If James Toney had won, we would still be making jokes about eating hot dogs for breakfast.

If he’d beaten Hasim Rahman on Saturday night in Atlantic City, we would be cracking wise about Toney’s love affair with stogies and lobby Cigar Aficionado to put him on the cover.

But Toney lost. No, that’s not a typo. I know what the judges said. They deemed the fight a draw. But really, Toney lost.

He lost some luster in the eyes of his hardcore band of fanatics who treasure his old-school technical wizardry. Many of them, and I include myself as a junior member in that crew, told any and all who would listen that Toney had forgotten more about fighting than Rahman had ever learned, and Saturday night would prove me right.

Saturday night, though, was just all right for fighting.

On the bright side, Rahman stepped up with admirable sack in the big game. He was busy as a bee on meth, for a heavyweight, anyway, and for that, he must be tepidly applauded. But Toney…oh, the lost opportunity.

Toney lost by coming into the ring in less than stellar condition. By weighing 237 pounds, by not listening to his esteemed trainer and pushing away from the table quicker, Toney lost some endurance and stamina that would have enabled him to throw more punches. He wanted to be bulky to minimize Rahman’s size advantage, he told Freddie Roach, but why try to minimize the other guy’s asset when in doing so, you lessen your own greatest traits, torso movement and hand-speed?

That said, I still think Toney should have been announced as the winner on Saturday night. I scored him a two-point winner. Hold your fire, Rock-stockholders, hear me out…

When I think back on that fight, and try to recall all the clean blows that landed, punches that conclusively hit their mark and scored, my mind fixates on Toney’s punches. Rahman landed a few more, or so the punch-counters tell us, but do you truly remember more than a handful that landed absolutely cleanly?

Rahman did indeed throw more punches than Toney. But since when do we reward effort over effectiveness in America? Maybe in school, but in the real world, we find out, it’s all about results.

It’s almost like the judges were too cognizant of Rahman’s propensity to disappear for long stretches, and were overjoyed when The Rock kept on moving his hands.

So he moved his hands…big whup. Toney slipped and rolled as he typically does, and the vast majority of Rahman’s punches were partial connects or total misses.

Toney also got punished for his lack of power, and that shouldn’t be allowed. His punches were crisper and landed in a more telling fashion. But because he has middleweight power, the judges discounted his punches’ worth. Judges Kacmarek, Uratani and Stewart proved themselves to be KO hounds, like so many fans, and that’s too bad. Wait, Stewart, Mr. 117-111, proved himself to be something else entirely, or so Freddie Roach would tell you.

“That one judge should be abolished form boxing completely,” said Toney’s trainer from his Wild Card gym in El Lay. “The New Jersey Commission should look at the fight and his card.”

“I still think James landed the cleaner punches,” he said. “Punches on the back, on the arms, they don’t win. They aren’t scoring blows. I think James won.”

Judging incompetence aside, Roach and Goossen know full well that a properly conditioned Toney would have emerged from Atlantic City with a brand new belt to add to his collection, and an added passel of admirers.

Roach, who doesn’t talk down to Toney, or try to browbeat him into towing the line, worked his usual low-key brand of motivation during training camp.

“I love James at 220, 222-ish,” Roach continued. “Weight is always an issue with James. The lower weight is where his speed and conditioning are best. He felt he needed the extra weight for strength.”

Looking on the brighter side, Roach does now have more to work with when he chides Toney to come to camp fitter and more trim: “It’s now the first time I can put my foot down with James, and say that weight does matter.”

Roach saw the effects of the extra poundage. “It was the first time I’ve seen him fade,” he said. “He got tired in the fifth and then he got his second wind. But usually he goes all night long.”

The obvious drain on the fighter’s energy, the trainer said, will aid his future efforts: “When you lose for a reason, it makes my job easier.”

Another issue that Roach will address is Toney’s fondness for a good cigar. The Havana habit will be attended to, he said: “That’s another problem we talked to him about. That six weeks in training camp, there’s no smoking. It can’t be good for you.”

I broached the subject with promoter Dan Goossen, who feels as Roach does. “Do I wish James was conditioned better? Yes,” Goossen admitted. “But the cigar smoking…it has to stop. He is a connoisseur. But I haven’t told him yet, we’ll get together in the next few days.”

Goossen stayed below the fray on Saturday night at the post-fight press conference. But he watched a replay on Sunday night, and came away with a renewed belief that his man got the wrong end of the decision. “On the replay I looked at Rahman’s offensiveness effectiveness,” Goossen said. “He had a low connection rate. Very few of his punches landed to the chin, nose and mouth. Some landed on the top of the head. They were not effective blows.”

Goossen looks back and wishes he pushed harder for Toney to treat his conditioning more seriously. “My job is simple,” he said. “It’s to be honest with him. I should’ve done more before this fight. On the standpoint of conditioning, I’m very bullish on that.”

Roach thinks Toney will accept the input and fight on, with solid results: “He’s 37 and he’s got a couple of fights left,” the trainer said. “If he loses weight and gets rid of the cigars, it will make a big difference.”

SPEEDBAG
Lou DiBella had the flu so he wasn’t ringside to see Dmitriy Salita in dire straits on the AC undercard. The Ukrainian was down twice in the first round against Mexican Ramon Montano but escaped with a draw after eight rounds. “I talked to friends I respect who had Montano (9-2-2) by two points and a ton of others said Salita won five of the last seven rounds,” DiBella said. “It was a close decision.”

Was Salita, now with a 24-0-1 record, exposed? “In that kind of fight, against a guy not viewed as a top contender, it obviously has to slow his progress,” the promoter said. “He has to improve his defense and the number of right hands he’s taking. But he has balls the size of basketballs. We’re not going to rush him.”

***DiBella dines with Jermain Taylor, Pat Burns, Ozell Nelson and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Tuesday. On Wednesday, there’ll be a Memphis press conference to kick off the hype for Taylor/Winky Wright (June 17).

***You saw Dino Duva was pissed that the HBO crew didn’t single out Sam Peter on Saturday night? Dino said that Peter has offered four times to fight Calvin Brock. Johnny Bos, Brock’s advisor, begs to differ. Bos says that Brock and Peter became friendly a few years back, and vowed to each other that they wouldn’t fight, unless a world title were on the line. “Dino may have talked to Brock’s promoter’s Main Events, though,” Bos allowed.

***Bos think Brock will get a crack at the Yeti Valuev in September, which would be bad for Jawny Ruiz, who wants a rematch.

***Peter takes on towering Julius Long on April 28. An FYI, from Bos: “Cal says that Long is the hardest puncher he’s ever been in with.” Long gave Brock sparring before his last fight.