Happy 48th birthday James Toney – We here at The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel TV would like to wish a Happy 48th birthday to James Toney. James, born August 24th 1968, has always been a colorful character. Even as far back as his high school days he was the center of attention, being a natural athlete that excelled at anything he chose. Purportedly he was offered full ride football scholarships to multiple Michigan colleges only to lose them after an altercation with Deion Sanders left people thinking that he was better suited for the boxing ring.
Everyone knows that Toney is a gifted boxer – with seven time trainer of the year Freddie Roach even saying that Toney is the most naturally talented fighter he has ever worked with. Really though, Toney’s career when put into perspective is very impressive, having won world titles in three different weight classes and a fourth world title at heavyweight that was rescinded.
One would think that James got his nickname “Lights Out” from his amateur career, where he went 33-2 with 32 of his wins coming by stoppage. But it actually came from his early professional days when he was managed by underworld figure Johnny “Ace” Smith, who was murdered and then replaced with Jackie Kallen, who was a publicist at the renowned Kronk Gym. The two had an on-and-off relationship like a feuding couple that even led to the movie “Against The Ropes” where Kallen was portrayed by none other than Meg Ryan.
Toney won his first title in 1990. It was only an alphabet title, however, and it was in May of 1991 that he won his first recognized world championship when he went into Michael Nunn’s backyard and stopped the lineal middleweight champion in the 11th round despite being a huge underdog. Both men were undefeated, but Toney was far lesser known. The fight would make Toney The Ring magazine’s Fighter of the Year as he came back from a points deficit to knock out Nunn in the 11th round.
Toney would defend his title at a busy rate, including taking on the number one challenger Reggie Johnson the very next month after his big upset win. He would then move up to super middleweight, having outgrown the middleweight division. He challenged Iran Barkley for his IBF title in February of 1993 and stopped him in nine rounds after Barkley’s trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad threw in the towel with his fighter’s eyes badly swelling up.
James had a slew of good wins, including a couple stoppage wins that came just in the nick of time to help preserve his undefeated record. He faced Roy Jones Jr in November of 1994 in a highly anticipated bout of top pound for pound fighters that featured the fast-rising electric superstar in Jones vs the cagey old school veteran in Toney. Jones showed his superiority in the fight and Toney would end up losing his undefeated record via unanimous decision. This was his last fight at super middleweight.
After super middleweight, Toney bounced around between light heavyweight and cruiserweight for quite a few years. He would lose his first fight back after the Roy Jones Jr loss to Montell Griffin, with many people writing him off as a finished fighter at the top level. James had other plans though and was not done by a long shot. Perhaps his movie role as Joe Frazier in “Ali” alongside Will Smith spurred some vigor back into him, as 2003 would shape up to be his best year yet.
Toney would net himself a fight against cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov in April of 2003. In this legendary fight Toney would knock down Jirov in the 12th and final round with the outcome still in the balance to win the decision and hand Jirov his first defeat. The fight would win Fight of the Year honors in addition to further awards Toney would gain on the year such as both Comeback Fighter of the year and Fighter of the Year after adding Evander Holyfield’s scalp in his very next fight when he moved up to heavyweight for a new challenge.
Toney boasted that he would fulfill his prophecy of becoming heavyweight champion of the world (he said this often back in the beginning of his career) and he would do just that when in April of 2005 he beat John Ruiz for the WBA championship. The victory was short lived, however, due to a failed drug test. The New York State Athletic Commission changed the outcome of the fight to “no contest” and the WBA reinstated Ruiz as their heavyweight champion. Toney, meanwhile, claimed that the steroid he tested positive for was the result of a doctor giving him the drug for an arm injury he suffered in the fight just prior to Ruiz.
Toney had more mixed success in the heavyweight division with his most notable fights being two matches against Samuel Peter that he lost in controversial fashion via decisions. Unfortunately Toney never achieved his heavyweight title dream on paper due to being stripped from the failed drug test, but he does have the satisfaction of knowing and remembering that his hand was raised that night.
Overall James “Lights Out” Toney is a real throwback fighter. He had a bit of Jersey Joe Walcott’s roll in him as well as an iron chin. More than the iron chin though, it was his ability to hit and not get hit that made him the ring legend he was and continues to be.
Happy 48th birthday James Toney.