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UFC 118: The Truth About James Toney

In the first of a two-part article looking beyond the hype surrounding the Toney Vs Couture showdown at UFC 118 we take a look at the reality of trash-talker extraordinaire James Toney’s career in the past decade…

Nobody would dispute that James Toney is one of the best boxers to step into the ring in the past quarter of a century.  His talent for the sweet science has seen him amass a 72-6-3 professional record during a remarkable career that’s so far spanned 22 years and seen him move from middleweight all the way to heavyweight, picking up a collection of titles along the way.

As we approach his mixed martial arts debut against Randy Couture at UFC 118 on Saturday night it’s easy to get swept up in the hype surrounding this showdown, and the fact that a current heavyweight boxing champion is finally going to do battle in the octagon.

It’s important to keep things in perspective though, and just as MMA fans are well aware that Couture is no longer fighting at it’s peak, it’s worth remembering that the same applies to Toney.

Toney is now 42 years of age, and as anyone who’s seen of his recent interviews knows he’s not in the best of shape at this point in his career.  Bear in mind that when Toney started out he was fighting at a trim 160lbs, a weight that was far more suited to his 5ft 9″ frame.  Since then he’s gained over 50lbs, and really it’s a testament to his natural boxing ability that he’s still able to hold his own in the heavyweight division.

The truth about Toney however is that he’s not the fighter he was in his younger, slimmer days.

You only need to look at his recent record to see that.  The 4-2-1 (2NC) he’s posted since 2005 is a far cry from the 46 fights without defeat he compiled in his heyday between 1988-1994 before he really started to pack on the pounds.

Some of those wins have been less that impressive as well.  For instance, he claimed the vacant IBA title in his second-to-last fight by earning a controversial split decision win over late replacement Fres Oquendo, who many people believed won the bout.  Even the pro-Toney crowd booed the decision.

It’s no coincidence that this dip in form has coincided with a move up to heavyweight within the last decade.  Neither is it a coincidence that during the same period his punching power has diminished, with only one of his fights in the past five years ending inside the distance.

The solitary fight that did end with a KO came against a significantly undermatched journeyman Matthew Greer (12-6) who wasn’t actually knocked out – the referee called a halt to the contest while Greer was still standing, but undoubtedly being punished severely by body shots.

The reality is that Toney has never been a one-punch KO specialist, he’s always relied on his punches having a cumulative effect over a number of rounds to get the desired result.

Conditioning has also been a factor for Toney, and though he still possesses tremendous timing and fast hands for his size, he’s produced some lethargic and plodding performances in recent years.

Tied in with the conditioning factor, the rate at which Toney is fighting has also decreased significantly as he’s gotten older.  In his prime ‘Lights Out’ was a machine, fighting many times a year.  By the time he steps into the octagon on Saturday night however it will have been just shy of a year since Toney last fought, and you’d have to go back a further 10 months to find him in another bout before that.

When you also add in the fact that in both 2005 and 2007 Toney tested positive for steroids, it’s fair to say that we’re not looking at anything close to the best version of this legendary fighter.

Don’t get me wrong though, this doesn’t mean that Toney doesn’t have a punchers chance in the fight with Couture – he certainly does.  Even with his diminished performances, Toney will still easily be the most technical boxer the MMA hall-of-famer has ever faced, and his timing and counter-punching abilities will pose a genuine threat.

The aim of this article is simply to serve a reminder that beyond the hype, the truth is that at this stage in his career James Toney is no longer the ideal candidate to be representing the sport of boxing in such a contest.

The one thing that does stand in his favor on Saturday night though is the fact that he’ll be facing a 48 year-old Randy Couture who is also on the last legs of his decorated career – and that will be the focus of our article tomorrow: UFC 118: The Truth About Randy Couture.

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