I was sitting in La Verne having lunch, fifty yards from the gym where I work out, the same gym where ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley is said to show up before fights to shake hands and remind people he’s from here but I’ve never seen him. Not in there.
I was thinking about ‘Lights Out’ James Toney. He sat right behind me at the Nokia Theater last night for the Sam Peter-Eddie Chambers fight, and he looked magnificent.
Somebody yelled ‘Lights Out’, I heard a reply, and I turned around. The Champ was within reach. I gave him a fist bump.
“You’re watching your weight,” I said, acknowledging the career-long battle with size.
“Trying to,” he said.
“You look great,” I said, slapping him on his knee. He nodded. Everybody noticed.
‘Looking good, champ’, ‘Hey, you look beautiful, man’, ‘What’chu been up to?’, fighters and fans passing by on the aisle. He’d stand, give hugs, pose for photos, shaking hands with those big meaty fists he’s used to punish fighters his whole career, laser-sighted missiles those hands, as accurate and deadly as any in the sport.
“You got anything coming up?” I said.
“We’re working on something,” Toney said. Even at his age, nobody is real eager to fight Toney, one of the smartest and slickest boxer-punchers of his generation.
Forty years old now, he sounded eager to fight. Calling out fighters to friends and acquaintances moving down the aisle. ‘Tell him to give me a call, he’s too scared to fight me,’ and it went on like that all night.
I turned to talk to his beautiful wife Angie, telling her how much everyone loved James, and she smiled. Got his weight under control it looks like, I said, and she said yeah, we’re working on it.
He battled weight his entire career. Often I’d see him at the Hamburger Hamlet in Sherman Oaks with his group. He fought between 156 and 168 pounds for six years until he had trouble making weight for Roy Jones Jr. and looked worn out. He moved up in weight. He fought as high as heavyweight, winning the IBA Heavyweight title beating John Ruiz, weighing in at 241 pounds.
He tested positive for a performance enhancing substance after the Hasim Rahman fight and was stripped of his title. It was disputed when his promoter Dan Goossen explained it was a consequence of an inflammation suffered as a result of surgery on muscle tissue in his arm.
“225,” he said to me, about his weight last night. He looked shaped.
“How long will you continue to fight?” I asked. “You look like you’ve never been hit.”
Toney whipped off the amber colored glasses to show his face, framed by two big diamond stud earrings, clear eyes pointed at me in that fierce ‘Lights Out’ stare, but that broke down when I stared back. We both laughed.
“He’ll fight until he gets knocked out,” a guy said sitting next to him.
“He’s never been knocked out,” I said. The guy nodded.
The only thing James Toney was missing was a natural weight class. Fighters starting out at 155 and ending up at 240 over a span of 20 years can’t seem to find a natural ‘walking around’ weight, the weight the body assumes with the natural exercise of an athlete, without the rigorous boxing regimen. Toney went up and down with his famous hamburger diet. But his skills never eroded.
Sugar Shane was always in shape and fought a brilliant career, his most recent win over Antonio Margarito a masterpiece. His career is tainted by a steroid charge, one initially disputed then admitted to by the quick-handed champ. Impressive wins over Oscar De La Hoya, disappointing back-to-back losses against Vernon Forrest, Mosley will be remembered as a great champion, a Southern California fighter who rose to the top of the game. I’d met him, too, once, at a garage where we both had our cars serviced. I asked him a flattering question about the De La Hoya fight and he answered in dead pan. It was just me, no big audience to play for. Sometimes you see and learn more about a man in that intimate setting. I don’t know.
For me, ‘Lights Out’ is a people’s champ. The people showed it last night. And he showed it to me.
“You still fight at Goossen’s,” I asked.
“I train at 360 up in Reseda,” he said. “Come over, check it out.”
The guy who’d given a great version of the National Anthem in the pre-fight ceremonies was sitting next to me. We’d been talking the whole night.
“I handle his website marketing,” he said, pointing at Toney. “T-shirts, signed photos. Bobble-head dolls.”
“Bobble heads?” I repeated.
“Check it out,” he said, and gave me the www.jamestoney.com address.
They’re out of bobble heads. The T-shirts look good. I’ll order a couple. Have him sign them when I show up at his gym. They might be valuable. Signed shirt, one of the oldest world champions in boxing history. Could happen. Keeps doing whatever it is that got him to looking at forty what he looked like last night?
Future Boxing Hall of Fame member. People’s Champ.
It’s all I need.