By Jackie Kallen
Because I managed James Toney for six years and we basically put each other on the map, people feel obliged to ask me my opinion of his career. They have been asking me ever since he lost to little-known Drake Thadzi back in 1997. They asked when he was about to fight Holyfield back in 2003 and they asked again when Toney tested positive for “banned substances” after his fight with John Ruiz in 2005.
I usually say the same thing: “It’s his life, his career, and his decision.”
Lately, though, fight fans have been dissatisfied with that response and they will usually press me further.
“Don’t you care about his health? He can barely speak now.”
To all of you who seem concerned about the status of JT’s health–I assure you that I share the same concerns. James was like a son to me for many years and I will always have a soft spot for him in my heart. And I definitely do worry about his overall mental and physical condition.
I am aware of the fact that at the age of 44 and a veteran of 86 fights, James is showing some wear and tear. His enunciation is not as sharp as it once was and his punches aren’t either. He suffered two consecutive losses to Samuel Peter in 2006 and 2007 and then lost to Denis Lebedev in Russian in late 2011.
No one would argue that the James Toney who is heading to Australia next month to face Lucas Browne is a shadow of his former self. That is a given. And it’s a another fact that he is fighting a 6’4′, undefeated heavyweight with a 93% KO ratio. That is scary.
Inactivity is a bad thing for boxers. James only fought once in 2012, twice in 2011, zero times in 2010 and once in 2009. Not a lot of action. He was always at his best when he was busy. I realize that it is harder to stay busy in your forties with many commissions blocking your attempts to compete. But ring rust is still a problem for fighters and more so for older ones.
Despite all the negatives, I believe that James Toney (like Bernard Hopkins and other “older” boxers) has the right to pursue a living. Boxing is all James knows and he loves it. He has always been one of those guys who enjoys training and gets a high from beating people up. It is his life.
Do I wish he’d find another–safer–way to make a living? Of course. But everyone has the free will to make their own choices and James Toney chooses to fight. He has never been knocked out in 646 rounds of professional boxing and he still feels like he has the fire and desire.
At this stage in his career, all I can do is wish him well. I am sure that he and his family have discussed it and hopefully when the people around him feel it is time to quit–he will agree. In the meantime, maybe he will teach Mr. Browne a few lessons. In any case, he will get a nice trip to beautiful Melbourne.
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