Reno (Events Center) – In twin bill featuring an all over-30 cast of heavyweights vying for a slice of an expansive championship pie, James Toney, 69-4-2, 1 NC (43 KOs), Ann Arbor, Mich., 235, used his full repertoire to gain a clear-cut 12-round decision over Dominick Guinn, 25-3-1 (18 KOs), Hot Springs, Ark., 221, to put himself squarely in the championship picture of the heavyweight division.

The talented Guinn opened the fight landing his sharp left hooks to the head of Toney, but quickly fell into Toney’s game on the inside.

As Guinn moved closely to Toney in round two, he was met by right hands over the top, hooks to the body, while his own ability to land good punches was simply insufficient to win rounds.

Guinn stepped up the pace in round five and put combinations together and smothered Toney’s retort. It was, however, the last round he would win.

The skilled artisan Toney progressively dominated rounds six through twelve. Sharp exchanges were began and completed by Toney whether in the middle of the ring or along the ropes. Guinn had flickers of hope, occasionally making his considerable left hook work, but by staying so close to Toney he consistently gave his shorter opponent the right of way to land counters.

Scoring reflected dominance: Keith McDonald, 117-111; Paul Smith, 119-110; Dalby Shirley, 119-110 all for Toney. The Sweet Science scored the bout 118-110.

James Toney, 37, entered the ring with distinct advantages. He had vast experience. He had the confidence of knowing that he soundly thrashed a current belt-holder in John Ruiz. His bag of tricks against bigger, faster, stronger and younger competition enabled him to clinch clear victories.

His rollercoaster career includes an odd pair of losses at the hands of Montell Griffin, a decision loss to Drake Thadzi, and of course the only lopsided loss of his career to the great Roy Jones. 

Since the 1997 Thadzi bout, his record stood at 14-0, and the steroid-induced win-later-ruled no contest against John Ruiz.

Along the way he added some alphabet trinkets, the most notable of which was the IBF cruiserweight belt gained from a very strong and willing Vassily Jirov in 2003. 

For the Jirov fight he weighed the then-cruiserweight limit of 190. Since his move into the heavyweight division his weight, always a matter of discussion even when he was a mere super-middleweight, has ballooned. He was 217 against Evander Holyfield; 227 for Rydell Booker; 233 for John Ruiz; and of course 235 tonight. 

It is hard to believe that he once weighed 157 for a world title fight (against Michael Nunn). It’s harder still to imagine how he crammed 235 pounds on his 5’9” frame and remained ultra-competitive.

Normally being 37 years old in a much bigger body should have been a signal that he was on the down slope of a career that had significant peaks. Observers wondered aloud when Father Time would give James’ body the signal that his winning days would end. 

Tonight was clearly not that night.

Guinn, 30, came into the ring a puzzling figure. Solid wins over Michael Grant and Duncan Dokiwari led to many whispering loudly that perhaps he was the next great American heavyweight. His sharp left hook and well-timed combinations were marveled over. Against the much bigger Grant he demonstrated patience that only premier fighters possess, perhaps a tribute to his extensive amateur background.

That was in 2003. 

Then 2004 came along and the world of Dominick changed dramatically. His decision loss to Monte Barrett was a head-scratcher. Long periods of listlessness led to a split-decision loss and many observers what had happened to the hot prospect inhabiting his body. 

Later in the year another decision loss to fellow prospect Serguei Lyakhovich and a draw with Friday Ahunanya had some speaking of his career at the elite level in the past tense. Seeming inexplicable lethargic performances put his image as a comer back to square one.

As a 30-year-old, Guinn was the youngster on the night’s card. His younger body should have been fresher, and his finely honed body should have given him strength and vitality in later rounds should it have been necessary.  

For Guinn the loss means a very long road back to respectability and big money in a division that seems ripe for big talent. He’ll undoubtedly get more chances but lesser fights against lesser fighters for lesser money is ahead for Guinn. 

Whether he makes it back to the elite level remains a question mark.

                                                           * * *

IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd, 39-2-1 (20 KOs), Flint, Mich., 213, retained his title with a dreadful 12-round unanimous decision over DaVarryl Williamson, 22-4 (18 KOs), Denver, 225.

From the opening bell, neither fighter seemed eager to engage the other. Williamson moved away from Byrd as if he were facing Joe Frazier sprinkling in an occasional jab or two. 

Byrd fought in the unusual role as the aggressor – although considering either fighter aggressive would not be an accurate report.

The early rounds were virtual tossups. Scoring was undoubtedly difficult for all at ringside because of long stretches of inactivity.

Williamson was able to land his jab seemingly at will but the infrequency of its use was often blurred by Byrd’s round closing flurries that flashed but did not pop.

Referee Vic Drakulich admonished both fighters for their relative inactivity. Nevada commissioner Marc Ratner also warned both corners of his dissatisfaction. Both notifications led to little increases in activity.

Byrd was able to put enough of his pecking punches on the almost lethargic Williamson in the last four rounds to pull away and grab yet another victory in a bout that could easily have been scored in either direction.

Surely he did not set the stage for a large pay-per-view extravaganza with top contender Wladimir Klitschko. With the win and the relatively paltry $425,000 payday that went with it, he will, however, almost certainly realize a bigger check when he meets Klitschko.

Scoring of the bout: Pat Russell, 116-112; Doug Tucker 116-112; and Glenn Trowbridge 115-113 all for Byrd. The Sweet Science scored the bout 114-114.

Following the bout Byrd complained loudly about Don King’s unwillingness to keep him busy implying his lackluster performance was in at least some part due to inactivity.

Chris Byrd, 35, entered the arena as a contestant for the first time in almost a year. In each of his last three fights he was able to convince judges, if not many fans and boxing writers, that he should keep his belt. Highly questionable decision wins over Jameel McCline and Fres Oquendo, and an even more questionable draw with Andrew Golota, did not endear him to an already fan base that did not particularly enjoy his style. But, as always the optimistic and skilled Byrd persevered. If power and dominance was not his game, winning was. If he’s nothing else, Chris Byrd is a winner.

The former middleweight Olympian had faced the giants, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, the tough guys, Ike Ibeabuchi and David Tua, and the legendary Evander Holyfield. He won some and lost some but he was always a willing participant.

His overwhelming strength is the experienced gained by (mostly) staying on his feet and willing himself past much bigger and more powerful foes. He spotted McCline 56 pounds for goodness sake.

He figured to pull Williamson out of his game throughout the contest. While being able to punch with authority, Williamson was no Klitschko brother, Ibeabuchi or Tua. And of that group only Ibeabuchi was able to stop the ever-slippery Byrd.

In truth neither fighter pulled anyone out of a fight plan – indeed if a fight plan existed by either fighter it certainly was not in evidence.

DaVarryl Williamson, 37, arrived at what was his first, and perhaps last, chance for claiming a heavyweight belt. His recent wins over Derrick Jefferson and Oliver McCall created a confidence that comes only from winning significant fights. The confidence from those fights was squandered throughout the fight.

Following the loss, Williamson is likely going to the end of the line for heavyweight contention.

For Byrd, retaining his belt means he may get another shot at a money fight.

Let’s just hope that at his next defense a fight breaks out.