Sunday, February 11, 2007


He’s a 38 year-old, cigar-chomping, roly-poly, ex-middleweight fighting 70 pounds above his prime weight. He’s a ring veteran with an old school style and 78 fights on his ledger. Controversy seeks him no matter where he goes. 18 years as a prize fighter and here he is again, getting ready for another big fight with another shot at the heavyweight title on the line.

He’s James Nathaniel Toney and he’s letting the good times roll.

At a press conference on Tuesday in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in New York City to announce his January 6th rematch with the "Nigerian Nightmare" aka Samuel Peter, Toney was his usual swaggering self. Looking out the windows at the spectacular and unparalleled views of New York City he was asked if he was slowing down at age 38 with all of the fights and after all of punishment he has both given and taken over the years. Toney sounded like the raspy-voiced singer James Brown when he said, "No man! I feel good! I know guys that are 38 having their first kid. I’m on my seventh kid and I’ve got a good five years left." It wasn’t clear if Toney meant five more years of having kids, or five more years of fighting.

Whatever the case, whether Toney has a good five years left in this game they call boxing might not be up to him if Samuel Peter has anything to do with it. If nothing else, Peter is a crude, clubbing, dangerous puncher and on the rare occasion that he actually managed to hit the crafty Toney he did seem to wobble him. The two are fighting a rematch because their first fight, a World Boxing Council heavyweight title eliminator fought last September in Los Angeles, ended with Peter getting the split-decision - but most of the public and boxing intelligentsia figuring Toney as the winner.

WBC President, Jose Sulaiman and his board of governors voted 21-10 to rematch the two because the first fight was "…an extremely close fight which divided the opinion of the media and fans." So they’ll both get paid to do it all over again at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.

No big heavyweight title fight would be the same without promoter Don King. The self proclaimed "world’s greatest promoter" now has paper on both fighters after entering partnership agreements with Duva Boxing who promotes Peter and Goossen-Tutor Promotions who handles Toney. King is huckstering this fight in conjunction with a myriad of entities and organizations and it will be televised live in the United States on the Showtime network.

King was his usual bombastic and animated 73 year-old self (who shows no signs of being in the September of his years) when he bellowed, "This is the biggest prize fight ever staged at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. I think the Seminole Indians and boxing fans in South Florida deserve it. It will be a spectacular fight, inspired by the unconquered lifestyle of the Seminole Warrior! You are going to have Vegas and Hollywood coming to Hollywood, Florida!"

The 26 year-old Samuel Peter is a monosyllabic, heavyweight creature who often times wears traditional African dress garb for official events such as this one. For this press conference he was toned down to a conservative, gray, pinstripe suit with a white shirt and tie, but had the look of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator as he leered at the crowd from behind dark sunglasses that he never removed.

Peter has a record of 26-1 (22)KO, is a solid 260 pounds, has a neck like a Brahma bull and forearms like bowling pins. Some call him the future of the heavyweight division. When asked to say a few words he kept it short and to the point: "I beat him the first time and when I hit him, I hurt him. I could feel that I hurt him. He was holding onto the ropes. He can’t be better and he won’t improve. Toney has been fighting for 18 years with the same style. A world title shot is the most important thing for me in boxing. I want to be heavyweight world champion for my country, for my family and for myself."

For his part, Toney says he’s pulling out all the stops for this fight. "I’ll be the old James Toney and I’ll be 120 percent better" he says. Toney has enlisted the services of Tae Bo fitness creator, Billy Blanks to help improve upon his rotund body and what appears to be sometimes poor conditioning. The plan is to make James a little lighter on his feet, a little quicker and better able to fight off the charge of a bigger, younger man.

Toney has gotten defensive about the constant criticism surrounding his escalating weight. He turned pro as a 160-pound middleweight in 1988, but weighed a soft 233 against Peter the first time out. "The last I checked this was the fight game, not the bodybuildin’ game, you know what I’m sayin’? Grade me for my talent. Don’t grade me for how I look. 99.9% of analysts and reporters ain’t never put a glove on in their life. And if they did, they’d probably crap in their pants when they seen somebody like me standin’ across the ring."

Showtime boxing analyst Steve Albert who called the first fight from ringside, will be behind the mic again next month and he thinks he has a good understanding of who James Toney is as a fighter and as a person. "To me, he’s one of the most aware athletes in sports. This guy knows everything that’s going on around him. He can be shrewd, calculating, at times irreverent, or wildly emotional."

Let Toney tell you in his own words why he keeps in the fight game. Aside from the heavyweight money he has earned over the past several years he offers these words to explain his motivation. "Boxing is in my blood man. I mean, I was born to fight. The fire is still in me. The fire is still in me to be the best out there. You know, when I started, when I came to this game eighteen years ago I told everybody I would be the heavyweight champ of the world. They was laughing at me…they laughed at me. Now, I’m the best heavyweight in the world - period."

When asked if the crowd in Florida would be there to see him or to see Samuel Peter, the mercurial Toney responded in his own predictable manner. He ebbs and flows between being serious and comedic and he keeps interviewers off balance with his wit as much as he does opponents with his punches. "Sam Peter? Ain’t no one know who he is. He can’t sell seven tickets. If he do, it has to be in his country of Africa." Then he smirks.

So at age 38, after 18 years in the fight game, James Nathaniel Toney keeps moving along. Perhaps his motto should be the words of the song by the great jump blues master Louis Jordan:

It don’t matter if you’re young or old,
You only live but once and when you’re dead you’re done,
So, let the good times roll.

December 2006

No comments: