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The Greatest Hits Of James Toney’s Boxing Career

James Toney is boxing royalty, one of the best fighters I saw as a child growing up, who guided me through my young adulthood, and like all great athletes, will slowly get forgotten for what they did, and gradually became a famous name, that young people don’t want to learn about.

This is a quick cheat sheet for a five-division world champion. He held the following titles IBF Middleweight title as well as the lineal middleweight, IBF Super Middleweight title, WBU Light Heavyweight title, IBF Cruiserweight title, WBU Cruiserweight title, IBO Cruiserweight title, WBA Heavyweight title, IBA Heavyweight title, IBU Heavyweight, IBA Heavyweight title and WBF Heavyweight title.

Toney was the living embodiment of a fighter, someone who lived to fight, and even from his beginning swore he’d be heavyweight, only to become a champion there.

What made Toney great: Elite level talent, some of the fast hands ever seen in any weight class, and a shoulder roll style made famous by Floyd Mayweather in which he was more offensive while not being defensively careless.

What hurt Toney: Toney had trouble it seemed with discipline in his prime. Toney left middleweight as a fan bit too soon and passed light heavyweight to go to cruiserweight, ending his career at heavyweight.

Where To Start

James Toney vs. Michael Nunn

James Toney’s first world title win against a legend in Michael Nunn put him on the map, and to stop Nunn in the 11th for the IBF title was a statement. One could say that this might be the best version of James Toney ever to live. Toney was down in the fight and rallied back. Nunn, who was trained by Angelo Dundee was considered the best middleweight at the time.

James Toney vs. Mike McCallum I

Lukie: My all-time favorite fight. Caleb Plant’s coach, Justin Gamber explained it well as he explains the fight as mirror images of each other facing each other. I once met a celebrity and they asked me what my favorite fight was, and I told them Toney vs. McCallum which would turn out to be an awkward answer as they didn’t seem to know the bout.

What makes it so great? It is two of the best inside fighters, fighting on the inside side with high level of skill. Not many fighters have fights like this one, and I think I watched this fight and Mike Tyson’s career highlights during the pandemic, far too much. This fight is my golden standard for boxing.

James Toney vs. Iran Barkley

Felix Gracia: For me, Iran Barkley takes the cake. Not only was it one of Toney’s most impressive wins, but there was also a lot of bad blood prior to the fight. Iran seemingly got under the skin of Toney with all of the pre-fight build-up, which fueled Toney in a different way.

When they finally got in the ring, he punished him over the course of nine rounds. Iran was always a tough guy, as seen in his fights with Thomas Hearns. Barkley pressured Toney on the ropes all night which opened him up for Toney’s beautiful inside game, he busted him up with uppercuts and hooks all night, flurries of super fast combinations all while dodging most of Barkley’s output.

The final punch stats tell the story, Toney threw 616 total punches to Barkley’s 667. The accuracy is where it made the difference, Toney landed a rare 65% of his total punches, meanwhile, Barkley only landed 23%. The art of boxing is hit and don’t get hit and he followed that storyline to the T. If I would recommend anyone watch a Toney fight, this is definitely on the top of that list. 

James Toney vs. Evander Holyfield

Jack Kelly: On December 10th of 2003, James “Lights Out” Toney made the move up to the heavyweight division. He was coming off of outstanding performance, as he defeated IBF Cruiserweight Champion Vassiliy Jirov by unanimous decision. Most people believed that Toney was too far past his peak to compete with the undefeated Jirov, but Toney showed that he still had plenty left in the tank that night. After the win, he set his sights on a heavyweight bout with the legendary Evander Holyfield.

Holyfield landed his fair share of blows early in the fight, but as the rounds went by the overall versatility of Toney turned the tide. He was able to catch and counter many of Holyfield’s shots as the fight progressed. The hand speed and combination punching of Toney had really begun to wear down Evander as the rounds passed by.

Toney landed a double left hook (to the head and then to the body), which dropped Holyfield halfway through the ninth round. Holyfield survived the count, but his corner threw in the towel which anointed Toney with the TKO victory. Toney showed that, as a former 160lb champion, his body was able to adjust well to the heavyweight division. He showed that his elusiveness and defensive capabilities were still intact, as well as his ability to take a legit heavyweight punch.

This win, along with the aforementioned Jirov victory, combined with his knockout victories of Iran Barkley and Michael Nunn are my favorite nights in the legendary career of James “Lights Out” Toney.

James Toney vs. Vassiliy Jirov

Nibs: For me, Toney vs. Jirov is a personal favorite because it happened a few days after my birthday in 2003. Nobody was hyping up the fight and most folks thought Toney was washed up, as this would be a showcase bout in which Toney would get KO’d badly by the undefeated young champion Jirov, seen as one of the best cruiserweight at the time.

It was on HBO Boxing After Dark series and turned out to be a classic fight earning fight of the year and led Toney to getting FOY honors that year. For two guys well over 200lbs on fight night they threw over 1800 punches combined which is high for lightweights. From the opening bell until the twelfth and final round, Jirov applied pressure throwing punches in bunches and Toney showed near perfect counter punching and landing at almost 50% for the fight. Round 12 was as good as it gets and Toney scored a knockdown with only 30 seconds left. I had Lights Out winning easy but Harold Lederman had it a draw… either way you saw it, it was a classic.

The Last Great Moment

James Toney vs Hasim Rahman II

The last time I watched Toney while he boxed was an odd fight, a rematch against Hasim Rahman who was best known for his KO win over Lennox Lewis. The fight broadcast on local auxiliary sports networks that have since been merged by NBC/Universal, but were formally Comcast Sports Net affiliates, as “The Best Damn Sports Show”, essentially podcast like conversations in 2003-2010, hosted the event as well.

The bout showed Toney’s talent, ended strange, and showed the persona as well as personality of Toney that made him so unique. I remember talking to my grandfather about the bout and reflecting on the event it was. I might not look like much now, but it was actually a lot of fun watching it live, or how I found it flipping through the channels and just finding it.

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Lukie Ketelle

Lukie Ketelle