Lee Groves

10: James Toney’s best performances

2. October 4, 2003 – KO 9 Evander Holyfield, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas

A little more than five months after his spirited victory over Jirov, Toney dipped his toe in the heavyweight pool to fulfill a longtime fantasy. But this fight with Holyfield was one that wasn’t on anyone’s radar in the aftermath of the Jirov win.

A few months earlier Holyfield was angling for a fight with newly crowned WBA titlist Roy Jones Jr. while Toney was negotiating a catchweight fight with longtime middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins. When both fights fell through they turned to each other because each represented the best payday available.

The oddsmakers had a tough time handicapping this fight. On the one hand Holyfield was nearly 41, had lost five of his last seven and was overcoming an 11-month layoff as well as shoulder and arm surgery. On the other hand Toney was no youngster at 35, many believed his 217 pounds was too much for his 5-9 frame and despite winning his last 12 and reviving his star power, he had yet to taste a great heavyweight’s punch. In the end, Toney was installed as the slightest of favorites but given what happened there shouldn’t have been any mystery at all.

Though he weighed just two pounds more, the muscular Holyfield’s size advantage was readily apparent. He also proved his shoulder was in good working order as he fired left hooks with abandon and landed enough of them to push Toney back. Toney won the second with precise jabs, occasional power shots and a dazzling array of defensive moves. Both men worked their lefts in the third and took turns seizing the momentum.

The fight turned Toney’s way in the fourth as his one-twos landed with a frequency and authority that unsettled the pro-Holyfield house. Toney’s confidence soared with every passing minute as his lighter man’s hand speed shredded Holyfield’s already sub-par defense. Toney’s bravado was such that he maintained a non-verbal conversation with one of the judges, who reportedly laughed at Toney’s nods, smiles, glances and gestures.

The punishment exponentially worsened in the seventh as a tiring Holyfield fought in spurts and tasted punches constantly. Toney’s wickedly accurate rights zoomed over Holyfield’s lowered left time and again. Holyfield’s lower lip dripped blood in the eighth and between rounds trainer Don Turner told Holyfield he would stop the fight if he absorbed any more right hands.

The ninth was even uglier as Toney landed those rights with impunity and a final four-punch salvo capped by a hook to the upper torso sent “The Real Deal” tumbling face-first to the canvas. At that point a corner inspector waved a towel on Turner’s behalf, signaling a sad end for Holyfield but opening a new world of possibilities for the former middleweight, super middleweight and cruiserweight king.

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