In October of 1988 I was playing defensive end and pull guard for my high school football team. James Toney, who had recently turned 20, was making his professional boxing debut.
Now in my middle years, I still try to stay in shape. I hit the gym four to five times a week to lift weights and pound on the heavy bag. I walk my dogs at least two miles almost everyday.
But James Toney? He’ll be climbing back into a professional boxing ring this weekend in Michigan, to face veteran heavyweight journeyman Mike Sheppard.
Whether or not Toney should still be fighting is open for debate. He has lost two in a row and three of his last five. Last August he lost decisively to 9-3-1 Charles Ellis.
But it’s hardly comes as a surprise to see that he is still campaigning. Toney is a born warrior. His corpse will probably still throw punches when he’s buried under six feets of dirt.
Early in his career, Toney was a top fighter at middleweight and super middleweight. There are fans of my generation who believe he had the potential to be the best of all time at 168 pounds.
But for the past 20 years, he has fought at cruiserweight and heavyweight. Despite his undersized frame, he’s been pretty darn good there, too.
In April 2003, he gave Vassiliy Jirov his first defeat, in one of the greatest cruiserweight bouts in history. He defeated aging heavyweight legend Evander Holyfield by TKO six months later.
Toney beat a number of heavyweight contenders during the first decade of this century. He drew with John Ruiz and defeated him in a bout that was later over-turned, because Toney failed a PED test. He stopped former lineal heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman, but had that bout over-turned, as well.
I don’t condone PEDs, but it takes more for than drugs for a blown up middleweight to defeat heavyweight title holders.
Toney fought a pair of tough, competitive fights with the much larger Samuel Peter in 2006 and 2007. He beat Fres Oquendo in 2008.
But it’s been a long time since Toney was anything close to a contender. Sheppard is 41 years old and 4-8-1 in his last 13 fights. This is a fight Toney can probably still win.
Not that he should be out there trying at this point.