James Toney became a legend overnight as he entered the ring an 11-to-1 underdog to Michael Nunn and left the IBF and lineal middleweight world champion. Not unlike most good folklore stories, Toney was down on all three judges scorecards, when he landed a left hook that floored Nunn in the eleventh round, stopping Nunn not long after.
The purses for this fight, modest by today’s standards, $500,000 went to Nunn and Toney fought for $65,000, and the fight took place in John O'Donnell Stadium, Davenport, Iowa.
Toney went from being a brash trash-talker to one of the best fighters who could turn defense into offense - in one fight, this fight.
Toney’s Career After
James Toney might be one of the most skilled boxers to ever lace up a pair of gloves. Toney would find himself fighting Mike McCallum in some modern classics, with the first being one of the best fights ever. It was once described by world-class boxing coach Justin Gamber as ‘mirror images of each other fighting one another’. A very accurate description as Toney and McCallum had skillsets that seemingly matched so well to make great fights.
Toney as a middleweight was one of the best, but as he started to move up in weight, we saw some limitations, Toney would fight at super middleweight and light heavyweight. Winning the IBF super middleweight title from Iran Barkley. Toney would lose that super middleweight title Roy Jones Jr, via a unanimous decision.
By the early 2000s, Toney was fighting at cruiserweight and eventually at heavyweight. Toney would defeat Vassiliy Jirov in another modern classic that saw late-round drama. Even when Toney defeated Evander Holyfield at heavyweight, we never truly saw the greatest we did when Toney emerged against Michael Nunn.
Toney is one of the greatest fighters of the modern era, and even with his greatness, he might be the greatest ‘what-if’ in boxing.
Nunn’s Career After
Nunn would win the WBA super middleweight title after his loss to Toney, and make three defenses before losing his belt to Steve Little. Nunn would move up to light heavyweight but fail to win a world title up there.
Then came the tragic final act. Nunn was arrested for conspiracy to distribute cocaine in 2002. The sentence put him in federal prison for 292 months. Nunn was released in 2019. This arrest occurred while Nunn was still competing as a professional boxer, as he had fought in January of that year in Indiana.
Nunn was one of the best of his era, and not unlike many legends, the legend that is James Toney, came and derailed a lot of the forward momentum Michael Nunn had belt for himself.
As his KO win over Donald Curry and a majority decision over Iran Barkley, slowly began to get forgotten in the ‘what have done for me lately’ sport of boxing.
Nunn is one of the underrated fighters of his era.