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Toney will win
despite me

Apr 22, 2003 4:49 AM

I need a winner. Okay, I had the U.S. Marines against Saddam’s Republican Guards, but I’m talking about boxing and I can’t wait for Oscar de la Hoya to stop Yory Boy Campas.

Okay so why does the big fight coming up this week have to be so tough to pick? This time I’m going to do the prudent thing and not talk to the combatants, Vassily Jurov and James Toney, before I make my selection. It’s the bane of us writers. Sometimes, we believe our ears, especially when the talker is glib and garrulous, like a Kevin Kelley.

As soon as Kelley’s fight with Marco Antonio Barrera was announced, I KNEW it was a mismatch. Kevin was punchy for taking the fight. No, he was desperate for money. His divorce wiped him out. He looked like a dead man way back ”” in the rematch with Derrick (Smoke) Gainer where he virtually stopped trying to win. He was gone when he was held to a draw by Bones Adams (and lucky to get it, too). He had no chance against Barrera.

Then we talked. They had a little lunch to announce the fight at the MGM Grand and I sat down with Kevin, his trainers, his manager, his new fiancee. He was absolutely positive. It all made sense. I didn’t even know that he was so sure he was going to spring the upset, he brought his parents out to Vegas to be there for his moment of glory. He actually believed he was going to win.

That confidence convinced me. It just shows how delusional fighters can be and how trusting writers are. But not this time. This time, I’m not going to listen to James Toney talk the good fight and then show up out of shape and uncaring. No, this time I’m going to pick him WITHOUT listening.

I’ve always liked James, even when he used to steal my cervical collar from around my neck. He had a great trainer, Bill Miller, back then and was a boxing marvel. No one in the game now has mastered such fundamental moves as the roll and counter ”” rolling your head away from the opponent’s right hand, then springing into your own right counter. He was so technically sound I couldn’t make up my mind for months on who would win, him or Roy Jones Jr., before settling on His Royness.

Not because he threw a chair at me at one of the press conferences the week before the fight. Toney just didn’t seem right. Turns out he was having trouble making weight. He’s always had trouble making weight. I know. He grew up working in his mom’s bakery; I grew up making jelly donuts in my father’s shop. Two for the box, one for me.

After the loss to Jones, Toney was lost. Going into that fight, he was rated by some as the best fighter in the world pound for pound. He was unmasked and drifted up in weight and into sloth. He could fight from memory, but his bloated body wouldn’t let him.

Now I hear he’s in shape. If so, he should have little trouble with the over-rated Jirov, who punches well to the body and does little else to excite. A journeyman like Dale Brown gave him trouble until feeling one of those body blows. That’s the problem with Jirov - he’s been in with all the Dale Browns his connections could muster. Now he’s in with a real boxer, who even at 190 pounds should still be too quick, too clever.

Jirov, last time I looked, was rated an 8-5 favorite for the fight April 26 in Connecticut, that will be preceded on HBO by a decent light-heavyweight matchup between Antonio Tarver, who at 34 finally seems to be fulfilling his promise as an amateur (upset by Jirov in the 1996 Olympics), and Montell Griffin, who still holds the only pro victory, albeit by DQ, over Jones.

Tarver should win, though I’m not sure he deserves to be 3-1 chalk. Griffin knows how to box. Tarver is trained by Buddy McGirt. Griffin used to be trained by Eddie Futch.

But Toney is the subject here. Maybe I’ll call him a few days before the bout. I just don’t want him to influence my pick. It’s no sure thing. If James really isn’t in shape, and even if he is, those Jirov body shots can be telling.

I just feel a hot streak coming on. At my age, though, hot flashes could mean anything.