Former three-weight world champion James Lights Out Toney, who is due to fight Hasim The Rock Rahman for the WBC title in Atlantic City on March 18 , is defying one of boxing’s cardinal rules and looking ahead of his bout with The Rock toward bigger and better things on the horizon.
As confident as Toney is he’ll get past Rahman, and for good reason, he is equally confident he can tempt former heavyweight king Lennox Lewis out of retirement when and if he wins the WBC portion of title next month assuming, of course, no scandal follows in the wake of his victory.
“My goal right now is to fight Lennox Lewis,” Toney recently told BBC Sport. “I respect Lewis, he’s a good fighter, but he’s not a great fighter like me. Lennox will return he can’t resist.”
Fighters talk, and it seems heavyweight fighters talk more than most, but reading minds has never been most pugilists’ strong suit, and that trend, braggadocio (i.e. trash talk) aside, continues unabated.
Last April, for those whose memories are as short as a New York minute, Toney outboxed, out-slicked and out-punched then-WBA champion John Ruiz at the Garden to win the crown, but he was stripped of the belt after failing a drug test administered by the NYSAC which indicated Toney had tested positive for steroids.
And now, a little less than a year after that debacle, James is back (and presumably clean), ready to fight Rahman, ready to fight the world, ready and willing to talk the talk to whoever will listen. But why even bring up the 40-year-old former champ Lennox Lewis, who retired in 2003 after beating Vitali Klitschko in LA and has resisted every call, and there have been many, to return to active duty?
Lennox Lewis, so little appreciated during his reign, has since his retirement become a touchstone, a benchmark, a yardstick against which most heavyweights these days seem measure their accomplishments. Maybe they figure they’re not the man until they beat the man who beat the man who beat the man aka the man who ruled over the division for so long and with such dignity and maybe they’re right.
For many years, every heavyweight worth his salt always seemed to be declaiming, I want Jack Dempsey or I want Joe Louis or I want Muhammad Ali and the only people who ever seemed to pay them any mind were not the former heavyweight champs at peace in their dotage, but the middleweight sportswriters not at peace in their dotage, always searching for a scoop, always drooling for good copy, always willing to take seriously any off-the-cuff remark by men who would be better served by letting their fists and not their mouths do the talking.
But Toney, whose boxing and verbal skills are exceptional no fight there has earned the right to be taken seriously, not matter how delusional or off-the-wall his remarks, no matter how unlikely the depth of his wishful thinking. Yet, once Toney finished firing away at Lennox Lewis in his BBC interview, James, obviously in a roll, took a shot at another heavyweight champion, this one still active.
“Nikolay Valuev is like Frankenstein,” said Toney, whose knowledge of the monsters of film history is as great as his knowledge of the monsters of boxing. “He’s just another guy they want to put up as the Great White Hope. I don’t like John Ruiz, but there’s no way he lost that fight against Valuev. I’ll fight Valuev, embarrass him and knock him out. James Toney don’t worry about nobody.”
James Toney is right. He don’t worry about nobody not even, apparently, himself.