Roy Jones Jr. did himself no favor with his calculated domination of James Toney last Friday night. He was terrific, all right. Actually, he was too terrific for his own good. Watching Jones so thoroughly befuddle the guy thought to be the next Marvin Hagler, we had to wonder who will pay to see Jones in the ring with, say, Chris Eubank. Or with anyone. Poor Jones—he means well, but he fights himself out of every division he enters.
There is nothing left for him to do but fight exhibitions, which is what the bout for Toney's IBF super middleweight title in Las Vegas so entirely resembled. It wasn't a boxing match in the ordinary sense; it was a solo act, a one-man show, with the champion reduced to the role of stagehand. Toney, whose reputation for ring terror had established him as boxing's new force, was mostly incidental to this performance.
It's impossible to imagine getting worked up about any subsequent rival for Jones. If Toney, 26, wasn't the guy, who will be? Toney was undefeated. His skills as a counterpuncher, as a finisher and as a superb defensive boxer—when motivated by a free-floating fury that was a marvel in itself—made him seem the most dangerous man in boxing. Yet he could barely lay a glove on Jones. From Round 1, Jones hooked and whirled at his own convenience, peppering Toney with sharp left hands. There was one flurry by Jones that, though of no consequence in terms of the outcome, was nevertheless instructive. He delivered three left hands to Toney's midsection from three different angles before Toney could think to react. So whom do you buy as an opponent now?
Still, Fred Levin, one of two lawyer brothers who help Jones self-manage his career, tried to salvage a remnant of marketability. Yes, he agreed, Jones, 25, who came into this fight untested by worthy foes, had just demonstrated that he circles in a higher orbit than his middleweight brethren. "But don't you see," said Levin, "he's now the Mike Tyson of the middle-weights. When Tyson was fighting, nobody cared whom he was fighting. People paid to see Tyson."
It will have to be the same for Jones if he is to carve up the pay-per-view market. And maybe it can be. Networks now pay Olympic ice skating stars to simulate competition in prime time; maybe they'll do the same for Jones. Put him on a little tour, a kind of Fight Capades for people who enjoy seeing virtuoso athleticism spiced with occasional concussions and busted-up eyes.
One light that nobody would ever buy again is Jones-Toney. Hyped for two years as a sort of morality play featuring an angry former drug dealer versus a coddled Olympic hero (we'll tell you which was which in a bit), the long-awaited meeting of these two Ray Leonard wannabes fizzled in Round I. The suspense dissipated as soon as Jones revealed that he was too quick even for Toney: He danced in with left hooks and then spun around Toney (who knows how to cut off a ring!) or lured him into the corner and then easily escaped him, mocking him.
And it wasn't just a matter of Jones's dancing in and out. There had been a lot of talk about his footwork, but this wasn't Fred Astaire (although Toney did a fair impression of Ginger Rogers). The velocity of Jones's hands translated directly into power, and though his knockdown of Toney in the third round was more a result of Toney's posturing and tangled feet, Jones repeatedly demonstrated his willingness and ability to throw concussive punches. "My hands are fast, my feet are quick," said Jones afterward, "but I knew I also had to show a championship heart." He was not afraid to mix it up.
Toney, who claimed he was sluggish after shedding about 35 pounds in training to make weight in his fourth defense of his title, obviously ran out of gas in the late rounds. He remained resolute, but you didn't need to see his mouthpiece turning red from cuts inside his mouth to know that he didn't have a chance, not even a puncher's chance. His promised attack to the body never materialized. With Jones in front of Toney, beside him and, often-times, behind him, nothing in Toney's arsenal worked. One judge gave Toney three rounds, another two, and the third just one. At that, the scoring seemed generous to the loser.
Toney, who had repeatedly said this would be his last fight at super middleweight before he moved up to light heavyweight and eventually heavyweight, may also have been slowed by the apparent gorging that brought his weight up from 167 at Thursday's weigh-in to as much as 184 by fight night. "Sluggish," he kept repeating afterward.
It was odd to encounter Toney and his entourage in the postfight setting and feel no need for a notebook. For once, neither he nor his handlers had much to say. If, at the moment of truth, he was unable to make a very good fight with Jones, he had at least been able to promote it in the weeks before. At Jones's insistence the lighters had refused guaranteed purses ($2.5 million for Toney, $2 million for Jones) from HBO and instead took percentages of a pay-per-view telecast (which will net Toney at least $3.4 million and Jones $2.6 million). With this financial imperative to hype the bout, Toney popped up on every interview show imaginable, promising a vindictive beating of Jones. One day, in a car heading for Roy Firestone's ESPN show in Hollywood, it occurred to him that he had just missed spending Halloween with his two-year-old daughter. Jasmine, because of training. "Missed Halloween," he mused. "I'll make the punk pay for that, too."