James Nathaniel Toney was born on August 24, 1968 in Grand Rapids Michigan. He moved to Detroit with his mother Sherrie when his father abandoned him at the age of three. Much of his youth was spent in a typical ghetto environment. In high school, he not only had the reputation of being a “gun packing drug dealer”, but also of a talented athlete. He excelled at both football and amateur boxing and became one of his high school’s top football players He was offered university football scholarships to Michigan State and Western Michigan schools. He blew that opportunity at a University of Michigan training camp when he become involved in an altercation with Deion Sanders. According to Toney, during the tryout he and Sanders got into a confrontation and exchanged words which escalated to the point where Toney hit Sanders. It was then that Toney realized that he was not a team player and decided to focus his attention on boxing.
Toney had compiled an amateur record of 31 wins 2 losses and 29 KO’s when he decided that he wanted to make a living in the ring. On October 26, 1988, at the age of 20, James Toney turned pro. He was 7 and 0 when his manager Johnny “Ace” Smith, a drug dealer, was shot and killed. Toney then took on Jackie Kallen, a former publicist for the Kronk Boxing Gym, as his new manager. Over the next two years, James Toney had compiled a record of 26 wins no losses and 1 draw. On May 10, 1991, Toney earned a title shot against the then undefeated IBF middleweight champion Michael Nunn. He entered this match, in Nunn’s hometown of Davenport Iowa, as a huge underdog. Toney surprised everyone in the arena when he knocked Nunn out in the 11th round and won the title.
Over the next 3 and half years, Toney would become one of boxing’s most active champions. From the time he fought Nunn, until his fight with Roy Jones in November 1994, Toney had fought an amazing 20 times. In fact, Toney had stepped back into the ring to defend his title against the highly dangerous number 1 contender, Reggie Johnson, a mere 7 weeks after he had won the title from Nunn. In that fight, Toney had to overcome a nasty cut (that would later require 33 stitches), to pull out a decision win over Johnson. Toney would go on to defend his middleweight title 5 more times against the likes of Francesco Dell Aquilla, WBA champion Mike McCallum, Dave Tiberi, Glenn Wolfe, and again McCallum.
In 1991, Toney was named Ring magazine’s fighter of the year. During many of those defenses, Toney’s toughest opponents were not those of the ring but in fact that of the scales. Toney’s weight would commonly escalate to 195 lbs between fights and it was becoming increasingly more difficult for him to make the required 160 lbs Middleweight limit.
After the second McCallum fight Toney decided to step up to the 168 lbs Super Middleweight division. Following an easy “tune up” fight against Doug Dewitt, Toney challenged IBF Super Middleweight champion Iran Barkley. Going into this fight, Barkley, an aggressive hard punching warrior, was coming off a win over the legendary Thomas Hearns. To add to the excitement was the fact that there was bad blood between the two fighters as they both played out their cold as steel street tough image to one another. However, once the opening bell sounded, the fight became a virtual one-sided massacre, as Toney ripped Barkley apart in a close quarters battle. As Barkley swung wildly against his elusive target, Toney countered with short crisp punches to Barkley’s head and body. By the end of round 8, Barkley’s face had been turned into a bloodied mess. He was so badly beaten that his trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, would not allow his fighter to come out for round 9. It was during this fight that Toney showed the world his superior skills and picked up his second world title.
James Toney would go on to have five non-title fights before defending his Super Middleweight title with a 12 round unanimous decision against veteran Tony Thornton in November of 1993. Following the win over Thornton, Toney began to call out to Roy Jones for a fight. Jones however, didn’t seem eager to jump into the ring with Toney any time soon. Soon after, Toney mentioned that he would only wait until the following summer for a Jones fight. If the fight couldn’t be made, he would step up to the Light Heavyweight division, as it was becoming increasingly more difficult for him to make the Super Middleweight limit.
In January 1994, Toney officially stepped up to his 3rd weight division as he took on Light Heavyweight contender, Anthony Hembrick in a 10 round non-title fight. Toney’s skill proved to be too much for Hembrick to handle, as he wore him down and stopped him in the 7th round. Although he appeared sharp as a Light Heavyweight, Toney was not prepared to give up his Super Middleweight title yet.
On March 5, 1994, only two months after he stopped Hembrick, Toney made the second defense of his Super Middleweight title against undefeated number 1 contender, Tim Littles. The first round of the fight was fairly close as each fighter tried to feel the other out. The 2nd round saw Toney begin take control of the fight as he connected with hard punches to Littles head and body. In fact, it turned into a typical Toney domination as he effortlessly slipped Littles punches while cutting off the ring to land his own. It looked like a sparring session for Toney. The 3rd round of the fight however, would bring about a dramatic change. As the end of the 3rd round neared, both fighters’ heads collided, which resulted in a huge cut over Toney’s right eye. Blood poured down his face as Toney headed back to his corner at the end of the round. As Toney sat on the stool, the ring doctor examined his eye at which point Toney was informed that the cut was too serious for him to continue. Toney pleaded with the referee and doctor to allow him to continue to fight. As Toney shouted from his corner “I’m going to knock this mother fucker out”, the doctor agreed to let him go one more round. At the start of the 4th round, Toney’s usually cool and calculating style took a dramatic turn. With blood pouring down his face, he charged after Littles like a hungry wolf on a deer. He knocked Littles down 3 times and hurt him so badly that Littles remain on the canvas for several minutes after the fight was stopped. In dramatic fashion, James Toney had ended the fight to retain his title.
After another non-title tune-up fight in May, Toney would next defend his title against former IBF Light Heavyweight champion, Prince Charles Williams on July 29, 1994. Williams, a skillful boxer/puncher, was expected to put Toney to the test. In addition, Toney was reported to be having serious problems getting his weight down to the 168 lbs limit. As a result, many people believed that Williams would pull off an upset. Toney believed otherwise. The fight was fought in close at a grueling pace and Williams, believing that he was much bigger and stronger than Toney, put constant pressure on Toney throughout the early stages of the fight. As the fight continued, Toney appeared to be a master in the ring as he rolled with Williams’s punches and countered with hard punches to his head and body. Williams began to wear down rapidly. In the 12th and final round, while Williams was still pressing forward, Toney took a step back and dropped a perfect straight right on Williams’s chin. Williams’s body went stiff and he fell straight back like a tree. The referee counted him out and Toney once again successfully defended his title.
At this time, most boxing magazines and writers had regarded Toney as the best pound per pound fighter in the world. He had become one of the most feared and intimidating fighters as well. James Toney had become somewhat of a throwback to the old time great fighters, as he fought often and was willing to take on the best regardless of weight class. At his best, Toney’s style was almost flawless. He was a smooth boxer/puncher who could adapt to any style. He could easily fight from the distance or on an inside battle. He was one of the best defensive specialists in the sport, in that he could slip and avoid punches in a way that resembled a young Roberto Duran. Toney seemed to have it all, power, speed, a solid chin, an outstanding defense and an aura that commanded respect. But his battle with weight had once again begun to take its toll. He would balloon to over 200 lbs between fights, which made it apparent that his days at the Super Middleweight limit were coming to an end. In fact Toney’s sights were now set on the Heavyweight division. However, after the Williams fight it was announced that Toney would next defend his title with a big money fight against Roy Jones.
Toney accepted the fight, believing that he would be able to make the 168lbs. limit one last time. The fight was set for November 18, 1994. Toney went into training camp for the Jones match a mere 6 weeks prior to the fight, weighing 214 lbs. By the day of the weigh-in Toney had stepped on the scale weighing a weak looking 167 lbs. He had lost 47 lbs in just 6 weeks. Toney was severely dehydrated and his camp knew it. After the weigh-in, Toney was hooked up to an I.V. in order to replace his body with fluids and he was kept on it all night until the next day of the fight. On fight day, just before entering the ring, Toney had weighed himself in the dressing room. It was reported that he weighed 186 lbs, which meant that he had gained an incredible 19 pounds in less than 24 hours. As Toney climbed into the ring and removed his robe, he revealed a soft looking body which lacked muscle tone. It became apparent that this was not the same fighter. In spite of the fact that Toney was so grossly out of shape, Jones still seemed content to fight a safe cautious fight. The result was a boring 12 round decision win for Jones. This became Toney’s first loss after 46 pro fights. After the fight, Toney admitted that he had been weakened by making the weight and stated that he would move up to the Light Heavyweight division.
On February 18, 1995, Toney stepped back into the ring at 175 lbs against 1992 Olympic medalist, Montell Griffin. Griffin, a short, slick, awkward fighter, provided a tough fight for Toney. Although Toney staggered Griffin on a few occasions, he ended up losing a controversial 12 round decision to Griffin. This would mark Toney’s second loss. At this point, tension began to build between Toney and his manager Jacky Kallen as well as Toney’s trainer Bill Miller. After an easy fight in March against journeyman Karl Willis, Toney would take on a new manager, Stan Hoffman, and a new trainer, former Light Heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.
With a new team behind him, Toney would go on to beat Anthony Hembrick in April and Freddy Delgado in June to win the USBA and WBU Light Heavyweight titles. Toney would then defend his WBU title in September against Ernest Mateen. On December 8th, Toney was set to make his 2nd defense of his WBU title against Greg Everett. However, it was again reported that Toney was having difficulty making the weight limit. One week before the fight, Toney’s management had reported that Toney would not be able to get down to the 175 lbs Light Heavyweight limit. The fight was then changed to a 190 lbs Cruiserweight fight for the WBU Continental title. Toney weighed in at 189 lbs for the fight. The extra weight seemed to make Toney a much stronger and more stable fighter as he knocked out the usually sturdy Everett in the second round with one punch. After the fight, Toney stated that he felt comfortable fighting as a Cruiserweight and began to call out IBF Cruiserweight champion Al Cole’s name.
On March 1st 1996, Toney would face the biggest opponent, physically, of his career in Cruiserweight/Heavyweight Richard Mason. The fight was scheduled to be fought at the Cruiserweight division with a 195 lbs weight limit. When Toney stepped on the scale, he weighed in at 210 lbs. As a result, Toney was fined $25, 000 for coming in overweight and he was listed and announced as 200 lbs. Despite that fact that Mason was the largest fighter that Toney had ever faced and Toney had weighed the heaviest that he had ever been, he looked extremely sharp. In fact, Toney had been in such control that during the fight he looked away from Mason and spoke to the crowd. Toney won an impressive 10 round decision against a fighter who had given Cruiserweight champion Orlin Norris and Heavyweight James Thunder all they could handle.
Although successful at the heavier weight class, Toney was still bothered by his loss to Roy Jones. He felt that by not showing up in proper shape, he had allowed Jones to win. After talking it over with his management, Toney decided to move back down to Light Heavyweight in hopes of luring Roy Jones into a rematch. Only 2 months after beating Mason, Toney would come in at 175 lbs to win the vacant WBU Light Heavyweight title against Earl Butler. Following the Butler fight, Toney would remain at Light Heavyweight and would go on to beat Charles Oliver and Duran Williams.
On December 6, 1996, Toney faced Montell Griffin in a rematch for the WBU Light Heavyweight title. In the fight, Griffin fought a very defensive match as he often ran and held onto Toney. Toney fought at a slow but consistent pace, cutting off the ring against Griffin and landing short hard punches to his head and body. When the fight was over, it had appeared that Toney would earn a decision victory. However, when the decision was announced, Griffin was awarded a split decision win much to the surprise of everyone at ringside, including the commentators. In my opinion, was one of the worst decisions in recent years, as not only did Toney win almost every round of the fight, but he had also out punched and out landed Griffin in the punch-stat numbers. Toney was extremely disappointed, as he felt that he had been robbed for the second time against the same fighter.
However, true to form, James Toney would march on, but not before changing trainers once again. Toney replaced Eddie Mustafa Muhammad with Freddy Roach. On February 22, 1997 Toney would win the vacant WBU Cruiserweight title against his nemesis Mike McCallum. McCallum was coming off a decision loss to Roy Jones for the WBC Light Heavyweight title, in which he gave Jones all he could handle. But Toney, despite being in poor shape, handled him easily, winning a 12 round decision.
Even though it appeared that he could no longer make the Light Heavyweight limit, he still went ahead with a fight against Drake Thadzi for the IBO Light Heavyweight title. Leading up to the fight, Toney was so overweight that he actually passed out twice while trying to make weight. On the day of the weigh-in, Toney tipped the scales at 179¾lbs almost 5 pounds over the 175 lbs limit. Toney was given 2 hours to lose the extra pounds, but when he had returned he was 177 lbs, over the limit by 2 pounds. The fight still took place with the stipulation that if Toney won, he would not be awarded the title due to the fact that he was over the weight limit. However, if Thadzi won, he would be awarded the title. During the early going of the fight, Toney’s dominance was clearly evident, as he slipped and countered every punch that Thadzi threw at him. But Toney’s punches seemed to lack power, and as the fight continued, Toney began to tire quickly. As a result, Thadzi was able to outwork him and win a 12 round decision. This clearly marked the end of Toney’s days as a Light Heavyweight, as it became obvious that he would no longer be able to make the weight without jeopardizing his skills and health.
Toney would return to the ring one month later as a 189 lbs Cruiserweight to win the IBO title with a 12 round decision over Steve Little. After the Little fight, Toney decided to move up to the Heavyweight division. He began a weight-training regimen to add muscle weight rather than fat weight on to his frame. He began to prepare for a January 1998 fight with former Heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, but shortly before the January 21 fight date, it was reported that Holmes suffered an injury in training. The fight was postponed. Unfortunately, it was never rescheduled, as the promoter, Harold Smith, was unable to come up with the money to reschedule the fight. Now Toney was now without a fight. In April, when an HBO was looking for an opponent for Andrew Golota, Toney offered himself, but was turned down by Golota’s camp. When Roy Jones cowardly backed out of a fight with Heavyweight Buster Douglas, Toney again offered himself as a replacement, only to have Douglas’s camp turn him down. It seemed that Toney would pose too much of a risk for too little reward to most heavyweights. Toney even suggested that if Roy Jones wanted to fight a Heavyweight , he should face him (Toney), but Jones wanted no part of it.
During this time Toney was going through a series of personal problems. He was in the midst of a messy divorce with his wife and had filed a civil lawsuit against his mother. With fights falling out and personal problems on the rise, it would be nearly two years before Toney would step into the ring again. During this time of inactivity, Toney’s weight would balloon to 275 lbs. Most people felt that Toney would never again be a significant fighter. But on March 7th 1999, after 7 months of serious training, Toney would step back into the ring against Terry Porter at a weight of 203 lbs. To the surprise of many people, and in spite of the fact the he was much heavier than in past fights, Toney’s physique looked good. From the moment that he took off his robe, you could see that he was far more muscular than he had ever been before. Although Toney hadn’t fought in almost two years, he looked extremely sharp in stopping Porter in 8 rounds.
Toney decided to move down to Cruiserweight, and on July 29, 1999 he faced former Cruiserweight champion Adolpho Washington. Weighing 197 lbs for the fight, Toney looked physically better than he had in recent years. Toney looked extremely sharp in the fight and stopped Washington in round 10. This would mark the first time that the granite chinned Washington had ever been stopped in a fight, even though he had faced the likes of Virgil Hill, Iran Barkley, Orlin Norris, and Uriah Grant. This along with Toney’s new sculpted physique indicated that he was very serious about his comeback. Toney would further reinforce this opinion with his next fight in October. Weighing a chiseled 194lbs, Toney would win an impressive 10 round decision over hard punching Cruiserweight contender Ramon Garbay. Following the win over Garbay, and a January 2000 win over Terry McGroom, Toney seemed to be in position for a shot at a world title. He faced one major problem though; none of the Cruiserweight champions seemed willing to defend against him.
When a fight with WBC champion Juan Carlos Gomez fell apart in May, Toney hoped to position himself for a shot at the WBA champion by taking on number 2 rated Alexander Gurov in November 2000. Only days before the fight, Gurov unexpectedly pulled out claiming that he had problems entering the U.S. Last minute replacement Courtney Butler was thrown in and Toney stopped him easily in 2 rounds.
The year 2001 saw a new challenge for James Toney. He was cast to play the part of Joe Frazier in the movie Ali. Despite the fact that he would often put in 12-hour days for nearly 6 months of the filming, he managed to squeeze in one fight in March 2001 in which he defeated Saul Montana and won the IBA Super Cruiserweight title.
Toney was now set and looking forward to a title shot against IBF champion Vasily Jirov scheduled for July, 2001 on HBO. However, leading up to the fight, Jirov suddenly backed out claming that he wanted to spend time with his pregnant wife. Only one week later, Jirov attempted to have his management team set him up to defend against another opponent which indicated that he really didn’t want to fight Toney. This frustrated Toney and again his weight began to rise. On July 20, Toney stepped into the ring to face Heavyweight Wesley Martin. Weighing 226 lbs, the heaviest of his career, Toney stopped Martin in 3 rounds. Toney would not fight again for the rest of 2001.
To the surprise of everyone, Toney started off 2002 by dropping back down to the Cruiserweight division. On March 22 he won a lopsided 10 round decision over former title challenger Sione Asipeli. This indicated that he was indeed serious about winning a World title at Cruiserweight. Toney kept busy following the Asipeli fight by stepping back into the ring on May 31 defeating tough journeyman Michael Rush by 10th round TKO. While the wins over Asipeli and Rush showed that Toney was still indeed a top contender at Cruiserweight, two problems still seemed to linger for Toney. One was that many people doubted that Toney would be able to get himself into proper shape and actually make the 190 lbs weight limit if a title shot came about. The other was that with Jirov seemly unwilling to give Toney a shot, and Toney not being the mandatory contender for any of the titles, it still seemed to be a long wait for a title shot to come.
All of that made a quick turn about when in June Toney signed a promotional deal with Dan Goossen's new promotional firm Goossen Tutor Promotions. By having Goossen act as his promoter, Toney had once again aligned himself with a strong promoter that had connections and big fight experience. Gooseen immediately showed his worth by arranging a IBF Cruiserweight elimination fight between Toney and number 9 rated Jason Robinson, with the winner promised a shot at Jirov.
The fight was set for August 18th and for the first time in five years, Toney would have to make the 190 lbs weight limit. Toney himself knew that this was his last chance to make a statement. So with a new sense of purpose James Toney had began to undergo a strict regimen of training and diet. Meanwhile Dan Goosseen was flexing his promotional muscle by having Toney do frequent public weigh-ins, interviews, television and radio appearances in order to let the public know that Toney was back and indeed serious. Toney and Goossen knew that he had to look impressive against Robinson in order to have the public take him serious once again.
So win impressively he did as he knocked out Robinson with one punch in the 7th round to win the fight. This now put Toney in line for a title shot with Jirov, which was scheduled to take place on January 25, 2003. However, Toney would once again suffer another set-back as a mere two weeks before the fight Jirov would pull out claiming an injury. This completely infuriated Toney as he believed that Jirov was only claiming injury to further try and avoid a fight with him. Those close to Toney along with many members of the media felt that this in fact could have been a tactic pulled by Jirov in order to try and throw Toney off his training pattern. The thinking was that Toney, who was in excellent shape leading up to the fight would lose focus and again gain weight.
Meanwhile, Toney's promoter and HBO quickly came up with a new date for the fight. April 26, 2003 would now be the date for Toney's shot at the title. Now it was only a matter of Jirov not pulling out again, and Toney keeping his focus and staying in shape.
As it turned out James Toney did keep his focus on the fight and trained properly leading up to fight and made the 190 lbs weight limit easily. Once the bell for the fight rang it was apparent that Toney was indeed well prepared for the fight as he went to war toe to toe with the aggressive Jirov over 12 exciting rounds. Toney displayed much of his old skill in the fight as he masterfully slipped Jirov's punches and landed short hard counter-punches of his own. However, Jirov displayed and iron chin and unrelenting will to press forward to try to wear down Toney. But in the end it would be Toney who would wear down the younger, bigger champion, as he knocked down Jirov in the 12th round to seal a clear cut decision victory.
James Toney was now once again a recognized World champion, and many big opportunities were now ahead for him. An intriguing fight with Undisputed Middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins was planed, but then quickly fell apart as Hopkins appeared to come to his senses and realize the risk in jumping up to the 190 lbs division to face one of the best fighters pound for pound in the world. So Toney and Goossen turned their sights to another direction, The Heavyweight Division! When Roy Jones pulled out of a proposed fight with Evander Holyfield, Toney quickly jumped on the opportunity and sighed to fight Holyfield.
The fight was set for October 4, 2003 and this would mark the first well established fighter that Toney would fight in the heavyweight division. Once again James Toney's conditioning would become a question as many people felt that because he was now not required to make a weight limit he would simply just balloon up in weight. However, this would not be the case as Toney approached the Holyfield fight seriously and underwent a diligent weight training regime in order to gain muscle weight rather than fat. As a result Toney came into the fight weighing a heavily muscled and powerful looking 217 lbs. During the course of the fight Toney looked like a true heavyweight as he stood toe to toe with one of boxing all time great worriers and traded heavy punches. However, Toney's greater hand-speed and defensive skill enabled him to out-punch and batter Holyfield. By round 3, Toney made the fight look like a mismatch as he began to toy with a bloodied and beaten Holyfield. The end came in round 9 when Toney landed a thudding body punch followed by an over hand right that floored Holyfield and prompted the referee to stop the fight. This would make Toney only the second fighter, Riddick Bowe the other, to stop the durable 5 time champion and now marked James Toney's arrival into the heavyweight division.
A fight with 6-6, 260 lbs Jameel McCline would be Toney next assignment to prove that he was a legitimate heavyweight. This made an very intriguing match-up as many people wondered how Toney's skill would match up against a really big opponent like McCline. Once again though, Toney would suffer another set-back. During training for the McCline fight Toney suffered a torn Achilles tendon that would require surgery and extensive rehabilitation which would keep Toney side-lined for up to 6 months.