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Lights Out for James Toney: MMA Collision with Randy Couture

By Geno McGahee

On May 10, 1991, James “Lights Out” Toney, an undefeated 157 pound boxer, captured the IBF Middleweight Title in stunning knockout fashion, stopping Michael Nunn, the undefeated champion in the eleventh round. Toney, desperately behind on the cards, did what he had to do to secure victory and soon began his journey through boxing, leading to titles in the middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, cruiserweight, and eventually heavyweight divisions. Now, at 41, he is going for a different sort of title, a championship in the world of Mixed Martial Arts. He has signed a contract with the UFC and take on the world’s best MMA fighters, but there are many problems facing him and this is not going to end well.

When you consider that he has been fighting as a pro since 1989 and that he has 81 professional fights under his belt, it’s hard to believe that he is still fighting, let alone changing arts. We have seen this time and time again. When boxers are near the tail end of their careers, they often move over to the MMA for the money and a new start.

Shannon Briggs, Ray Mercer, Frans Botha, and Butterbean, have all made their ways into MMA with mixed results. Briggs was smart enough to get in and get out, winning his fight and coming back to the sport that he knows best. Former WBO Champion, Ray Mercer failed miserably, losing badly to backyard brawler, Kimbo Slice. Frans Botha lost far more than he won, and Butterbean, when he’s not sumo wrestling Bob Sapp, is usually losing in the cage, unless he’s facing a former pro wrestler. James Toney does not have a powerful punch. He’s a good hitter, but he doesn’t have the big KO punch to send a heavyweight to the floor with one shot. He has stopped fighters 190 and up from accumulation.

Randy Couture is no spring chicken at 46 years of age. The thinking going into this fight is to set up an older guy with a name for Toney to beat and then move on. Toney is like Kimbo Slice in a lot of ways…have to deal with him carefully to keep him winning, but Couture is a very big problem.

Couture has held the light heavyweight title in the UFC twice and is known for his ground and pound…not a good thing for Toney. He has an MMA record of 18-10, 7 KO’s, beating such MMA stars as Chuck Lidell and Tito Ortiz along the way. In 2007, Couture would win the UFC Heavyweight Title, defeating the much larger Tim Sylvia. He would lose to Brock Lesnar at heavyweight and moved back to the light heavyweight division.

The big point here is that Couture has much more left than Toney, and when you combine that with the new fighting format for the former boxing champion, it doesn’t look promising.

There have been so many questions regarding Toney’s venture into the UFC and his upcoming August 28 collision with Couture…

Why would the UFC want James Toney?

The UFC knows that James Toney sells tickets and although he has not been a big attraction in boxing in recent years, the move to the MMA would spark curiosity and publicity for their organization. The UFC have proven to be a very smart company with one hell of a marketing strategy and they see potential in having a former multiple division boxer with a negative attitude at times involved in one of their cards. Boxing fans may be interested enough to rent the PPV, bringing in new fans and making the UFC a boatload of money.

Why would James Toney want the UFC?

Toney has run his course as a boxer. Despite his challenges of the Klitschko brothers, he is not a viable heavyweight contender and would be badly embarrassed and beaten by any fighter in and around the top 10, especially the giant Klitschko brothers. In his recent outings, he eked by journeyman Danny Batchelder and was given a gift decision over Fres Oquendo, where he looked terrible. Toney has abused his body with the continual weight fluctuation, and steroid abuse, and when you combine that with his 81 fights, he’s got nothing left to offer boxing fans. Boxing fans have lost interest and no boxing journalist believes that he can do anything in heavyweight division or any other division outside of be a stepping stone for an up and comer. Toney sees the UFC as a chance to regain the limelight…something he and most former champs crave. He is in it for the money and the fame.

How will Toney combat Couture’s ground attack?

Frankly, he won’t. Expect Toney to attempt to remain on his feet and land punches, but if he doesn’t connect with punch number one and put Couture to sleep, then he will be on the floor, subdued and will be forced into submission. Melton Bowen, a hard punching heavyweight, once tried his luck at the UFC and paid for it. He was sent to the floor and tapped out. Bowen doesn’t have the skill, but consider the wear and tear on Toney, it’s a fair comparison.

Does Couture have anything to worry about?

The lucky punch or poor conditioning on his part, leading to a defeat, perhaps. The problem here is that this is an unfamiliar game for Toney. No matter how he trains now for this, these MMA guys have been training longer. Couture has had 28 fights in the MMA and has an extensive wrestling background. Toney is a boxer, plain and simple. If Couture were to put on a pair of boxing gloves and step into the ring with Toney, he’d get stopped by TKO because he would be unable to use his best assets in the ring. Inside the octagon, he will be able to use all of his skills and Toney will be the one in big trouble. Couture has little to nothing to worry about.

Is the UFC dropping the ball?

One question that I have. Recently, Kimbo Slice has been released from the UFC. Slice is not a world beater and has been exposed as a limited brawler, but he has a world of charisma. Why not pair him and Toney together rather than bringing Couture in the mix? I think that a Slice – Toney fight would be incredibly interesting and marketable. Imagine the press conference! But perhaps the UFC doesn’t want to push the novelty and actually run the sport like a sport, despite the attraction. I think they’re dropping the ball by not matching these two up.

James “Lights Out” Toney, one of the best boxers of his generation, will now step into the cage and venture into the world of Mixed Martial Arts. The PPV with the Toney-Couture bout will get a lot of boxing fans tuning in with some curiosity, but it will not be pretty and it should be quick. Toney’s boxing achievements will forever be remembered, but expect his MMA achievements to be far less impressive. He’s in a lot of trouble this August.

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