James Toney appeared stoic as Bruce Buffer made the introductions for his fight, which marked his first and what looks to be final foray into the world of Mixed Martial Arts.
His opponent Randy Couture – a champion for the UFC at both Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight – looked at his opponent across the ring, a hulking 237 pound former great in boxing who still had plenty of knockout power. He knew James Toney wouldn’t be able to match his skill set if he had nine years to prepare for him, let alone nine months. Still, in a Mixed Martial Arts fight, one never knows what can happen if a power puncher is allowed even a brief moment to land his shot. One need look no further than Ray Mercer, who was tapped out by perennial amateur Kimbo Slice but then followed that up by knocking out former UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Sylvia.
But then, Randy Couture is no Tim Sylvia. Or is that the other way around?
Couture noticed the ankle supports on Toney’s feet and his lumbering movements before the fight and practically salivated from across the Octagon. He had planned all along to shoot in immediately and bring it to the ground, but seeing his opponent open for an attack alleviated what few doubts he had and opened up even more possibilities.
As soon as the fight began, Toney went into a boxing stance and dropped both his hands, almost as if he was goading Couture. After standing off for a few moments, Toney raised his right fist as if to wind up for a strike. His face, however, betrayed his stance. For all intents and purposes, James Toney seemed resigned to what was going to happen next.
Couture shot in for a low single-leg takedown, a maneuver rarely seen in Mixed Martial Arts due to its difficulty in securing without footwear. After some ground work and panicked screams from Toney’s corner, Couture easily maneuvered himself to side mount and secured an arm and triangle choke. Toney tapped, though it was more like a wave reminiscent of Roberto Duran’s infamous “no mas” resignation in his fight with “Sugar” Ray Leonard in 1980.
Though in this case, Toney didn’t quit out of shame. Nevertheless, it was still clearly still there after the fight. Toney congratulated Couture but ducked out of a scheduled appearance at the post-fight press conference without telling UFC President Dana White. Couture answered the press’s questions and in describing how he ended it joked that he “kind of wanted [Toney] to have the complete mixed-martial-arts experience.”
A later question was most telling. Asked if he would be willing to meet Toney in a boxing ring, Couture answered with an emphatic no. In his explanation, he showed a wisdom that James Toney and so many other pundits haven’t.
In short: boxing is not MMA, and vice-versa. It’s as simple as that. You can transition from a single-discipline fight form into MMA, but you have to be a complete fighter in any combat sport in order to realistically compete in it. Randy Couture has spent his entire career in a cage, and despite having decent stand-up would be hopelessly outmatched in a boxing ring.
Toney didn’t seem to understand this, nor did he want to. He saw MMA as so many who are aggressively against the sport do: as a wild exhibition ripe for the picking for a talented boxer.
On Saturday night, James Toney learned the hard way that MMA is a sport unto itself.