James Toney had no business winning in Madison Square Garden Saturday night.
His renowned wizardry was supposed to be dulled by a thick midsection, a real height problem in today’s world of giant heavyweights, a series of injuries, and at 36 years of age perhaps he was going one fight too many. (Does anyone remember the spent shell of a fighter that inhabited the body of Muhammad Ali at age 36?)
Moreover, ex-light-heavyweight champions are more likely to end up in the cheap seats going in against the big boys — Toney was an ex-middleweight champ.
Many picked John Ruiz to retain his portion of the heavyweight title with an ugly win against a shell of a formerly great fighter in Toney (this writer among them).
Of course Toney, in his singularly supreme confidence never showed a whisper of doubt that he would destroy Ruiz inside the distance. While he didn’t do that, he left no one with any doubt – even Ruiz, who quickly vacated the ring following the announcement of the decision – that he was the clear victor.
Ruiz, not content to rely on his usual stab-and-grab, sleep-inducing (but winning) tactics, let fly jabs and right hands throughout.
In the first four rounds, each of the fighters traded rounds with Ruiz seeking to gain distance with some odd head movement and jabs.
“Lights Out” appeared to understand that his bout with Ruiz was a long haul effort.
Toney stayed close, landing crisp right hands, usually as counters, to the head and body of the bigger champion.
In the fifth, Toney began to pull away by mixing in sharp combinations to go with right hands than Ruiz never figured out.
A seventh round knockdown by Toney, which really did not appear to be a knockdown from a punch, did seem to give Toney a boost while Ruiz sagged.
From that round on Toney was in command, winning all but the 10th (in my scoring), while Ruiz, struggling mightily, simply lost steam on his punches.
I scored the bout 116-111 Toney.
This wasn’t about one fighter simply out-gutting his opponent – it was about one great fighter outclassing a good journeyman, albeit a much bigger one.
Toney had as much pure focus and displayed as much skill as he did at any point in his career.
Whatever happens to James Toney when he faces the other titlists, something he seems to truly want, the boxing world should marvel at his gifts as a winner.
Vitali Klitschko and Chris Byrd will undoubtedly be favored should he meet them – because Toney shouldn’t win. He’s too old, too fat, too short, and . . . wait a minute. Didn’t we all say that when he faced Ruiz? He’s not one of the beautiful, svelte figures that should win, he just wins and wins.
Toney tricks and traps his opponents in the ring, and he does the same to those of us viewing from outside the ropes.
Some will try to push the belief that Ruiz isn’t a great fighter and that we shouldn’t read too much into Toney’s win. It’s not fair, but it is the way of the game and he knows it. He will continue fighting and his chance to continue to erase doubts looms on the horizon.
For those among us who insist on writing Toney’s boxing obituary, we may have to one day acknowledge that this may be James Toney’s world, and the rest of us are just along for the ride.