dessert tray.
“I, uh, I’m bringing these things to a few friends who are in my suite.”
I glared at him.
“Tell them they can come out here and take all they want,” I told him.
“Uh, that’s, uh, okay,” he stammered. “I think they’re, uh, tired.
I glared at him some more.
“Hey, it’s your fight to win, James,” I told him. “It’s also your fight to lose.”
“It don’t matter,” he said, waving his right hand. “I’m gonn’ kick ???’s butt no matter what.
Toney then disappeared into his suite and most likely had himself a chocolate party. A one-man chocolate party. The next night, he failed to make weight. Then he ran out of gas late in the fight and was outpointed by Drake. It remains the last time he lost.
* * *
Expect an ugly fight. Ruiz’ jab-and-grab style will lend itself to becoming that. However, Ruiz will do what he has to do to hang onto his title. He shows that outing after outing.
James Toney is an exceptional fighter. Defensively, few men at his weight and size are as adept at picking-off and slipping punches as he is. While he doesn’t punch like a heavyweight, his punches are short, fast and crisp. Enough of them will take a fighter apart, the way they dismantled Evander Holyfield. However, I still view him as, if not a blown-up middleweight, then a blown-up light heavyweight with a pocket full of chocolates.
Somehow, someway, I feel Toney will accomplish what he told me at Foxwoods he was going to do. He will decision John Ruiz and win the heavyweight championship of the world.
If that happens, look for Toney to move toward making one more dream come true. No, that dream is not a fight against Chris Byrd or Vitali Klitschko. It’s a fight against his arch-enemy, a man who occupies Toney’s every thought whether he wants to admit it or not. That man has already beaten John Ruiz. That man is Roy Jones, Jr.
Only in boxing!