Lee Groves

10: James Toney’s best performances

5. March 5, 1994 – KO 4 Tim Littles, Olympic Auditorium, Los Angeles

Toney’s second defense of the IBF super middleweight belt was the first title fight staged at the freshly refurbished Olympic Auditorium but the finish of this encounter would revive memories of another historic fight – the second bout between Sugar Ray Robinson and Randy Turpin.

Littles began the fight working behind a busy jab while Toney was content to hunt for openings at long range. The round’s only highlight came when Littles smacked a pair of rights during the final minute but the composed Toney brushed them aside with little alarm.

An emboldened Littles raised his game in the second, pelting Toney with quick volleys in the first minute and clobbering him with a right that forced Toney to lift his left leg to stay upright. A smirking Toney rallied well in the final 60 seconds but it wasn’t enough to salvage the round.

Littles smartly applied what became the “book” on Toney – throwing a high volume of punches from long range, not only to pile up points but to keep Toney overly focused on defense and reduce his already below-average output.

It was one thing to win the first two rounds, but maintaining it for 12 was an entirely different proposition. Littles learned how true that was in the final minute of the third when Toney’s left hook wobbled him and a follow-up assault had him reeling about the ring. A chopping right to the back of a ducking Littles’ neck drove the challenger to all fours, the first knockdown of Littles’ career.

As Toney rushed in for the finish, an accidental butt opened a deep gash over Toney’s left eye. During a between-rounds examination the ring physician delivered alarming news.

“We’re going to give it one more round,” he said. “But if they can’t stop it after that round, we’re going to stop it. It’s a bad cut…a bad cut.”

Toney had every reason to believe that his undefeated record, his championship reign and his pound-for-pound standing was in mortal danger. He didn’t know that referee Pat Russell ruled that the cut was caused by a butt or that he was ahead by two points on two scorecards and even on the third. Toney thought like a fighter, and the fighter in him said “knock this guy out…and knock him out now!

When the fourth round bell sounded, there weren’t any more cutesy catch-roll-and-counter tactics or any tributes to Charles, Walcott and Moore. Instead, “Lights Out” lived up to his nickname in sensational fashion. A downward right to the temple dropped the still-wobbly Littles for a three-count 13 seconds into the round and another anchor-like right led to the second knockdown 20 seconds later. A desperate Littles charged forward with both arms flailing and he managed to drive Toney toward the neutral corner pad. Toney responded by springing out behind two rights and a clean-up hook that prompted Russell to intervene as Littles fell for the third time. In just 63 seconds Toney had turned turmoil into triumph.

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