Posted: Friday March 17, 2006 11:45AM; Updated: Friday March 17, 2006 1:04PM
There's more of him to love, but James Toney still moves quickly and defends well.
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On Monday I had the pleasure of attending a luncheon at Gallagher's Steak House in midtown Manhattan (official meat provider, it seems, of the fight game -- well, not counting Lou DiBella's matchmaker).
The occasion was the announcement of an exhibition on the history of Irish boxing, to be presented this fall at the Irish Arts Center in New York City. The highlight of the affair came when curator James Houlihan brought out two items of memorabilia.
The first was a fur-lined topcoat that once belonged to John L. Sullivan, the legendary Boston Strong Boy who reigned from 1885 to 1892 as the first modern heavyweight champion. The other item was a blue blazer that had been custom tailored for Jack Dempsey, the larger-than-life heavyweight champ who was one of the icons of the Roaring Twenties.
Guests at the luncheon stared in wonder at the relics and then slipped their arms into the sleeves and posed for photos with silly grins on their faces, like kids playing dress-up in their dad's clothes.
A day later, some 20 blocks from Gallagher's, Hasim Rahman and James Toney came together at the Copacabana club for the final press conference before their 12-round WBC heavyweight title fight Saturday night in Atlantic City. My mind wandering as I waited for co-promoter Bob Arum to finish his introductory "remarks" from the dais, I reflected on whether, a century from now, anyone is going to be lining up to have his or her photo taken in Rahman's leather jacket or in Toney's voluminous T-shirt (group shot!).
That this is not a golden age for heavyweight boxing is hardly news, of course. And considering the other matchups on tap among the big men (Chris Byrd vs. Wladimir Klitschko on April 22? Lamon Brewster vs. Serguei Lyakhovich on, no foolin', April 1? Nikolay Valuev vs. the always fearsome TBA on June 3?), Saturday night's bout actually seems pretty compelling.
To their credit, promoters Arum and Dan Goossen have put the fight on HBO rather than pay-per-view, and on a free preview weekend. That means some people may actually see it, beyond the couple hundred thousand hard-core fight fans who would have shelled out the usual $44.95 for, well, TBA vs. TBA. An exciting fight between Rahman and Toney could go a long way -- well, OK, a little way -- toward increasing interest in the heavyweight division, and in turn, boxing as a whole, among more casual fans.
And while I don't expect another Thrilla in Manila on Saturday night, I am looking forward to a bout that presents an interesting contrast of skills, styles and personalities. Toney, of course, has more of all three than just about any other fighter in the sport today. At 37, he has been boxing professionally for more than 17 years. He held middleweight and super middleweight titles in the early 1990s and at one time was widely considered the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound. Though he's gone through a long eclipse -- and added some tonnage -- in the years since, he's once again the best, pound-for-however-many-pounds.
"Old school" is the term that gets used so often to describe Toney, and it fits. With 76 bouts under his commodious belt (69-4-2, with one no-contest and 43 KOs), Toney has acquired the kind of skill set that evokes such all-time greats as Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles and Charley Burley. Watching him work in recent wins over Evander Holyfield, John Ruiz (later ruled no contest when a post-fight drug test showed evidence of steroids in Toney's system; the fighter, who says he took the steroids as treatment for a torn biceps, served a 90-day suspension) and Dominick Guinn has been a revelation.