by Fox Doucette
Some guys just don’t know when to quit, and James Toney (73-7-3, 44 KOs) returns to the heavyweight division to battle journeyman Bobby Gunn (21-4-1, 18 KOs) at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi on Saturday night.
Toney is coming off a loss to Denis Lebedev last November that didn’t just border on the disgraceful; it crossed the border, dropped its pants, mooned the border guard, then went racing off on a motorcycle at maximum speed to parts unknown. For twelve painful-to-watch rounds, Toney couldn’t get anything going offensively due to what was either extreme old age or drunkenness; it would almost be excusable if the latter. Lebedev won all twelve rounds on all three judges’ cards, and even if the judges were Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Gale Van Hoy that would’ve been true.
James Toney is 43 years old. 20 years ago he was a transcendent middleweight and excellent super middleweight, but those days are as far in the past as good Cameron Crowe movies, a living Kurt Cobain, and your thirtysomething columnist’s high school days. Toney last fought with purpose in 2005, appearing to win the WBA heavyweight title from John Ruiz before the fight was changed to a no-contest upon Toney’s failing a drug test post-fight. “Lights Out” last won a title in 2003, an epic war with Vassily Jirov for the IBF cruiserweight strap that would have been Fight of the Year in any year not containing a Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti fight.
Toney fought Hasim Rahman to a draw for the WBC heavyweight crown in the post-Lewis, pre-Klitschko interregnum in 2006, but since then he has been unable to make a meaningful account of himself. 85 pro fights, including two no-contests, and 641 pro rounds (plus a farcical MMA fight) ought to be enough for anyone, especially in today’s combat sports world, but apparently nobody sent James Toney that memo.
Facing Toney is Bobby Gunn, who may be a better fighter without gloves on than with them; Gunn won a bare knuckle boxing contest, the first legally sanctioned fight of its kind in a century (since 1889, more specifically), defeating Richard Stewart and capturing the lineal bare knuckle championship that was last held by John L. Sullivan.
Sadly, dubious achievements in a bare knuckle ring do not necessarily translate to powerhouse achievements when leather and padding are added to the equation. Bobby Gunn has been stopped three times, most recently by Tomasz Adamek for the IBF cruiserweight title in 2009. Gunn originally started his career as a middleweight contemporary to Toney’s rule over that division in the early 1990s, took eleven years away from the true Sweet Science to fight toughman competitions, bare knuckle exhibitions that were illegal in the jurisdictions in which they occurred, and other random acts of violence outside the realm of sanctioned sport. He left gloved Queensberry Rules boxing with an 11-2 record (with eight knockouts) in 1993.
Since returning to the gentleman’s fight game in 2004, fighting almost all of his fights at cruiserweight (with a pair of forays into the heavyweight division), Gunn is 10-2-1 with a no-contest, the NC coming when Shelby Gross failed a post-fight drug test after knocking Gunn out in two rounds. Bobby Gunn even fought for an honest-to-gods belt against Enzo Maccarinelli in 2007 in addition to the Adamek fight; indeed, both fights were sanctioned title defenses for the reigning champions (the WBO in ’07 and the IBF as previously mentioned in ’09.)
This creates an interesting matchup, if a bit of a sideshow; can Bobby Gunn, a slugger and puncher of dubious skill but with plenty of power, stop a completely shot James Toney when the two men step into the ring? Will this fight look more like a drunkards’ brawl in a bar rather than a championship boxing match (and there is a bogus title on the line here thanks to the check clearing with the IBA for the sanctioning fee)? The fight will not be televised on any major networks, so stay tuned to the Boxing Tribune for a full recap of the night’s action.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and debates about the merits of Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam in the early ’90s can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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