Badly Faded James Toney Returns to the Ring This Weekend, Won’t Consider Retirement

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COMMENTARY | By this time next week, we'll know how well "Lights Out" James Toney fared against heavy-handed Australian slugger, Lucas Browne. The 44-year-old, 84-fight veteran is scheduled to take on Browne in a twelve-round heavyweight contest at the Convention & Exhibition Centre in Melbourne, Australia this coming Sunday, April 28. And while most main event fights are met with anticipation, the best this one can hope to generate is morbid curiosity.

Fight fans with a frame of reference going back to the early 90s will recall Toney as an elite middleweight/super middleweight who walked the line between picture-perfect technical mastery and old school grit. The prime Toney perfected the art of hitting without being hit, twisting and angling his shoulders to duck and roll over, under, and around shots while firing back crisp, accurate counters. A virtually flat-footed Toney looked the part of a sitting duck, but proved to be one of the most elusive targets of this era. That was the prime James Toney.

The James Toney of today is about sixteen years removed from his prime and, if he enters the Browne fight at the same weight he fought his last heavyweight contest, at least eighty pounds above his optimal weight. He's also about ten years removed from his last legitimate, meaningful victory-a ninth round TKO of a past-his-prime Evander Holyfield in 2003.

More disturbing, though, is the fact that Toney has been showing signs of serious boxing-related health issues over the last several years. With an increasingly bad garbling of words and an obvious slowing down of reflexes, the veteran fighter has recently shown signs of stiff and unresponsive legs-the tell-tale sign of when a fighter is beyond the point of no return.

Upon his arrival in Melbourne on Sunday, Toney reportedly looked especially frail.

The fighter was slow to respond and almost impossible to understand, causing the Australian media to react with concern over the opponent brought in to face their homegrown heavyweight product.

Toney's team would attribute the garbled speech and delayed reaction time to a grueling 24-hour flight and try to allay concerns by commenting that they have Toney checked out by a well-respected neurosurgeon every six months, just out of precaution.

"He's not going to quit fighting," John Toney, James' father and corner man assured the media.

Toney may not be able to quit, even if he wanted. The former middleweight, super middleweight, and cruiserweight world champion is reportedly deeply in debt to the IRS, currently owing as much as $354,000 in back taxes even after the agency reportedly seized his full $500,000 payday for the 2010 farce of a fight with UFC legend Randy Couture.

Needing to make a living and still owing a tremendous amount of money, Toney is going about earning a living in the only profession he has really known. But as meaningful bouts get tougher to find and the American public grows increasingly uncomfortable with watching him fight, Toney is being forced to travel the world to play invading foreign villain against hometown heroes. However, by taking his show on the road, he's also at greater risk, putting his health in the hands of a foreign promotion that only cares about the man as a one-time resume-filler for their star.

Toney's upcoming opponent, the 34-year-old Lucas Browne, is by no means a world beater. In fifteen pro fights, the late boxing convert is undefeated with fourteen knockouts, but his opposition sports a feeble combined record of 157-185-16 and Toney, even a badly shot version of Toney, could very well represent the best opponent he has faced in a four-year pro career.

But even if James Toney gets blown out by a fighter who wouldn't have been good enough to be a sparring partner back in the day, "Lights Out" will keep pressing forward. He has to. And there's nobody with the authority to stop him.

Take one step north or south of the border, hop on an airplane east or west, and what little regulation that exists in the United States completely disappears. Like it or not, for as long as Toney can keep himself upright through the ring instructions, someone, somewhere will be willing to pay him for a gig as a human sacrifice.

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Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.

Sources: The Herald Sun, Boxrec, The Boxing Tribune

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