There haven’t been too many fighters in the history of boxing who combined ability, charisma and a personal story greater than James “Lights Out” Toney. Toney was one of the nation’s top high school quarterbacks in the mid-1980s while attending Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While starring on his high school football squad, he also had a side hustle selling crack cocaine. Toney was a very volatile athlete who didn’t adhere to team rules. Instead of attending Western Michigan on a football scholarship, Toney instead turned to boxing. After a brief amateur career, Toney turned pro in 1988 at the age of 20. After an incredible run as the lineal World Middleweight Champion, Toney moved up to Super Middleweight in 1993. While the run only lasted 21 months, it was good enough to make him the fourth greatest fighter in Super Middleweight history.
On February 13, 1993, Toney, undefeated in 35 fights, challenged IBF Super Middleweight Champion Iran Barkley. My father was a fan of Barkley’s brawling style but he agreed with me that his style was tailor made for the defensive and boxing acumen of Toney. Toney was one of the greatest defensive fighters and counterpunchers of all-time. What made Toney’s style so special and unique is that he stayed right in front of you. He was a master boxer who didn’t dance and moved around. He gave his opponents incredible head movement and was the master of the shoulder roll years before Floyd Mayweather’s pro debut. Expertly taught by his trainer Bill Miller, Toney embarrassed Barkley the entire fight with this style. It was a virtuoso performance that ended after the ninth round as Barkley quit in his corner. During the post fight interview with Larry Merchant, Toney became the first athlete ever to shout out hip hop acts during an interview as he gave shout outs to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. The next 21 months would show Toney excel both on the mic and in the ring.
After successfully defending his title against Tony Thornton and several non-title wins, Toney’s next significant fight was on March 5, 1994 against the unbeaten contender Tim Littles. Littles was a slick boxer with blinding hand speed. Because of his hand speed, Littles gave Toney fits through the first two rounds. Late in the third round, Toney dropped Littles with his signature right cross. Littles survived but not before engaging in a head-butt that opened a huge gash above Toney’s left eye. Toney, unaware whether the referee called the cut from a butt, fought with incredible urgency in the fourth round, dropping Littles three times before referee Pat Russell stopped the fight. Toney was on a roll and the roll continued with his next defense of his 168-pound title.
Toney’s next and last successful defense occurred on July 29, 1994 against former World Light Heavyweight Champion Prince Charles Williams. Williams was a durable, tough fighter who would wear his opponents down before finishing them off late. The first five rounds might as well have been fought in a phone booth as both men banged away at each other’s bodies. Williams was ahead on the scorecards after five rounds, but he was already beginning to tire. Beginning in the sixth round, Toney began to gain separation and land his accurate counter-right crosses at will. It was a one-sided second half of the fight that came to a violent end in the 12th and final round. Toney landed a spectacular right cross that had Williams knocked out before he hit the canvas. After he landed that right, Toney looked at his right hand like it was a gun that had just shot a fatal blow. After this highlight of a knockout, Toney called out Roy Jones, Jr. At this point in time, Toney was considered by many experts as the best fighter in the world while Jones was no less than third. The fight would take place on November 18, 1993. Despite two of the best fighters on the planet facing each other, the fight failed to deliver the fireworks fans expected.
Toney was incredible on the press tour calling Roy every name in the book while Roy was unusually stoic. For some unfathomable reason, Toney had to lose several pounds before the weigh-in to make 168 pounds. Needless to say, Toney gave a lethargic performance that night in losing his Super Middleweight and pound-for-pound title to Jones. More on that fight in a later article. This was Toney’s swan song at 168.
Despite his less than stellar effort against Jones, the facts remain that at 168 pounds, Toney’s talent was second only to Jones. No other 168-pound fighter could’ve defeated a prime Toney with his incredible skill set, endurance and chin. Had no Roy Jones, Jr. existed, Toney easily could’ve been the greatest 168-pound fighter of all-time. That being said, his 21 month reign as the king of the Super Middleweights made him the fourth greatest 168-pound fighter of all-time.
Greatest Super Middleweights In Boxing History
5. Carl Froch