Farewell to A Great Fighter

By Tom Donelson
Updated: January 8, 2007

Samuel Peter(left)defeated  James Toney Saturday

Samuel Peter(left)defeated James Toney Saturday

NEW YORK — This past weekend, a great career ended. James “Lights Out” Toney has been one of boxing’s great fighters over the past two decades. When he began his career, he was beating up middleweights and ended his career as a legitimate heavyweight contender. Very few fighters accomplished what James Toney did in his career.

Toney suffered the fate what every great fighter suffered, facing that one young lion with everything on the line when the fighter no longer had the skills of his past.

Toney survived two 24 rounds with Samuel Peter by using guile and defensive skills but the hand speed and quickness that marked his career was gone in his second match with the Nigerian fighter.

Peter nailed Toney with shots that just two years ago Toney would have avoided. When Toney hit Peter, nothing happened but when Peter hit Toney with a solid shot, Toney’s body moved backed.

As Al Bernstein noted, Toney was fighting a fighter who weighed nearly 100 pounds heavier than fighters he fought at the start of his career.

The first round showed the improvement in Peter’s boxing skills and Toney’s vulnerability. Peter nailed Toney with a solid right and sent Toney reeling back to the ropes.

It looked that the fight could have ended right there and then but a clubbing right hand behind Toney’s head gave the old veteran reprieve as the referee stopped the action and gave Peter a warning.

In the second round, Peter’s left jab sent Toney down. Then a punch caught Toney off balanced and while Toney jumped up, the fight pretty much ended there.

From this point, Toney received a beating that he has not received since he faced Roy Jones. When Toney tried to lure Peter to the rope for counterattacks, he often got the worse end.

Peter learned from his first fight with the master and there was time that he appeared to be the teacher. Peter’s punches appeared shorter and sharper. When Toney moved to rope, Peter stood back far enough to force Toney to reach.

When Toney used his quick left hook, Peter countered with his right. He even added an uppercut that often stunned Toney.

Peter’s biggest improvement came with the accuracy of his jab which kept Toney off balanced and his power forced Toney back on his heel. Throughout the fight, Peter not only out slugged Toney but out boxed him as well. There was time that Peter even had hand speed and looked quicker.

Peter made that big step in progress. He did not just depend upon power but used a variety of punches to confuse and surprised Toney. In their first fight, Peter threw wild and wide punches that allowed Toney to counter.

In this fight, he used a job to control Toney and his punches were shorter and more accurate. This is bad news for the rest of the division.

As for Toney, his career is over as a leading contender for the heavyweight crown. While his first fight with Peter was close and a case could easily be made for him actually won, there was no doubt who won this time. Peter was simply the better fighter this past Saturday.

Toney leaves a legacy of excellence. In the early 90’s, he was one of the best Middleweights in the world. He fought the best of his era and beat most of them.

The only division that he failed to make an impact was the light heavyweight in which he lost two close and controversial decisions to Montell Griffin.

His defeat of Vassiliy Jirov brought glory to the Cruiserweight division and from there, Toney decided to go for the Heavyweight title. A failed drug test cost him one title when WBA ruled his victory over Ruiz as a no-contest.

His last attempt at a title ended up in a draw as Hasim Rahman held on to his WBC title. Against Peter, his power failed to stem Peter advances and finally age eroded the defensive skills that served him well over his career.

Toney has established himself as one of the best fighters pound for pound over the past two decades and nothing can erase two decades of brilliance. He was the kind of fighter that could make an opponent miss him in a phone booth and with a relaxed style to go with excellence techniques allowed him to extend his career late into his thirties

Toney was an original both in the ring and out.