LAS VEGAS, Sept. 2 – All the world loves a Fat Man, but James Toney makes it difficult. Sometimes, he is so vitriolic it seems as if he flunked out of the Mike Tyson School for Public Speaking. He wasn’t always this way.
Yes, the anger and bile of hating his father often boiled to the surface, but he could channel it. A sly sense of humor went with the rage until fairly recently when he seems to have as little interest in controlling it as he has in reining in his appetite.
All of which does not mean he is too fat or too ticked off not to give Samuel Peter a thorough boxing lesson tomorrow night. It’s just getting harder to root for him to do so.
He has become as blunt and as obvious as most of Peter’s clubbing punches. He just spews filth, using the vocabulary of the sewer to disparage opponents and friends. Tyson was at least original. Toney yells “faggot.” Tyson told Razor Ruddock he was going “to kiss you on your fat lips and make you my girlfriend.”
Toney yells four-letter words; Tyson warned Lennox Lewis he was going to eat his children.
There was lot more creativity with Tyson’s insults.
Toney at least can claim he has not mellowed now that he is 38. At least his sound still echoes that deep-seated fury that made him a special fighter back when he was a middleweight. As long as he still burns inside, he is a dangerous man in the ring, no matter how many rolls of extra protection hang from his waist.
With his ring smarts – while current trainer Freddie Roach is one of the best, he learned his craft from the great Detroit wizard, Bill Miller – Toney should manage to take the virtual novice to school at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
That’s the smart play, especially with Toney a slight underdog in the betting on the Showtime main event. Brains over brawn, take it to the bank.
Then along came Evander Holyfield to upset my plans by likening this matchup to George Foreman-Joe Frazier. In Holyfield’s analysis, Peter plays Big George while Toney gets to act the yo-yo.
Toney has never been stopped in his remarkable career. He has been a defensive whiz, from the obvious roll-and-counter right hands to the more subtle hiding places for his strong chin. He parries, he ducks and if the reflexes ain’t what they used to be, it would seem difficult for Peter to capitalize.
Except Holyfield pointed out another angle – the 6-foot-1 Peter punches down, making the 5-foot-9 Toney, especially when he crouches and ducks, vulnerable to blows atop the head.
And behind. Roach has put the California commission, and Referee Raul Caiz Sr., on notice to watch for illegal, if unintentional, blows to the back of the head.
Gil Clancy pointed out that maybe Foreman, at that stage, was not the brightest boxer in the gym, but he knew how to count to three – one, two, three, Frazier should be right there.
This worries me more than Toney’s shape – at 233 pounds, only four pounds lighter than he was for Hasim Rahman – or his age and the possible accompaniment of diminished skills.
The winner of this fight becomes the alleged mandatory challenger for Oleg Maskaev, the new WBC titleholder. Peter, of course, is a punishing puncher. He has great power in each hand. He knocked down Wladimir three times during his only loss. But at the end, the Nigerian’s stamina had wilted from the chasing and the holding, and a fair amount of Klitschko jabs and right hands.
Peter won’t have to go looking for Toney. And in close, he won’t have to worry too much about getting held. In close is where Toney does his work. But the frustration of swinging and missing could still dissipate the Nightmare’s superior strength.
However, whereas pre-Holyfield I believed the only debate was whether or not Toney would be able to put the Nightmare to sleep, I now see the possibility of a dramatic and quick knockout that would establish Peter, who in five days turns 26, as the long-sought savior of the division.
Alas, the reality is probably some dull island in between. Toney, weighing in yesterday at 233 pounds, looked a bit firmer than he looked at his career-high 237 for Rahman, but he still did not appear to be someone who was taking Peter, soft himself at 257, too seriously.
Toney seems almost devoid of discipline. I do not know, of course, whether this is intentional, as in a total disregard for what critics might think, or he simply can’t control his mouth – either talking or eating.
His well-schooled skills, combined with Peter’s bumbling, could make us long for the good old days of John Ruiz. In other words, anything might happen in this matchup. In other words, I have as usual no clue.
It is, of course, a must-see show. Best, it has a featherweight appetizer and featherweight has long been my favorite division, between Eric Aiken and Robert Guerrero, that is, unless Toney hasn’t had them for a prefight snack.
PENTHOUSE: There’s another big fight tomorrow night, this in England where Glencoffe Johnson challenges old rival Clinton Woods for one of those light-heavyweight trinkets that Bernard Hopkins did not take with him into retirement after beating Antonio Tarver. The fight is listed as pick ’em and I pick Johnson, both intellectually and emotionally. Gentleman Glen, at 37, is now the big guy among light-heavyweights and after a controversial draw with Woods in the Englishman’s backyard and then a decision in their rematch, I can’t see any reason to believe there will be a reversal of form. Without any disparity towards Woods, Johnson is one of the guys for whom it is easy to root.
OUTHOUSE: A couple of hardy perennials appear again, those bosom buddies Bob Arum and Don King. Shame, shame and shame again. At the age of 74, Arum should not be doing such physical labor as grave-digging, but he has resurrected the career of Kevin Kelley, who last seen was dispatched in four rounds by Bobby Pacquiao, Manny’s soft-punching big brother, last June 10 at Madison Square Garden. Kelley, now 39, who turned pro Sept. 8, 1988, or before George Bush the Elder was elected President, returns to San Antonio, where he was brutally dethroned as featherweight champion by Alejandro Gonzalez more than ten years ago, to face Carlos Hernandez, who may be 35, but is not far from his prime – last year, he handily defeated the very same Pacquiao, although outrageously robbed of the decision. Tom Loeffler, Kelley’s longtime manager, deserves some blame for not chopping off one of the fighter’s limbs to ensure he never goes back into the ring as scheduled Sept. 28 on Arum’s new series on OLN (now called Versus and we all should be very versus this match).
I intended to belatedly wish King a happy 75th birthday before I read his pathetic defense of George W. Bush’s handling of the Katrina disaster. You should read it, too. It was written by my boss, TSS editor-in-chief Robert Ecksel.