International Boxing Association and North American Boxing Organization heavyweight champion James “Lights Out” Toney is doing what no other high-profile boxer has yet done and is preparing to take the plunge into the fight sport of MMA (unless you count Ricardo Mayorga, whose MMA debut for Shine Fights was stifled by boxing promoter Don King). Toney famously hounded UFC President Dana White into allowing him a shot in the world’s top fight promotion. Toney’s wish has been granted and he is now scheduled to take on MMA legend and UFC Hall of Famer Randy “The Natural” Couture this August at UFC 118. This past weekend at UFC 116, Toney spoke with MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani to discuss that impending bout, give some insight into why he decided to pursue an MMA career and to inform the MMA community why boxing is superior to mixed martial arts.
“I like to fight,” Toney said of why he is trying his hand at MMA. “Here I am one of the reigning heavyweight champions and I can’t get the other champions to fight me, or anybody else. When I heard Dana White say MMA fighters are better than boxers, I had to put a hold to it, so that’s why we’re here.”
When challenged on the legitimacy of that claim, Toney elaborated on his position.
“He didn’t call me out, but he called boxing out,” said Toney. “People were telling me this. When I heard that, I had to step up to the plate for boxing. I represent boxing. I represent old school; that’s me.”
As was previously mentioned, Toney travelled around the country to UFC events in order to dog Dana White into letting the skilled boxer compete under the UFC banner. Toney explained to Helwani his motivation for taking those trips and how he and White currently get along.
“I wasn’t worried about getting signed,” said Toney. “I don’t care about getting signed by nobody. James Toney is James Toney. I heard he was telling people on Twitter, ‘If James Toney wants to see me here, come here.’ So I just did what he didn’t think I was gonna do and when I showed up it kind of shocked him a little bit. There’s no animosity between me and Dana White…none at all. He’s a good dude; I love him. I love the UFC. I’ll always be a big fan of it, but if you step over the boundaries and say you’re better than somebody else, I got a big problem with that. So here I am to rectify it.”
Toney has taken some flack in MMA circles for perhaps not taking the sport as seriously as he should if he hopes to actually be able to compete against as experienced and well-rounded an opponent as Couture. Toney infamously told White during one of their meetings that he has been training wrestling, is prepared for taking leg kicks and even knows a kick or two of his own, including the “side check kick,” which no one has yet confirmed is an actual move in any martial arts discipline. Responding to that criticism, Toney said, “I don’t know nothin’ about the sport. Tune in on August 28 to see how much I know about the sport. Tune in August 28 — pay your $59.95 or whatever you gotta pay for it — Tune in and watch and see how much I know.” He later added, “I don’t know jiu-jitsu. I don’t know wrestling. All I know is how to fight, period.”
Toney has been training with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s former trainer Juanito Ibarra and also the likes of Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (who, by Lawal’s own admission, Toney apparently tapped out in training). Toney expounded on that list during his interview.
“I got my dad, “King Mo”, Mousasi and a couple of guys,” said Toney. “I don’t know… Antonio McKee — some good fighters and some good athletes and some excellent people.”
Most expect Couture to run through Toney as long as he can get the boxer down. When asked why he is willing to step into the cage for the first time against such a seasoned veteran, Toney explained that it was his plan all along to take on the best that MMA has to offer.
“Man, look, I told Dana when I first came to the UFC I don’t want to fight none of these bums; I want the best,” he said. “I wanted to fight [Brock Lesnar], but he was sick and I didn’t know that. So I said, ‘What about Chuck Liddell?’ He was sitting there all scared and nervous. I wasn’t gonna hit him there. And then Simba…or Kimba or whatever you call him…Kimbo Slice, but they ain’t want none of that. Then [Randy Couture] says, ‘I want James Toney so I can baptize him into the UFC’. Fine. Let’s do it. If fans out there don’t like me, that’s too goddamn bad. After August 28 you all really ain’t gonna like me because I’m gonna destroy your so-called legend. A guy with 12 losses is a legend. Ain’t that a b****.”
Toney also questioned the legitimacy of Couture’s status as a UFC Hall of Famer.
“That’s why y’all’s sport is so messed up,” said Toney. “Like boxing or the NFL or NBA, you have to retire for four or five years before you can be considered a ‘Hall of Famer’. [Couture] has never retired and he’s already in the hall of fame. Ya’ll got sh** backwards, but I’m gonna clean it up.”
Recently, fellow world champion boxer David Haye spoke with Yahoo! Sports on Toney’s impending MMA debut and said that, having trained in MMA himself, Toney is likely “delusional” in thinking that he can possibly compete in the multi-faceted combat sport. The topic of Haye’s comments was broached during Toney’s interview with Helwani and he did not mince words when speaking of his peer.
“David Haye’s a mama’s boy,” Toney said. “He’s gay. It’s gonna be Randy, [then] David, [then] the ‘Bitchko’ sisters. It don’t even matter. David could have fought me by now. we could have fought October 10, but instead he’s fighting Audley Harrison. I’m not even thinking about him. If he has to go out of his way to talk about James Toney, damn, there’s something wrong with him. My mind’s on Randy Couture. He’s a great fighter and I ain’t got no animosity towards him. He’s a great fighter in this sport, but come August 28 it’s business and I’m gonna kick his ass.”
“Lights Out” explained to Helwani that he is not planning on leaving the UFC after his fight with Couture and even plans on competing in boxing and MMA simultaneously, this is of course predicated on Toney defeating Couture when they meet.
“After I knock out Couture, I’m gonna defend my real heavyweight boxing title in October or November and then come back to fight in the UFC in January or February,” said Toney of his future fighting plans. “It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna do it. I’m a two-sport athlete — the only man ever to do that.”
Dana White, who has denounced Strikeforce for allowing Herschel Walker to fight in their promotion and other fight promotions for putting on so-called “freakshows”, admitted recently that he himself is now in the business of promoting freakshows by letting James Toney try his luck in the Octagon. Toney took minor exception to that comment and explained to Helwani where the only freakshow he is involved with resides.
“Man, the only freakshow I got is between my legs,” he said. “I don’t even think about that. I mean, Dana White, he’s a good dude and we cool.”
Toney and Couture will meet in the co-main event of UFC 118: Edgar vs. Penn 2 which is going down August 28th at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The fight is expected by many to be a squash match in Couture’s favor but a fighter as experienced and dangerous as Toney should not be counted out, especially when he is wearing four ounce gloves. There is much that can be said or inquired about how serious Toney is taking this but the only way we will truly know is by following Toney’s advice and tuning in on August 28th.