Lee Groves

10: Greatest super middleweight title fights

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

Toney’s second defense of the IBF belt was the first title fight staged at the freshly refurbished Olympic Auditorium and in the end the man known as “Lights Out” was forced to conjure a fantastic finish worthy of the old-school heroes he so admired.

Littles began the fight by pumping constant jabs while Toney hunted for openings at long range. The round’s only highlight came when Littles landed a pair of rights during the final minute. An emboldened Littles elevated his attack in the second, pelting Toney with quick volleys in the first minute and whacking him with a right that caused 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 overcome Littles’ earlier work.

Littles couldn’t have asked for a better start but while it’s one thing to win the first two rounds, it’s another to sustain it all the way against against a fighter of Toney’s caliber. 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 his left eye. During a between-rounds examination the ring physician told Toney and his corner that the fight was in danger of being stopped after one more round. Toney assumed that his title reign – and his pound-for-pound standing – was in mortal danger and he acted accordingly.

When the fourth round bell sounded, Toney went right to work. A chopping right to the temple dropped the still-wobbly Littles for a three-count 13 seconds into the round and another heavy right scored a second knockdown 20 seconds later. A desperate Littles charged forward with both arms churning, but Toney responded by springing out behind two rights and a clean-up hook that felled Littles for the third time and prompted referee Pat Russell to intervene.

Toney couldn’t have known that Russell had ruled that his gash was caused by a butt or that he was ahead on two of the three scorecards. He assumed the worst-case scenario, then proceeded to do everything in his power to transform it into a signature victory – and one of the greatest super middleweight title fights ever.

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