It wasn't an embarrassment. It wasn't like Holmes/Ali, the sad drama in the Bahamas. James Toney didn't absorb a vicious beatdown that made you turn away in fear and sadness. But Toney's performance against Sam Peter on Saturday evening in Florida must at least give rise to the question: Should James Toney retire from boxing?
It wasn't supposed to go down like this. Toney was supposed to enter the ring in majestic condition, trimmed down and pumped up, ready to right an egregious wrong, and convince everyone that the judges were morons when they awarded a victory in September to Peter.
Then, we dialed back expectations when we realized that Toney wouldn't be impersonating Bernard Hopkins in physique in the rematch. Our eyebrows were raised, in a big way, when Toney stepped on the scale on Friday and actually weighed one pound more than he did for the first go-round. But, we Toney admirers rationalized, it is obvious that his bodily composition has changed, greatly. There is less jelly on the belly, and almost a hint of six-pack if you squinted hard enough.
No one, save James himself, could squint hard enough to view Saturday's fight in Florida and declare that he beat Peter.
The rounds were reasonably close, we'll say that. Some rounds, neither man put a conclusive stamp on a three-minute chapter. But Toney simply wasn't busy enough throughout the affair, and while he had a bit more bounce in his step, the much vaunted Billy Blanks training regimen was a bust, we quickly decided. It's back to the video store VHS remainder bin for Tae Bo, I'm afraid. Toney's footwork wasn't appreciably different. His punch output, it looked like, was actually more stingy than in the first waltz.
After the bout came the cringe-inducing moment, when Toney said he thought he won the fight.
“I give Peter three rounds at most,” Toney said, clearly lost in the fog of the skirmish. We should probably give him an allowance for the fact that no one should be held as accountable as the heat of the battle lingers. But, in contrast to the humble warrior Peter, who maintained that he likes Toney, even as Toney tore him a new orifice, Toney came off poorly. Toney seemed to vacillate between delusion and reality-based thinking as he indulged in the post-fight post-mortem with Showtime's Jim Gray, as he fixated on the fact that Peter couldn't knock him out. Any of us couldn't have any beef with Toney if he chose to cling to that moral victory life preserver, but it wasn't as easy to shrug off his daffy declaration of victory.
So, if we all can agree that there's more of a likelihood of Trump and Rosie hooking up than of Toney trimming down to cruiserweight territory, then we must ask, What's next for Toney? Having proved that he wasn't able to approximate the Toney of the 80s, 90s, even the Toney of four months prior, even after enduring a supposedly grueling training camp, then what should Toney do? Continue to campaign as a heavyweight, a division where his punching power is negligible? Transition to being a steppingstone, a gatekeeper sort who serves to separate the true contenders from the manufactured pretenders? His speech patterns are already worrisome; guests in my house Saturday night were unable to decipher his post-bout verbalizations. Should Toney take more punishment, and continue to soldier on at this reduced level of effectiveness? Or should he call it a day, and exit the savage science, even though this is his singular calling in life, and he will be hard-pressed to keep himself occupied without fighting.
I'm usually hesitant to tell, or even gently lobby, a fighter to hang 'em up, and walk away. But as a chronicler of the goings-on in the sport, I do have a vested interest in the long-term health of boxing, and of its participants. So, I'll defer to one of the people closest to Toney, his promoter Dan Goossen, and put him on the spot, asking him whether James Toney should retire.
“I had a meeting with James' managers on Monday,” Goossen told me by phone on Tuesday. “Before anything else, I want to make sure James has a rest period and we have him checked out medically from head to toe. He's not only a great warrior, but a great friend, and I want to make sure that by a medical standpoint we get as much information that we can before any decision is made whether James should fight again. But he said to me in the locker room right after the fight, 'I want to fight next month.' He's certainly disappointed, but he's a pro and knows sobbing doesn't do much. Against Peter, I saw James look flat and right now I can't tell you what that means until he gets a complete physical. But he hasn't really taken a lot of punishment based on the amount of fights he's had. He was fighting a big, strong boxer. Peter was still cautious with James until the last round. Peter had some suspicion of James' strength, to the end. A loss to Peter isn't disgraceful. It was a competitive first half of the fight. And he was knocked down but he got up quicker than my 25 year olds do. I know James wouldn't go down to cruiserweight. I believe most boxers he would have knocked out. Brock, Liakhovich, he would have beaten them. His conditioning—well I can't say the Billy Blanks experiment was a success or a failure until we get the medical evaluation done. Time will tell. But he's been getting prepared for fights his way for 20 years and maybe these workouts were foreign to his system. I don't want to say he left his strength in the gym but his body may not have responded. I can't explain it, his body was in better physical shape. I still believe he's a player in the division. The key is getting him some rest, but I see him in the ring in May or June.”
I wanted to get trainer Freddie Roach's take, get his appraisal of Toney, weigh in on whether or not he thinks Toney should hang 'em up. But Roach is doing promo work with Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines and wasn't reachable at deadline. I wonder if Freddie saw any signs in the gym that Toney's legs aren't there, if he had any struggles in sparring that indicate an erosion of skills.
How about you, readers? Has Toney slipped in your eyes, or does Sam Peter have more to do with Toney's mediocre outing than anything else? Can Toney still compete, and beat, some of the division's top guns? Or should the old warhorse trot into the sunset, secure in the knowledge that he's taken us all for a helluva ride?