Shadow Man: Toney
Will Toney escape Jones' shadow Saturday?
By Sean Waisglass: You likely haven't read much mention of Roy Jones Jr. in James Toney's interviews leading up to his Saturday night bout with Dominic Guinn.
And that's curious considering that Toney holds boxing's unofficial title of Pound for Pound King of Trash Talk, and Jones has long been a fixation for Toney since he lost their showdown for boxing's unofficial title of Pound for Pound King of Punching back in '94.
And it's even more curious that Toney hasn't been razzing Jones considering Saturdays' match, his first following his first significant bout at heavyweight - a win over John Ruiz for the WBA belt (later changed to a No Contest after failing drug tests) - is being overshadowed by Jones' rubber match with Antonio Tarver the same night.
But then again, the long and bumpy road of their rivalry did arrive at an unexpected fork nearly two years ago...
It all started when Jones handed a weight-drained Toney his first defeat in their November '94 bout, knocking the Michigan fighter down in the third and taking his IBF title. While Jones continued on and dominated at both super middle and light heavy, Toney, considered one of the best of that era, seemed to have the wind knocked out of his sails.
Toney lost his next fight, against Montell Griffin, and after a string of insignificant wins, lost to Griffin again nearly two years later. But when Toney didn't make weight for his light heavyweight bout against the unheralded Drake Thadzi in mid-'95 and lost a majority decision in a lacklustre performance, it looked like the former world-class boxer would never be getting back on track.
Toney disappeared for nearly two years.
Then when the one-time middleweight champion returned, it was at a whopping 203 pounds in mid-'99 for a tune up before trying his hand at the cruiserweight division.
The Holy Grail of his comeback quest? A rematch with his nemesis Jones, who had become a much-lauded boxing celebrity at Toney's expense.
Toney put together a handful of solid wins, but was the target of a lot of ribbing during his "cruiserweight" comeback, since he hadn't actually made the division limit of 190 pounds even once during the three years and nine bouts he was supposedly campaigning there - even weighing in for one match at a shocking 226 pounds.
How was Toney going to get a rematch with Jones, who had stipulated he'd only want to fight for a title, when he couldn't even make the weight to win one?
Toney was getting mixed press. On his regular televised appearances, he was being lauded by talking heads on ESPN and Fox Sportsnet as one of the sport's most naturally talented practitioners, but on the flipside, due to his weight troubles he was also getting the rap of being one of it's most undisciplined. He was commonly stamped with the label of "underachiever".
Meanwhile superstar Jones was getting regular play on boxing's glamour network HBO, fancily beating one solid light heavyweight opponent after another. But the monotony of Roy's dominance resulted in the "underachiever" label getting thrown around in regards to the Pound for Pound top dog as well, since he wasn't taking on challenges deemed worthy of his supreme skills.
Both men made opening statements in their defence in the second half of 2002: Toney finally made 190 pounds in August and impressively stopped contender Jason Robinson with a monster hook to gain a title shot at IBF champ Vassiliy Jirov. Less than a month later, Jones dominated his own contender, Clinton Woods, stopping his opponent a round earlier than Toney, then declaring a historic intention to move up to heavyweight.
Both men then proceeded to soundly silence their critics: Jones joined an exclusive club in March '03 and became a rare middleweight champ able to capture a heavyweight belt by decisioning John Ruiz, an achievement trumpeted loudly in the press. Meanwhile with much less hype from the mainstream, Toney outworked the undefeated former Olympian Jirov in a thriller the next month, and walked out of the ring a champ for the first time in nearly nine years.
The newly crowned IBF cruiserweight king, fresh off a Fight of the Year contender brawl, was now a three-division title-holder, just like his archenemy Jones was pre-Ruiz. And just like that, Toney was creeping up in the bottom of Pound for Pound lists, and after years in exile from the upper echelons of boxing, was finally nipping at Jones' heels.
What else was there to do but follow Jones to heavyweight?
The free-tongued Toney had dismissed Jones' accomplishment due to his opponent being a sub-par boxer, but inaugurated his move to the division by fighting Ruiz's near-equal, Evander Holyfield.
Holyfield had gone even up with Ruiz, and followed that trilogy with a win over fellow former undisputed champ Hasim Rahman a little over a year before meeting Toney. Although Holyfield had injured a shoulder and lost a decision to Chris Byrd in the interim, Toney upended any naysayers who tried to undermine his win over the faded future Hall of Famer by absolutely dominating the bigger man before stopping him via TKO, something only Riddick Bowe had done previous.
Sadly, fans and media didn't give Toney the same respect for what could easily be considered the same achievement as Jones: Both Jones and Toney were former middleweight champs who had beaten a heavyweight contender. The only surface difference was that Ruiz held a meaningless WBA belt, a belt discarded by Lennox Lewis and questionably retained by Ruiz in a draw with Holyfield - a bout many felt he lost.
Although Toney didn't go without compensation for his hard work: The wins over Jirov and Holyfield garnered Toney the 2003 Fighter of the Year award from various boxing media, repeating an honour that he had scored an amazing twelve years previous when he beat Michael Nunn for a title in '91 and made two tough defences.
Announcing his intention to stay at heavyweight, Toney had finally knocked out his "underachiever" reputation.
Then a shocking but not unprecedented thing happened: As the fable goes, the Tortoise Toney, started overcoming the Hare Jones.
One month after Toney beat Holyfield, Jones squeezed himself back down two divisions to light heavyweight to teach the lippy Olympian Antonio Tarver a lesson. Instead, Jones ironically come full circle, looking as weight-drained and listless as Toney had in their meeting nine years earlier, and won a hotly disputed majority decision over Tarver that warranted an immediate rematch.
The rest is modern history: Toney has finally hit his stride once again, just as Jones has stumbled and fallen.
While Jones has since been brutally KO'd twice (by Tarver and Glen Johnson), Toney stuck around at heavyweight and for a brief moment, went ahead and actually copied his rival Jones' Heavy Achievement and beat Ruiz for the WBA belt (the win was sullied into a No Contest after Toney tested positive for steroids taken to rehab from injury).
In a very interesting turn, one of the commentators for Toney's HBO-televised bout with Ruiz was none other than Jones himself. Instead of being bitter about his former rival's copy-catting of his achievement, Jones paid Toney many a compliment throughout the broadcast.
Has the heated eleven-year rivalry lost its legs? Maybe so...
If a boxing fan who's followed both men throughout their intertwining careers wants to see both in action Saturday, there shouldn't be too much trouble with schedule overlap. The apparently over-the-hill Jones' bout is an HBO Pay Per View headliner on boxing's premier network, which would give it a later start time than Toney's - which is the main event of a lower key Showtime cable double header.
So why hasn't that sent the famously hot-headed Toney into a ballistic fit?
This is a perfect excuse for Toney - who's known for blowing his fuse and ranting and raving because of much lesser offences - to completely forget everything else and angrily focus all his pre-fight talk on Jones, who's once again stealing his thunder and pushing him out of the spotlight and into the shadows.
So why hasn't he?
Maybe late-in-life success has matured and mellowed the temperamental Toney. Maybe it's because the top-ten ranked heavyweight has got bigger things in mind. Bigger than 175 pounds that is: he's likely to get another title shot should he win Saturday (something he's favoured to do).
Maybe, like many others in boxing, he thinks that Jones, coming off two harsh knockout losses and possibly facing a third Saturday night, isn't a valid target anymore.
Or maybe Toney - who despite his rough and tough exterior is reportedly a genuinely nice guy at heart - has flipped his feelings regarding the man who handed him his first loss, yet flattered him in his last bout.
Maybe Toney, a man with 75 bouts and 17 years of experience in the sweet science under his (stripped) belt, realizes that this may in fact be Jones' last night in the spotlight, and after all the years of animosity, now ultimately feels sympathy for the man that inspired him to work his way back to the top. And with that in mind, maybe he just doesn't mind waiting in the shadows one last time.