The War Report: Distant Land (Week 19, 2017)
Even for boxing diehards, it wouldn’t have been all that difficult for this weekend to go by without ever knowing James “Lights Out” Toney stepped in the ring for the 90th time. Three months shy of 49, Toney fought and beat Mike Sheppard via sixth round knockout on Saturday night – a fight that had some obscure heavyweight belt on the line and one billed as the finale to his illustrious career.
Toney, 77-10-3 (47), put together a body of work that now resembles the folkloric careers of yesteryear. He had everything you wanted in a fighter and unapologetically carried the burden of complexities that came along with it. So often, fans want the elites of the sport to fight everyone and Toney consistently provided those compelling match-ups in his prime. Even after his heyday, Toney took the challenge of competing against an all-time great in mixed martial arts and, although he got whupped in that venture, the result would’ve been the other way around had Randy Couture dared to step into a boxing ring.
More often than not, of course, this unchecked motive drives the fighter past his expiration date and into a cringe-worthy chapter better left unread because it’s already been read countless times before. Yet, the man - this living legend – shouldn’t be overlooked, despite delving into the dismal abyss fighters go when they cannot figure out when to hang up the gloves. Should this in fact be the end for Toney, it would have taken him almost 30 years fighting to finally reach the Distant Land of retirement. The final curtain call ended a 16-year absence from fighting in his home state of Michigan and, after the banal KO, he got his hand raised one last time.
While the end was long overdue, hopefully Toney is content after this past weekend, despite it being a sad portrayal of the man he once was. With his bloated body being a mere reminder, Toney was never the model for the consummate professional who worked hard and stayed disciplined outside the ring. He only knew one thing and that was fighting. Toney was a throwback to the days when the bottom line was, if you could portray the carnage that lurks deep inside the human psyche, you were a true fighter in every sense of the word.
It isn’t recommended but you can see and hear the tragedy of Toney in recent interviews, in which his thoughts are scattered and his voice is muddled. No one likes to see and hear that but it’s reality. If not all, most humans hurt themselves in varying ways as they go through life until they all reach an inevitable death. Since he was a kid, fighting was going to be Toney’s death wish and nothing was going to stop him. Just think of what kind of pain Tony could’ve inflicted if there was no stage to unleash his rage. Innocent bystanders could’ve been the ones feeling the brunt of his impending madness but luckily there were avenues for him to travel and fellow crazies with whom to play along.
With the times changing, we may never see a fighter like James Toney ever again. Not all careers end up as fairy tales but the real tragedy would be if they’re outright forgotten.
Lastly , why they fight is often the most compelling narrative of a fighter and in Charles Pierce’s Sports Illustrated feature on Toney in 1992, that question is answered best.
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