Lee Groves

10: James Toney’s best performances

1. February 13, 1993 – KO 9 Iran Barkley, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

If anyone ever wondered what a Toney-Hopkins pre-fight buildup would have looked like, they should recall what happened between “Lights Out” and “The Blade.” The acidic insults they exchanged only elevated the stakes; not only was Barkley’s IBF super middleweight belt on the line but also lifetime bragging rights.

Based on Toney’s razor-thin escapes against Johnson, Tiberi and McCallum twice and Barkley’s two-round brutalization of Darrin Van Horn in his last fight, the original 3-to-1 odds favoring Toney dropped precipitously. Virtually every ringside expert predicted that the former gang member from the Bronx would steamroll the street-smart scientist from Grand Rapids.

Barkley raged out of the corner and winged wild power shots but the challenger, a onetime high school quarterback, reacted like a Peyton Manning-like field general by hitting his targets with stunning efficiency. His pivots set up scything uppercuts with both hands and his snappy jabs and crosses produced blood from both nostrils. Every time Barkley bulled Toney to the ropes, the challenger masterfully picked his shots and dished out plenty of fistic abuse.

The courageous Barkley was his own worst enemy as he continued to barrel in and whip in wide blows, for they set the table for Toney’s bullet-like counters that bounced Barkley’s head like a speed bag. A right knocked out Barkley’s mouthpiece in the third and a hook in the fourth sent it flying again.

As the minutes mounted so did Barkley’s facial damage. Besides his bloody nose, Barkley’s left eye swelled under and over in round three and was nearly closed by the seventh. His right eye began to puff in the eighth and his mouth dripped blood as well. The only thing unaffected by Toney’s blitzkrieg was Barkley’s fighting spirit, which continued to drive him forward in the face of massive punishment.

Ringside physician Dr. Flip Homansky examined Barkley between rounds eight and nine but when the dynamic failed to change in the next three minutes trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad pulled the plug over Barkley’s objections.

The scope of Toney’s dominance was reflected in the CompuBox numbers as Toney landed 65 percent of his total punches, 62 percent of his power punches and an unheard-of 70 percent of his jabs. Toney out-landed Barkley 401-153 and limited the now ex-champ to 23 percent overall and 22 percent of his power punches. In other words, Toney was the epitome of hit and not be hit.

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While Toney is now on the downside of his career, the genius he exhibited in his prime could not be overstated. He spat in the face of today’s overcautious matchmaking by saying “every one you say I can’t beat, I want to fight them.” Not only did he fight them, he beat them far more than not.

Only Toney knows when he’ll conclude his fistic odyssey, for that is his right as a professional fighter. The best that fans and media members can hope for is that Toney himself — not the man standing across the ring from him or, worse yet, a ringside physician or a compassionate trainer — will be the one who will make that fateful call.

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Photos / Ed Mulholland and Craig Bennett-Fightwireimages.com

Lee Groves can be e-mailed at l.groves@frontier.com. Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won five writing awards, and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc and the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author to arrange for autographed copies.

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