Sunday August 29th, 2010

BOSTON -- It was predictable, really. Kind of sad, too. Fifteen seconds into his UFC showdown with Randy Couture, James Toney was on his back, fighting for his life. He remained there for three minutes, absorbing the kind of haymakers from Couture that used to glance harmlessly off of him in the boxing ring. The end mercifully came at 3:19 of the first round, when to the delight of the capacity crowd at the TD Garden, Couture stalled the blood flow to Toney's brain with a suffocating arm triangle.

The UFC billed Toney-Couture as a true clash of combat sports. But that couldn't be further from the truth. The 42-year old Toney, fat and flabby, his stomach spilling over his trunks is hardly representative of the best -- or even the average -- boxing has to offer. Toney took this fight (chased it, really) for the money, a reported $750,000 windfall he couldn't come close to making anywhere else.

But Toney hasn't been a viable boxer for some time. His last significant win came in 2003, when a more svelte Toney stopped Evander Holyfield in a stunning ninth round TKO. Since then Toney has outlasted immortals like Dominick Guinn, Danny Batchelder and Fres Oquendo and mixed in a pair of losses to Samuel Peter with a pair of positive tests for steroids.

Simply put, Toney was out of options. So he packed his bags, came to Boston and played his part. He bashed the UFC ("They're not used to anything like me") and insulted Couture at every opportunity. And when the time came, he took his beating and walked away with all his limbs still intact.

Did it prove anything? Not really. Toney had about as much chance of beating Couture in the octagon as Couture has of beating Toney in the ring. Make no mistake, put Couture, a UFC Hall of Famer, inside the ropes with Toney and the former three-division champion eats him alive. At best it's a one-sided decision. At worst, Toney puts Couture's lights out early.

Truth is, there will never be a way to settle the boxing-MMA debate. They are separate sports with separate skill sets. That's not to say we won't see exhibitions like this again. UFC 118 was (in theory) headlined by a lightweight rematch between Frank Edgar and B.J. Penn, but a sizeable chunk of the capacity crowd (as well as thousands of boxing fans who plunked down $44 to watch on Pay Per View) were there to see if the loud mouthed Toney could really back up his tough talk.

The fact that he couldn't changes nothing -- though the UFC has to hope for a more entertaining card than the utterly listless fights on Saturday night's show. There will always be boxers like Toney, faded stars who are hoping to cash in on their names to make a quick buck.

One of them could be Toney himself. After the fight, a wobbled and woozy Toney said he wanted to continue his UFC career. His campaign as a boxer is finished. His promoter can't get him a fight because nobody wants to fight him. Not out of fear -- Toney's slick, shoulder rolling style doesn't send shivers down any heavyweight's spine -- but because Toney doesn't bring anything to the table. He's a guaranteed win, sure. But he doesn't sell tickets and no network is interested in him.

The UFC -- or another MMA organization -- may be his last shot. But if he's smart, he should get out while he still can. Years of punishment in the ring has slurred Toney's speech and eroded his natural instincts. A heavy-handed MMA fighter could do some serious damage to Toney's skull. And it's not like Toney's throwing himself into it. He refused to reveal his weight before the Couture fight, though he looked thicker than the 217 pounds he weighed in his last fight with gloves on.

Toney should retire. Take the cash the UFC head honcho Dana White is handing him and walk away. Do it now before a doctor has to do it later.

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