Michael Nunn should never have invited James Toney to his homecoming dance. You know those tough kids—always snarling, talking about beating people up, looking mean. It was supposed to be a happy event in Davenport, Iowa, for native son Nunn last Friday night, a welcome-home-hero sort of thing. Then Toney went and hit him in the mouth at the ballpark, taking his IBF middleweight title and spoiling everything.
Other than Toney, it was a hell of a guest list. About 10,000 folks jammed into tiny John O'Donnell Stadium, home of the Class A Quad City Angels, on the north bank of the Mississippi River. Millions more watched on TVKO's pay-per-view. Shucks, the last time the previously undefeated Nunn had fought he was in Paris. Now he was back in Mark Twain country.
Bix Beiderbecke, the jazz great, came from Davenport. Buffalo Bill Cody was born and raised on a farm down the road. Cary Grant died in Davenport. Sarah Bernhardt stopped by once to perform in F�dora at the Burtis Opera House. She did the play in French but cut the final scene so she could catch the last train out of town.
Someone in Davenport should have cut Toney's last scene with Nunn. The kid is hard. At Huron High in Ann Arbor, Mich., he was a star quarterback and a gun-toting crack seller. "That was a long time ago," says Toney, who is 22. "I didn't need the money. It was peer pressure. I went along with the crowd."
Boxing and Toney's mother turned him around. A single mother, Sherry, 39, earned an undergraduate degree in education from Michigan and a master's in communication and theater from Eastern Michigan. She now owns a wholesale bakery. Says Toney, "Mom taught me that if you want something, you have to work hard."
Working hard, Toney became a successful amateur fighter and turned pro in 1988. He had a brief setback after winning his first seven bouts: His manager, Johnny Smith, a drug dealer, was shot dead in front of a Detroit bar. Jackie Kallen, a 45-year-old publicist-entertainment writer with a passion for boxing, filled the void.
After 10 years of doing publicity for Tommy Hearns, Kallen had recently begun managing a stable of fighters. Under Kallen and trainer Bill Miller, Toney terrorized the middleweight division. He has a pit-bull philosophy. "Nothing fancy," says Toney. "I look at the other guy and I have to kill him."
He fought often, sometimes twice a month. By March of this year Toney, whose nickname is Lights Out, had won 25 fights, 18 by knockout. The only blemish on his record was a draw with Sander-line Williams when Toney had chicken pox. He later beat Williams. Promoter Bob Arum then called and proposed a fight with Nunn. Arum offered $50,000 plus $15,000 for expenses and a $1 million contract for his next three fights if he defeated Nunn. Toney's biggest purse had been $12,000. Kallen worried that they might be moving too quickly.
"Take the fight," Toney told his manager. "I will beat the son of a bitch."
"Don't swear," said his mother.