- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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For all the pleasant thoughts I had after talking to Main Events' Kathy Duva on Monday about the two-year renewal of her "Fight Night" series on NBC Sports Network and the fact that NBC proper would be televising bouts as part of the deal -- the first network TV boxing in years -- I was equally disgusted by another deal the promoter is involved in.
Main Events is in the process of finalizing a fight between heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek and the completely shot James Toney, a once-great former three-division champion with name recognition, a great chin, heart and little else to offer at this stage of his career -- a career that probably should have ended in 2007 after he took a massive beating from Samuel Peter in their rematch.
Adamek is scheduled to fight Sept. 8 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., although the bulk of the revenue from the fight will come from a pay-per-view broadcast in Adamek's native Poland, which is why Toney was sought -- simply because he has a name.
That Main Events, or any promoter, would still try to shovel Toney into the ring is shameful. I have nothing against Toney at all. In fact, it's because I've been such a fan of his over the years that seeing this kind of fight even contemplated makes me sick.
You don't have to be a doctor to see that the man is clearly damaged. Perhaps Toney will pass his New Jersey medicals, which are supposed to be conducted this week. But it doesn't take a medical professional to diagnose that Toney shouldn't be fighting anymore, no matter how much financial distress he's in due to his tax issues.
Somebody needs to make him stop, and that obviously isn't going to be Main Events. Toney is 43, in his 24th year as a pro, has fought 86 times, sparred thousands of rounds, gained and lost inordinate amounts of weight and been in some very violent fights. He is a cracked shell of what he once was.
If you're not convinced, watch a video of Denis Lebedev destroying him for 12 lopsided rounds in November. Still not convinced? Go to YouTube and listen to any recent interview.
I've done that, and for those of you who have watched the great documentary series "Legendary Nights" on HBO, you'll know what I mean. Back to back, I watched one interview of Toney before he fought Roy Jones Jr. in 1994 and then another from a few months ago. It reminded me of the scene in the Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.-Meldrick Taylor "Legendary Nights" episode in which HBO juxtaposed a smooth-talking, bright-eyed Taylor speaking clearly before the Chavez fight in 1990 with another interview from 2002, in which a viewer couldn't make out what Taylor was saying because he was brain-damaged and his speech was so badly slurred.
This was the same thing I felt when I listened to Toney, whose speech is now badly impaired. He, too, slurs his words to the point of being almost incomprehensible at times. Yet he will be allowed to fight if he passes certain medical tests, which might have science on their side -- but not common sense.
Toney -- a two-time steroid cheat, by the way -- chose not to retire after the beatdown from Peter, but he surely should have after the fight with Lebedev. For that interim cruiserweight title bout, Toney went from 257 pounds to 199 to fight Lebedev in Moscow and took the beating of a lifetime.
Of all the tough fights Toney has had, the Lebedev bout was particularly gruesome, as Lebedev dominated every moment of the fight while Toney looked like a dead man. He absorbed huge punishment while swinging and missing and wobbling all over the ring. Toney made Jones and Evander Holyfield, two other badly shot fighters who carry on, look fresh.
I watched it live on the internet as Toney took one of the worst beatings I've seen. Here is, in part, what I wrote in my Scorecard feature after the fight:
"It was criminal that this fight was allowed to continue beyond maybe the seventh or eighth round. At that point, it simply became an exercise in public brutality rather than a sporting event."
Since then, Toney has regained nearly 50 pounds and defeated club fighter Bobby Gunn in April. So now he is suddenly ready to fight Adamek?
All Main Events seems to be interested in is putting on a fight for Adamek that can sell. The show must go on, right?
Duva and her attorney, Pat English, explained -- rationalized, really -- that they endorsed the Toney fight so long as he passed his medicals, as if that somehow means he should be stepping into the ring.
Duva went on to explain -- or rationalize -- that she endorsed the Toney fight because he is known in Poland, where, as she said, the fans recognize names and don't really care about whether it's a good fight. That was patronizing, but the show must go on.
I pressed Duva, who has been in boxing for more than 30 years, on the issue, encouraging her to watch the Lebedev fight. I asked her how she could in good conscience make such a disturbing fight from which no good can come.
"I can't make those judgments," she said. "I'm not a doctor."
If the fight goes on, she'll have a hard time understanding Toney at the news conference. And then she'll have no problem cashing the checks after the fight.