Can James Toney Transition to MMA?

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Can James Toney Transition to MMA?

James Toney is currently attempting to do what few boxers before him have done: make the switch to mixed martial arts. Generally speaking, boxers who have gone on to the MMA world have had limited success. Ray Mercer, a former heavyweight champion, is one boxer who has had some success making the move to MMA. In June 2009, he knocked out former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia in just nine seconds. However, Mercer has yet to fight since.

The fight against Sylvia was Mercer’s only official MMA bout – he lost a fight against Internet sensation Kimbo Slice in 2007 that was fought with hybrid MMA/boxing rules. While Mercer was 18 years past his world title prime when he fought Sylvia, Toney is much closer to being an elite fighter than Mercer. Toney won the cruiserweight title as recently as 2003 and won his last three decisions before switching to MMA. While Mercer was a fringe champion, Toney was one of the top fighters of his generation, defeating boxers like Evander Holyfield, Michael Nunn and Iran Barkley.

There’s little doubt that Toney is the highest profile name ever to transition to MMA. His name value has translated to instant respect – and a big payday. He’s been signed to a contract with the UFC, the leading promotional company in the sport. UFC head Dana White is throwing Toney into the fire, matching him up against Hall of Famer Randy Couture for his first MMA bout as part of the card at UFC 118 in Boston on August 28.

On the surface, it would appear that Toney is being fed to the lions. White has had a longstanding feud with boxing promoters who feel that MMA is an upstart that doesn’t belong to be considered in the same category with boxing. From the outside, it might appear that Toney was signed just to steer him toward a humiliating defeat in order for White to “prove” that MMA fighters are superior to boxers.

However, there is likely more to it than that. White knows that Toney could potentially be a goldmine for the sport and it’s doubtful that he would waste that to “prove a point” about boxing. Rather, a bout against Couture could be just what Toney needs to hit the ground running and gain immediate respect within the sport.

If nothing else, White managed to match Toney against someone older than him. Couture is 47 and although he’s in excellent shape he’s certainly no spring chicken. In addition, Couture might be the perfect opponent for an MMA neophyte. While he’s an excellent striker and wrestler, he is not a submission expert – the one area where Toney would be at a natural disadvantage. If Toney is going to beat Couture, conventional wisdom says that he would do it with his stand-up strikes – and it’s possible that Couture would play into his hands.

In many ways, it’s a similar situation to when Couture took on Brock Lesnar for the UFC heavyweight championship in 2008. Lesnar was a former college wrestling champion and WWE star trying to establish himself as a legitimate MMA force. He was able to do that by knocking Couture out with one punch. With Toney’s elite boxing skills, it’s something that he could do as well.

However, Couture also had to deal with an opponent in Lesnar who was as skilled of a wrestler as he was (and decidedly bigger). Toney will have none of these advantages in taking on Couture. It’s far more likely that Toney will be spending most of his time on the ground, trying to fend off punch after punch from one of the greatest heavyweights in MMA history.



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