Sometimes, when you like two horses, you can play a quinella. Unfortunately, I can’t do that in boxing, where I have to come up with the exacta for Hasim Rahman-James Toney on March 18.
Quickly, before I change my mind again, I’m going with the Rock. Hasim is one of the nicest guys in the game, a favorite ever since he picked up the tab for the funeral of slain fighter Beethavean Scottland — one of his gymmates.
There are many reasons I am fond of Mr. Toney. Naturally, I would feel an affinity to any short and fat boxers, especially ones who worked in a parent’s bakery. He worked with his mom and I helped in my dad’s donut factory. That probably explains our penchant for overeating.
I also respect James because of his wonderful skills and his burning anger. His father abandoned him when he was only one year old, but not before shooting his mom. There are times James seems to hold the whole world responsible.
I have been the subject of his wrath. Before his fight with Roy Jones Jr., he threw a chair at me. He purposely missed a rather wide target. Despite that, I love his warped sense of humor. Still I must give him second place on my exacta ticket for Atlantic City.
He should not beat the Rock. Eddie Futch will be watching. The greatest trainer of them all died Oct. 10, 2001 at the age of 90. Yet two of his many disciples, and they are in the third generation, will be in opposite corners as trainers of the heavyweight title contenders. Toney will have Freddie Roach, who is making quite a reputation as one of the best in the business. However, Freddie wasn’t in the corner with Eddie when Futch showed the world how to fight Toney.
Thell Torrance, Toney’s new trainer, was. And Torrance was with Futch for almost 46 years, as both fighter (so was Roach) and assistant trainer (so was Roach). But Torrance was there when a faded Mike McCallum and the diminutive Montell Griffin, went up against Toney.
Torrance knows the secrets. You don’t throw right hands at Toney, well, seldom, because he counters them so well. And then you step to your right, away from his right hand. The 35-year-old McCallum got a draw (actually, Toney won their first fight clearly and was close in the rematch (a majority decision for James that I scored a draw). There was no question, though, that the 5-foot-7 Griffin twice beat Toney.
Of course, as Roach pointed out, that was in the period when James was "floundering" because the loss to Roy Jones Jr. kept "nagging at him." But the McCallum fights, and the X’s and O’s, were before Jones also figured out how to take away Toney’s right hand.
Now Torrance goes into the chess game with a much bigger piece, though Toney figures to outweigh the solid Rock. Toney has not proven himself at heavyweight — still still a pudgy (hey, that’s not a pejorative word) former middleweight. The guy he knocked out was Evander Holyfield in name only. John Ruiz still doesn’t know how to box and Dominick Guinn must have gotten his game plan directly from Toney. Hey, Toney’s promoter is Dan Goossen, Guinn’s trainer was Joe Goossen. (You don’t think”¦ nah).
Toney was never a dance master, but at heavyweight he is almost as slow as me walking against the wind. He needs opponents to be close, not able to go and chase them. That’s why he has already been trying to dare Rahman into a toe-to-toe contest, questioning the Rock’s stones.
The question is whether Rahman, in only his third fight with Torrance, gets caught up in the emotions or in the solid game plan his trainer will give him. Rahman is not a great fighter, though at 33 with a five-year age advantage over Toney, he should be at his peak. In him prime, remember, he knocked out Lennox Lewis. Since then, well, never mind.
Rahman has a nasty habit, though, that Toney could take advantage of big time. When he throws his jab, and it is a hard one, the Rock sometimes falls in. He will follow it with his body and thus puts himself close to his opponent. In one of his finest performances before getting knocked out against David Tua, Rahman put on a clinic in jabbing and slipping to the side. In the rematch, Hasim was unlucky to get a draw. He had hurt the seemingly impregnable Tua right at the end. In other words, he very easily can follow the X’s and O’s.
No, it is not a sure thing. But I think it’s best we take a piece of the Rock as our investment — especially since he’s the dog. I also like the "under," whatever the line is. Rahman has said he can envision Toney quitting on his stool because of injury. James, at 38, has been very susceptible to old athletic age.