James Toney: ‘Lights Out’, A Biography!

James Toney
Date of Birth:August 24, 1968
Place of Birth:Grand Rapids, Michigan
Gym: Kronk Gym, Detroit. Fortune Gym, Hollywood
Boxing Career: Amateur, Professional, MMA
Nickname:  Lights Out
Height: 5 Ft 10 inches. 178cm
Reach: 72 inches. 183cm
Stance: Orthodox
Weight Class:Middleweight, Super Middleweight, Light Heavyweight, Cruiserweight, Heavyweight
Professional Record:Total Fights: 90, Wins: 77, Wins by KO: 47, Losses: 10, Draws: 3
No Contest: 1 MMA Record 1 Fight 1 Loss!
Notable Fights:Michael Nunn, Mike McCallum, Iran Barkley, Roy Jones Jr, Evander Holyfield, John Ruiz. 

James ‘Lights Out’ Toney: Overview 

James Nathaniel Toney, a former American professional boxer, is one of the most captivating, charismatic, ‘characters’ to ever enter a boxing ring. A love him or hate him personality, Toney ‘talked the talk’ (usually ‘trash’ talk) but could also ‘walk the talk/ walk’. If there has ever been a more intriguing and interesting character in boxing history it would be good to know, for James Toney is the stuff of legend and not just in his own mind!  

  • James Toney: Early Life & ‘Raising Hell’ Ever Since!

Toney’s early life was everything you might expect given what we would later learn about this larger than life character. He grew up in an area which included the families of Floyd Mayweather Jr and Buster Mathis Jr. Unlike the boxers mentioned however, Toney’s father who was also a boxer was not around for James’ upbringing, so it was no surprise Toney’s youth was somewhat eventful. James was often known to find himself involved in street fights, sold ‘crack’ cocaine, yet was considered an outstanding all round athlete. Indeed, Toney received a scholarship to play American football but somewhat ironically ended his chances in that sport when he punched an unknown loudmouth named Deion Sanders at a Michigan training camp!

* Note, Sanders would actually go on to become an American Professional Football Hall of Famer

Toney musing afterwards ‘I wasn’t a team player and wasn’t good at taking orders. So I went into boxing.’

James Toney: Amateur & Early Professional Careers

Toney’s amateur career was a brief but compelling one. He compiled a record of 33 wins and 2 losses with 32 KO’s and in doing so won the; 

  • 1983 and 1984 West Michigan Division Junior Title at 156 lbs 
  • 1987 Novice Golden Gloves in Manchester at 156 lbs
  • 1987 Michigan Silver Gloves at 156 lbs
  • 1988 Ohio State Fair at 156 lbs

On the 26thOctober 1988 at the age of 20 James Nathaniel Toney debuted in his first professional fight, defeating Stephen Lee by a technical knockout in the second round.  

James Toney’s Managers, Training and Technique.

Toney was scouted and trained by Gregory Owens as a teenager. Owens also acting as his trainer throughout the mid-nineties. Tragically, his manager Johnny “Ace” Smith was killed outside of the ‘Page One Bar’ in Detroit on the10th March 1989 and so Jackie Kallen was appointed his manager with Toney also employing the services of the legendary Detroit-based trainer Bill Miller who worked out of the famed Kronk Gym

Miller is credited with developing Toney’s famed “old school” or “throwback” style of fighting. Head movement and ‘shoulder rolls’ were the key to avoiding punches whilst his ability to fight off the ropes coupled with slick upper body movement saw Toney viewed as having a high ring IQ. Though considered by many to be a defensive fighter, Toney was ‘heavy handed’ and had a durable chin. As such he suffered only ‘flash’ knock downs and was never stopped in his professional career lasting 29 years.

Etymology of One of the Best Nicknames in Boxing.

James Toney’s nickname ‘Lights Out’” was said to have been given to him early in his career by Gregory Owens, due to the power of his punches and his impressive KO ratio. It was a moniker that would prove to be very apt and even saw it voted the Number One greatest ‘nickname’ in boxing history!

See, The-50-greatest-nicknames-in-boxing-history!

James Toney, First Title.

In the first 2½ years of Toney’s professional career ‘Lights Out’, would compile a record of 25-0-1 with 18 KO’s earning him a shot at the IBF middleweight belt held by the undefeated Michael “Second To” Nunn. On the 10th of May 1991, trailing on all three scorecards, Toney would come out in the11th round in brutal fashion and live up to the nickname earlier bestowed upon him. Firstly, knocking Nunn literally horizontal with a devastating left before savagely battering the Champion to a standstill. The new Champion was a 22-year-old named James Toney and the world now knew who he was and how destructively he could turn the ‘Lights Out’.

*** Note: Toney actually entered this fight as a 20-1 underdog!

Further Notable Fights.

Toney would make several successful yet disputed defenses of the middleweight title: 

  • The most noteworthy of which came in a split decision win over Dave Tiberi in a fight that many experts felt Toney lost. Senator William Roth of Delaware, so incensed that it prompted him to call for an investigation into possible corruption in the sport of Boxing.
  • Toney also won a split decision title defense against Reggie Johnson in June 1991, and retained his title with a draw against former WBA champion Mike McCallum in December 1991, and again against McCallum, by majority decision, in December 1992. 

The latter McCallum fight would be Toney’s last at middleweight before he would move up and win the Super middleweight title less than two years later on the 13th February 1993, from Iran Barkley in a dominant performance at Caesars Palace. The bout stopped after 9 rounds by Barkley’s trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, due to Barkley suffering severe swelling around both eyes.

Indeed for a while it looked as if James Toney was unstoppable. 

  • He topped most people’s ‘pound-for-pound’ list. 
  • Won 5 further consecutive fights in 1993 alone.
  • And successfully defended his title 3 times in 1994.

Firstly, by beating Tony Thornton in a landslide decision. Secondly, by knocking out Tim Littles (24-0) in round 4 after being warned by the referee he only had one round to do so, so bad was a cut Toney had sustained. Thirdly, by knocking out former IBF Light heavyweight champion Prince Charles Williams in the 12th and final round of their bout. Despite having had a point deducted for hitting Williams after the bell and also having his own left eye completely shut!

Success, however can lead to problems and that problem manifested itself in the form of the undefeated 1988 Olympic Silver Medalist Roy Jones Jr.

“The Uncivil War” James Toney vs Roy Jones Jr – November the 18th 1994

This fight was the most anticipated and biggest fight of the year with Toney actually predicted to win by many experts due to the superior level of competition he had faced. Jones Jr. however, quite frankly ‘boxed rings’ round him (as he would go on to do to many others), even handing ‘Lights Out’ a rare knockdown of his own in the 3rd round. Though in fairness it was only a ‘flash punch’ which resulted in a standing eight count. Nevertheless, the margin of victory on the scorecards, with Jones winning unanimously with scores of 119–108, 118–109, and 117–110 shows how far Toney had ‘slipped’. After the fight Toney even blamed making the weight for his very poor performance and the loss of his cherished unbeaten record. As such it was his last fight at that weight. Moreover, it was indeed Toney’s last fight for a while as he reacted in typical Toney fashion!

“Toney went on a bender. He ate all day and drank all night. Both his professional and personal lives were on the skids. He split with manager Jackie Kallen. He found himself in the middle of a messy divorce. A civil suit filed against his mother capped off one of the worst periods in his life.

In the summer of 1997, Toney stepped away from the game, but not, alas, away from the dinner table or barstool, and he got fatter, with his weight peaking at 275 pounds!” 

“It got to the point that I didn’t even look at a magazine,” Toney recalls. “I didn’t care . . . I was enjoying life, having a jolly-good time.”’

Then on a day Toney was simply watching television he became angered and annoyed by a television commentator. In his own words:

“One day I was watching some fight. A guy was talking about the best fighters, the fighters with the best skills, and they didn’t mention my name,” Toney says. “They talked about Roy Jones like he was the greatest thing since sliced cheese.”

To say Toney was upset was an understatement – he even put down the sliced cheese he was eating! got back in the gym and rarely left it, which saw him embark on another epic era of his career.

James Toney gets ‘bigger’ and ‘badder’!

Toney returned to the ring in 1999 with a vengeance, focused by his never in doubt self confidence that he was indeed ‘the’ most elite fighter. One of his own quotes is most appropriate here. “The only man that could truly beat me was me,” (James Toney). Toney started to back up this belief, defeating former title holders Adolpho Washington, Steve Little, Ramón Garbey, Saul Montana, Sione Asipeli, Courtney Butler, and Michael Rush. Before beating Jason Robinson on the 18th August 2002 in an IBF Cruiserweight title elimination fight. This set up a fight between Toney and the champion, Vassiliy Jirov which would end on the 26th of April 2003 with Toney knocking the undefeated Jirov down in the 12th and final round and ultimately winning by unanimous decision. James Toney was now a three weight world champion! This however was not enough for ‘Lights Out’, who immediately afterwards moved up to heavyweight, where he campaigned for the next 7 years. 

James Toney’s life and times as a Heavyweight.

Toney had insisted as early as his middleweight years that he would one day become the Heavyweight champion of the world. On the 4th October 2003, his prediction would be fulfilled on entry into the division with a victory over aging former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. Toney picked Holyfield apart with shots to the body and head before stopping him in the 9th round. After the fight, Toney declared, he was “undestructable”, that he “got milk baby” and didn’t want any “bad ass questions” from announcer Jim Gray. (See Quotes section later)

On the 23rd September 2004, Toney faced off against Rydell Booker. Although Toney injured his left arm during the bout, he was still able to defeat the outmatched Booker, and earned a 12th round unanimous decision for the fringe ‘IBA’ heavyweight title.

Heavyweight Controversy

James Toney would defeat John Ruiz by a unanimous decision in a 12 round bout for the World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight Championship on the 30th April 2005. However, Toney failed his post-fight drug test, testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. The New York Athletic Commission subsequently changed the bout’s official outcome to a “no-contest”, deducted the win from Toney’s career record and banned him from boxing for 90 days. They also ordered the WBA to reinstate Ruiz as its champion and declared Toney would be ineligible for another WBA Heavyweight title shot for two years. Toney defended himself by claiming that the steroids were given to him by a doctor to treat the arm injury he suffered during the Rydell Booker fight. Or in his own unique words

I didn’t run from the situation. I didn’t hide the ordeal from the reporters like the sissy baseball players. I fought it head-on… We dealt with it. It’s over. And now we’re moving on.

And move on Toney did, winning a unanimous decision victory over former heavyweight contender Dominic Guinn before battling Hasim Rahman on the 18th March 2006 for the WBC Heavyweight title to a twelve-round majority draw.

Toney’s next two matches involved split decision losses to Samuel Peter in 2006 and a unanimous decision loss in their rematch in 2007, both of which were eliminator bouts for the WBC belt held by Oleg Maskaev. But ‘Lights Out’ was far from done, winning his next two fights on the 13th December 2008. Firstly, against Fres Oquendo by split decision -Oquendo penalised one point in round eight for a rabbit punch- which proved to be the deciding factor in the fight. ‘Lights Out’ was apparently back to his best with a 2nd round TKO over Matthew Greer (12–5–0 11KO) on the 12th September 2009. Toney would continue in a similar vain after a slight break from boxing with a 10 round unanimous decision against Damon Reed on the 24th February 2011. All three judges scoring the bout 100–90. 

* Note for this bout: Toney weighed in at a ‘career high’ of 257 lbs.

Toney’s ballooning weight withstanding, on the 7th April 2012, Toney fought Bobby Gunn and won by a fifth round stoppage due to a hand injury sustained by Gunn and in doing so became the International Boxing Union World Champion, albeit a minor boxing organisation. 

Toney’s next notable bout did not end so well. After travelling to Australia in April 2013 to face Lucas Browne for the WBF heavyweight title, he would lose by a wide unanimous decision. But once again ‘Lights Out’ was not out! James Nathaniel Toney’s final bout came on May 13, 2017 at the age of 48. He defeated Mike Sheppard in a sixth round stoppage and won the WBF heavyweight title. After a career spanning 29 years and 92 professional bouts during which he was never stopped, Toney finally confirmed he would officially stop himself by retiring. 

James Toney in Quotes

A book could literally be written about the finest and indeed filthiest words to come out of James Toney’s mouth, but this was just another reason he was such a legend of the sport and for fans of Boxing in particular.

One specific quote that amused this writer was,

“Everybody wanna see violence. Everybody. The Pope wanna see violence. Everybody. They wanna see something happen on TV? I’m gonna make it happen for them.”

Whilst a selection of some of his other brilliantly arrogant belligerent quotes are articulated here. James Toney’s Greatest Quotes!

James Toney Accolades 

James Nathaniel Toney’s full Boxing record is available to view here. Some of his lesser reported achievements are however listed as follows:

  • James Toney was named fighter of the year in 1991 by The Ring magazine.
  • For Toney’s performance against Jirov in 2003, he was awarded comeback of the year and named fighter of the year by The Ring magazine.
  • The fight itself was named “Fight of the Year” by The Ring magazine
  • He was named Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year for 1991 and 2003
  • He was inducted into the Nevada Hall of Fame in 2020.
  • His induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame is pending and has only been delayed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.
  • When a legendary trainer such as Freddie Roach says about you, “James is the most complete fighter I’ve ever worked with,” you know you have a legend on your hands.

Finally, don’t count Mr ‘Light’s Out’ just yet! For it seems Mike Tyson’s fight against Roy Jones Jr has peaked his interest! Check it out here for complete with his own great interview ‘just light a match’ and let James Toney do the rest style. There are a few more fantastic soundbites from him about his career.

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