James “Lights Out” Toney!
James Nathaniel Toney (born August 24, 1968) is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1988 to 2017. He held multiple world championships in three weight classes, including the IBF and lineal middleweight titles from 1991 to 1993, the IBF super middleweight title from 1993 to 1994, and the IBF cruiserweight title in 2003. Toney also challenged twice for a world heavyweight title in 2005 and 2006, and was victorious the first time but was later stripped due to a failed drug test. Overall, he competed in fifteen world title fights across four weight classes.
Stylistically a defensive boxer, Toney utilized the shoulder roll technique taught to him by veteran trainer Bill Miller, who had once trained heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles. Toney was an exceptional counterpuncher and inside fighter, who often preferred to fight off the ropes. He possessed fast hand speed and respectable punching power throughout his career and is also noted for his toughness, having never lost any of his 92 professional bouts via stoppage.
In 1991 and 2003, Toney was voted Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America. In 2011, The Ring magazine ranked him as tenth on their list of the “10 best middleweight title holders of the last 50 years.” He has also made a one-time appearance in mixed martial arts, losing to Randy Couture at UFC 118. In 2001, Toney played the role of Joe Frazier in the movie Ali alongside Will Smith.
Toney was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S. At around age 11, Toney first entered a boxing gym, but did not seriously pursue the sport until graduating high school. Growing up, Toney lived alongside the families of Floyd Mayweather Jr and Buster Mathis Jr, and Toney’s father himself (who was absent for Toney’s upbringing) was a boxer.
As a teen, Toney was often involved in street fighting and sold crack cocaine. Prior to his career in boxing, Toney was also a star football player; after high school he received scholarship offers from Western Michigan to play quarterback and from Michigan to play as a defensive back. But Toney said, “I wasn’t a team player and wasn’t good at taking orders. So I went into boxing.” Toney also lost a significant amount of weight to begin his boxing career, having weighed 205 lbs. Toney was supposedly involved in an altercation with future NFL Hall of FamerDeion Sanders while at a Michigan training camp.
Toney had a brief but relatively successful amateur career, compiling a record of 33 wins (32 KOs) and 2 losses. Toney had his first professional fight on October 26, 1988, beating Stephen Lee by a technical knockout in the second round. As a teenager, Toney was scouted and trained by Gregory Owens, who also was his trainer through the mid-nineties. His moniker of “Lights Out” was also given by either Gregory or his son. In his 7th pro fight, Toney’s manager, Johnny “Ace” Smith, was killed. Afterwards, Jackie Kallen was hired as his manager. Toney also employed the services of legendary Detroit-based trainer Bill Miller. Miller, a former boxer himself who worked in Detroit’s famed Kronk Gym and assisted hall-of-fame trainer Emanuel Steward at times, is credited with developing Toney’s famed “old school” or “throwback” style of fighting.
Toney won the IBF and linealmiddleweight titles by knocking out Michael Nunn in eleven rounds in May 1991. Toney, who entered as a 20-to-1 underdog, was down on all three judges’ scorecards, but landed a left hook that put Nunn on the canvas in the eleventh round, and eventually scored a stoppage victory. The win also earned Toney the Ring Magazine Fighter Of The Year award.
Toney continued a regular fight program over the next 18 months at middleweight, before outgrowing the division, where he made several successful yet disputed defenses. The most noteworthy was Toney’s split decision win over Dave Tiberi in a fight that many experts feel Toney lost. The decision was so controversial that it prompted United States Senator William Roth of Delaware to call for an investigation into possible corruption in the sport. Toney also won a split decision title defense against Reggie Johnson in June 1991, retained his title with a draw against former WBA champ Mike McCallum in December 1991, and again against McCallum, this time by a majority decision, in December 1992. The McCallum fight would be Toney’s last as a middleweight.
Toney’s final bout came on May 13, 2017 at the age of 48. He defeated Mike Sheppard by sixth round stoppage; winning the WBF heavyweight title. After a career spanning 29 years and 92 professional bouts, Toney has confirmed he is officially retired.