By Jackie Kallen
I will always be the first person to say that James Toney was one of the all-time great middleweights and super middleweights. No question about it. Not just because I managed him during those golden years, but because it’s a fact.
It is always painful to watch a deteriorating boxer attempt to keep his career going. For every Bernard Hopkins, there are a dozen Roy Jones. For some sad reason, there are athletes who try to pull water out of a dry well. I always hoped that James Toney would not be one of those. I pictured him retiring at the exact right moment the way Marvin Hagler did.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way.
I cringed in 2006 when he fought to a draw with Hasim Rahman. At 237 pounds, he was 80 pounds heavier than when he fought Michael Nunn to win the middleweight belt. Then he lost twice in a row to Samuel Peter that same year. 0-2-1 for the year.
All boxing fans were disgusted when he attempted to compete in MMA and jumped in with icon Randy Couture. He never made it out of the first round. Shameful. But MMA is not his sport so he wisely went back to the boxing ring.
Earlier this year, a bloated 257-pound Toney climbed through the ropes to fight a 46-14 journeyman named Damon Reed, who had been stopped three times in his last five fights before meeting up with James. Should have been an early night for James. Monte Barrett flattened him in two rounds and Rahman did it in six. James went the distance with him.
Still wanting to compete (at age 43) James agreed to go to Moscow to fight 22-1 Denis Lebedev. Lebedev stopped Roy Jones in the 10th round a few months ago, but other than that, there’s not a recognizable name on his record. Unless you remember 6-19-4 Nick Okoth. At 32, Lebedev is 11 years younger and is a southpaw.
Before losing, at least Roy Jones won a few rounds. James did not even win one round on any of the scorecards. Not one! A sluggish, old-looking Toney embarrassed himself. It almost made one feel sorry for him. It was that bad.
I choose to remember the James Toney who flattened Nunn, annihilated Barkley, and shamed Prince Charles Williams. He was sharp, defensively brilliant, and owned the ring. He was flashy, brash and talked smack. But he backed it up.
The James Toney who fought in Russia today was far from that man. Let’s hope he gets the message and hangs up his gloves before he gets hurt. A harder puncher than Lebedev would have put him to sleep.
Looks like the lights are finally out.
Jackie Kallen is a boxing manager who has been in the business for over three decades. Her life inspired the Meg Ryan film “Against the Ropes” and she was a part of the NBC series “The Contender.” www.JackieKallen.com, www.facebook.com/JackieKallen