BOSTON – The only proof that boxer James Toney trained with any reasonable effort for his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut is anecdotal – supposedly he dropped 40 pounds just to enter the Octagon at a bloated, bubbly 237.
The deck is stacked against any boxer trying to compete in mixed martial arts – just as it would be for an MMA fighter in a boxing match. It’s why almost no one even tries.
But Toney agreed to match up with UFC legend Randy Couture anyway, then he embarrassed himself and his sport by hardly looking like he prepared for a fight that was billed as boxing vs. MMA, even if it was never going to prove anything.
Instead of some definitive statement we got a ridiculous result – Couture earning an easy victory by arm triangle submission at 3:31 of the first round. Toney is nicknamed “Lights Out.” On this night, he never bothered to turn them on.
“Toney lasted longer than I thought he would,” UFC president Dana White said, which isn’t saying much.
Toney is the current IBA heavyweight boxing champion, one of 11 belts he’s held in five weight classes in his impressive career. He had only one route to victory on Saturday night: Landing a perfectly timed punch. Couture, a former All-American wrestler, shot in for a takedown. Toney, who didn’t show up for the postfight news conference, never really threw – let alone land – a significant punch. He fought in what appeared to be a boxing stance, leaving himself completely prone to a wrestling takedown, suggesting he had no idea how to defend himself.
Less than 30 seconds into the fight, Couture employed a primitive single-leg takedown, shooting in low and grabbing Toney’s ankle. The boxer fell backward in a clumsy pile, too slow and top-heavy to do anything.
“It’s pretty easy to counter,” Couture said of the single leg, noting that’s why you rarely see it in MMA. “A good grappler or a good wrestler is going to step out of that.”
Toney is neither. Once on his back, he was finished. Couture delivered some punches and elbows and eventually squeezed his neck until Toney quit rather than lose consciousness. Toney threw perhaps just one punch, a harmless, from-his-back effort.
“I didn’t feel like he demonstrated any real solid skills once he hit his back and butt,” Couture said. “He had no idea.”
Indeed he didn’t, which is why this boxing vs. MMA exhibition was mostly a farce. A young, athletic boxer who actually showed up in great condition would likely lose. Toney literally had no chance with his strategy and preparation.
Couture deemed the experiment “silly,” although he noted it would be the same if he tried to box. “James would probably knock me out in the first round.”
Probably, but it’s also likely a professional such as Couture would at least show up in shape. Toney’s body lacked definition and his stomach hung over his shorts. In MMA, where speed is a must, low body fat is imperative. Toney claimed he trained for eight months for the fight, but it barely showed.
“I’m sure he was prepared as he could’ve been,” White said. “Anyone who knows James Toney the last few years, James isn’t the most physically fit boxer.
“From the day we signed the fight in my office, he lost a lot of weight.”
That’s nice if you’re filming an episode of “The Biggest Loser.” As fights go, it was a joke. Boxing promoter Gary Shaw, a longtime rival of White’s, said Toney looked “like a very old man, slurred his words, and was non-competitive.”
“James Toney had less than a zero percent chance unless Randy had a heart attack from hearing the bell ring,” Shaw said Saturday night.
Shaw went on to call the pay-per-view a “sham,” which isn’t really true. This fight may have been, but White went to great lengths to build a fairly stacked card around it (not all the fights delivered, but on paper they looked good). Toney-Couture wasn’t the main event of the five-fight pay-per-view; Frankie Edgar defended his lightweight title against B.J. Penn in the headliner.
“I didn’t try to sell this as, ‘Tune in, you’ll see the most spectacular war,’ ” White said. “Anything can happen in a fight. … We’re not after boxing.”
And while such a sideshow didn’t speak well for MMA, what does it say for the state of boxing, that a 42-year-old James Toney is someone’s heavyweight champion?
Arguing boxing vs. mixed martial arts is a waste of time anyway. The UFC was founded, in part, to solve the age-old debate of which fighting discipline was best. UFC 1 featured a tournament won by Royce Gracie, a master of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. That was 1993. By 2010, a fighter with a command of just one discipline – no matter what it is – rarely lasts. It’s about being well-rounded and dangerous against a number of styles.
“Ninety-nine times out of 100 or 100 out of a 100, the MMA guy is going to win,” White said.
It’s why fights like these never need to be made, a problem compounded when the boxer shows up out of shape, unprepared and with no discernable strategy to do anything other than pray for a miracle punch to land.
James Toney collected a check Saturday night. Would’ve been nice if he’d made an attempt to earn it