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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 13:08 GMT
The real bling
By Ben Dirs

James Toney
James Toney don't worry about nobody
James Toney

As a member of James Toney's promotional team tries to link us up, I can hear the boxer chirping away on the other line, "G'day mate! G'day mate!", in a cod Australian accent.

While Toney's grasp of geography is a little sketchy, the effect is disarming, like being sent to the headmaster's office and finding him singing along to a Spice Girls CD.

Toney is a former street hustler with a sweet line in trash talk ("Nigel Benn's momma is like the Loch Ness Monster") who once threatened his former manager during a live radio interview.

British fight fans will remember Toney interrupting Jonathan Ross' chat show many moons ago to sling barbs at Benn and Chris Eubank. Even Eubank's poor mother got caught in the crossfire.

Toney's speciality is the press-conference fracas and he has been known to chase impertinent journalists out of his gym.

When it comes to Toney, a good change of pace can be more useful for hacks than good shorthand and a sharp pencil.

But journalists who have got close to Toney, who challenges Hasim Rahman for the WBC heavyweight crown on Saturday, tell of an intelligent, funny and generous man.

And behind the anarchic exterior, the 37-year-old from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is deadly serious about his chosen vocation.

"I've been put in the heavyweight division to make it shine again like the diamonds I'm wearing," the former three-weight world champion told BBC Sport.

I've fought the best of each division I've been in and nobody's ever beaten James Toney - I've only ever beaten myself

"The heavyweight scene is a shambles but I'm going to clean it up. The world's in my hands right now and I'm going to take advantage of it."

Toney has been here before. Last May, he outclassed John Ruiz to claim the WBA heavyweight title only to be stripped and fined after flunking a drugs test.

But Toney, who denies any wrongdoing, was unbowed, and the manner in which he outboxed Ruiz has strengthened his belief that he can dominate the division.

"Ruiz was scared to death of me and I didn't let him hold like he does to everyone else," said Toney. "I beat Ruiz with one arm and only three weeks training.

"For this fight with Rahman, I've had a full camp for the first time in two years and everything is going good. I'm excited about bringing the heavyweight division back to life."

Toney has ridden out adversity countless times before in a professional career spanning 18 years and 76 fights, a tally almost unheard of for a top-flight boxer in the modern game.

James Toney (right) was battered by Roy Jones in 1994
James Toney (right) was battered by Roy Jones in 1994
His rise was meteoric, rumbling the previously-unbeaten Michael Nunn as a 22-year-old in 1991 to land the IBF middleweight crown, before stepping up to super middle and destroying IBF title-holder Iran Barkley in 1993.

Then came the event that temporarily tripped the fuse of the man they call "Lights Out".

In November 1994, he was handed his first defeat in 47 fights by Roy Jones Jr. Toney then lost his next fight to Montell Griffin.

It seemed the Jones reverse had divested Toney of his spirit. Many believed he was finished.

"Roy Jones caught me at the right time," he reflected. "I didn't prepare properly.

"But it shows you the character of Roy Jones that he didn't give me a rematch because he knew I would have knocked him out."

Toney did not fight for nearly two years between 1997 and 1999. His former manager, trainer and wife were tossed aside like the remains of the countless takeaways he was consuming.

Yet, under the tutelage of new trainer Freddie Roach, Toney smashed his way back into the world's consciousness by snatching the IBF cruiserweight belt from the well-regarded Vassiliy Jirov in 2003 and beating up an over-the-hill Evander Holyfield later the same year.

By his own admission, Toney can look like the Pillsbury Doughboy as a heavyweight.

John Ruiz and James Toney
Ruiz was given a painful lesson by Toney last year
But resplendent in his favoured three-piece suits, with bald pate and cigar stuffed in the corner of his mouth, he more and more resembles a black Winston Churchill.

The threads are all part of his retro image, and Toney revels in his role as an "old school" avenger who ducks no-one ("I don't even turn down my collar").

And Toney's style is redolent of his long-gone idols, men like 1950s heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles ("Who else has been great in every division he's fought in?").

"I could have fought in any era and a lot of the old warriors feel I'm like an old-school fighter," he continued.

"I've fought the best in each division I've been in and nobody's ever beaten James Toney, I've only ever beaten myself.

"My only regret in boxing is that the best fighters won't fight each other. I want to make that happen so that the fans keep coming back. I want to do the best for boxing.

"Last year I had a goal. I wanted to fight Rahman, Lennox Lewis, Vitali Klitschko and Wladimir Klitschko.

"I respect Lewis, he's a good fighter. But he's not a great fighter. I'm a great fighter. And James Toney don't worry about nobody."


SEE ALSO
Lewis cannot resist, says Toney
14 Feb 06 |  Boxing
Toney outclasses Guinn in Reno
02 Oct 05 |  Boxing
Toney too good for Holyfield
05 Oct 03 |  Boxing


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