AP Photo/Oscar Hidalgo
James Toney talks a big game, but he likely has only a fraction of the skills to succeed in MMA.
Skating is a part of hockey, but you didn't see Brian Boitano gearing up for the Maple Leafs. Yet boxers, for reasons that probably begin and end with Ray Mercer, are expected to have some proficiency when it comes to mixed martial arts, despite possessing only a fraction of the skills needed.
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Boxer James Toney, a former beltholder in multiple divisions, made bloggers hyperventilate over the weekend when he appeared in several videos expressing a desire to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. "I'm here," he told Fanhouse's Ariel Helwani. "This will be the biggest fight ever, period." In a closed-door session with Dana White attended by the Sweet Science site, Toney said he "would never do something that would make me look bad."
There was a time when a boxer of sufficient fame and reputation could have provided the UFC with a tremendous boost to a sagging bottom line. If Mike Tyson had stepped in around 2001, it probably would have expedited the promotion's pending good fortunes. (Tyson propped up an ailing WWE in the late 1990s -- a pretty good precedent.)
But that kind of carny-type booking is no longer needed -- not in the UFC, at least. And if it were, Toney isn't the guy to fuel it. His last pay-per-view appearance was a 2003 bout against Evander Holyfield. All of his fights since have aired on basic or premium (Showtime or HBO) television, or not at all. (A 2007 bout against Danny Batchelder went untelevised.)
That drought is probably a key reason why Toney is angling for entry into that lucrative market through another door. Shannon Briggs and Ricardo Mayorga, two other rumored participants in MMA, have the same plan: Check a kick, swing a right hand and hope MMA's fan base buys enough admission to make it worth their while. If people come out in droves for Toney's MMA debut, it will be based almost solely on morbid curiosity and a generic "boxing versus MMA" banner.
Whether these men succeed is dependent exclusively on how promoters choose to match them up. It seems impossible that a highly accredited wrestler wouldn't be able to shoot in and put any of them in a heap of trouble. Others might not be in such a rush: Paul Buentello, Gilbert Yvel and Mirko Filipovic aren't fond of mat work. Toney could get lucky and bait someone into a stand-up fight, or he could become a Francois Botha -- a credible boxer who suffered five straight losses in K-1 before notching a TKO against Jerome Le Banner in 2004. Watching Toney, though, I don't get the vibe he would be that persistent.
Would I pay for it? Of course. Toney is a blustery 225-pound question mark, which propels interest and enthusiasm. But let's not pretend this is anything other than what White has bemoaned in other promotions: a geek show. How he can justify it in the UFC while condemning it elsewhere will be quite a trick.