Rahman-Toney: The Big Boys Are Back on HBO!

By Michael Youssef


Rahman-Toney: The Big Boys Are Back on HBO!

As a fan, you have to love what this Saturday night is all about.  For those of you who aren’t aware, there is a heavyweight title fight in Atlantic City between WBC belt holder Hasim Rahman, and the ‘Buddha’ James Toney, who started his career as a middleweight.  In a division lacking in relevant fights on a regular basis, this weekend’s bout offers the sport a rare opportunity to clean some house in a division that needs to be strong for boxing’s sake.

Perhaps the most interesting element about this fight is that though Toney and Rahman are near the top of their division with several straight wins under their belt, Saturday is still very much a crossroads bout between both men.  Both Rahman and Toney absolutely need a win to remain relevant in the division, as each man has been plagued by public doubts for some time.  Of the two fighters, it is Rahman who in particular, finds himself in a position where his legacy as a boxer could largely rest on the bout’s outcome, whereas Toney has already cemented himself as a future hall of famer regardless of  whether he can establish himself as a legitimate heavyweight force Saturday night.

Aside from landing a single booming right hand on the jaw of an uninspired and out of shape Lennox Lewis five years ago in South Africa, Rahman’s run amongst the best heavyweights in the division has been spotty.  He won the undisputed world championship with that one punch knockout over Lewis but generally failed to live up to the hype surrounding him that was produced that night.  Just as Buster Douglas was unable to stay at the top after upsetting Mike Tyson in Tokyo, Rahman was left belt-less and seeing stars a mere months afterwards, courtesy of a refocused and particularly agitated Lewis.  Lewis showed his loss was ultimately just a hiccup in a great career, a result of negligence towards his fight preparations against Rahman.

Following Rahman’s first and only attempted title defense were a series of forgettable fights that produced losses to an aging Evander Holyfield, and John Ruiz, which as one fight assume, was when ‘the Rock’ bottomed out.  Most recently, after a string of wins over tune-up opposition, and a frustratingly painful to watch win over friend Monte Barrett, Rahman has landed the WBC title belt a second time, thus becoming a titleholder twice.  Rahman won the belt by default so to speak, when then title holder Vitali Klitschko retired due to a series of repetitive injuries sustained during training.

If Rahman loses to Toney this Saturday, critics will insist he was merely a one-hit wonder, a product of the hype machine that began when he landed his powerful right against Lewis in their first fight.  But a win, and Rahman goes down as a two-time world title holder, and at least a one time undisputed world champion, who was good enough to stay near the top of the division for a period long enough to regain a belt, even after Lewis flattened him in their rematch.  With that in mind, the difference between being labeled as a one-hit wonder and a dominant heavyweight is summarized in the form of twelve rounds with a 5’9’ former middleweight named James Toney.

Toney, for that matter, is a virtual lock to go down as a hall of fame fighter, regardless of what happens this weekend.  However, since eating himself back into his natural shape (round) and bulking (and that is a generous description) back into a heavyweight, where he originally materialized from when he got into the fight game, Toney has been plagued by critics who still doubt him. 

Most critics say that Toney’s ring savvy is undeniable, but they also use such a concession, to assert their claim that it only goes to show how weak the division really is.  In addition, if Toney is unable to get by Rahman, a heavyweight who has been plagued by inconsistent performances, it will only further serve to aid his critics who claim that he is simply not big enough compete with the more physically imposing heavyweights in today’s division of big fighters.  Regardless of how great a technician Toney undoubtedly is, the fact is many doubt whether a 37 year old who is notorious for ballooning up in weight (near the 300 pound mark), can overcome his size disadvantage and his lifestyle outside the ring to be a legitimate threat as the best fighter in the division. 

Those critics often see Toney as an attraction, a wildly entertaining fighter with a ‘made for press’ mouth who is fun to watch, but not a viable threat to become the division’s best fighter in a land of boxers who regularly stand 6’3 and weight at least 230 pounds.  All of which means, that if Toney captures Rahman’s WBC belt this weekend, he’ll be given all the more glory for his ability to do what so many at first seriously doubted he could: move up to heavyweight, and become a dominant force, and ultimately a title holder, with future big fights on the horizon, if, he wins.  Toney will be considered the greater fighter when compared to his old nemesis, Roy Jones Jr., whose resume would lack some of the accomplishments that Toney has achieved, even in spite of a loss to Jones back in 1994.

So, Saturday night is not just a heavyweight title fight that carries significant ramifications for the division, it’s also a make or break fight for both Rahman and Toney as fighters vying for the right to be called the division’s finest.  The call here is Toney by wide unanimous decision or late round stoppage.  Rahman will be the better conditioned fighter, and the bigger athlete with the bigger punch, however, if the fight takes place at close quarters, where Toney promises to remain, none of those advantages will likely come to fruition for Rahman.  Instead, fighting Toney in close plays exactly into his strengths, and leaves Rahman, whose chin has been shaken most recently by Monte Barrett, exposed for a litany of Toney combinations all night long.


Send questions and comments to: michaeltyoussef@msn.com