By Steve Kim Updated on August 25, 2022

Happy Birthday, Lights Out

Picture for Happy Birthday, Lights Out

I got a few alerts over social media on Wednesday that it was the 54th birthday for one James Nathaniel Toney. To which I say, happy birthday 'Lights Out', the last true authentic full-time American boxing champion we'll ever see.

They don't make'em like him anymore. And quite frankly, the current system wont ever allow boxers today to replicate what he did.

This isn't just about talent, there are plenty of really gifted fighters around, but what I'm talking about is a guy who was able to truly hone his gifts, and craft a storied career that will stand the test of time. Toney was truly a throwback, one who could have competed -- and thrived -- in any era of boxing. 

Picture for Happy Birthday, Lights Out

Just think about this, in 1991 he began the year by headlining on ESPN against the rugged Merqui Sosa, on his way to toppling the previously undefeated Michael Nunn for the IBF middleweight title, and finished the year with one of the best technical fights off the modern era versus fellow future Hall-of-Famer, Mike McCallum, in what was a disputed draw. That year he had six bouts.

Nowadays it takes about three years for world champions to have that many fights. (It would take Gary Russell Jr about seven years.)

From 1991 to 1994 (which concluded with his loss against Roy Jones), Toney boxed 23 times. To put this into perspective, the gifted Shakur Stevenson who turned professional in 2017, still has just 18 bouts on his ledger.

I get this question a lot: why do I consider Toney the last of the Mohicans?

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While there have been guys like Oscar De La Hoya (who performed five times in '97) and Nonito Donaire (four outings in 2012) who had banner years, but those were outliers. What really set Toney apart was that he wasn't just content to sit idle for six, seven months at a time.

During that four year stretch, he would engage in non-title fights, and take tune-up bouts in-between his HBO dates. Try and get a young boxer to put in that kind of schedule today. And if you can find that guy, which promoter would be willing to act as a conduit to such a campaign?

For Toney, much of this happened while he was considered one of the very best boxers in the sport. Archie Moore would've given a tip of the cap to Toney, who was a blend of technique and tenacity inside the ring. For those of you who missed him during his days from 160 to 168, take a look at this:

The Greatest Defensive Boxer of all Time - James Toney [HD] Highlight

Don't ever make the mistake of telling him that he shoulder rolled like Floyd Mayweather, because he tell you that the difference is he actually punched after his. Toney was fond of saying that while many of his colleagues were taught to fight, he was born to do so. And it's hard to argue, but he certainly had a great mentor in the venerable Bill 'Pops' Miller, who taught him the finer tricks of the trade. 

He was a defensive master, who had an offensive arsenal.

Beyond his talent, he was also a boisterous personality. He was part part Ezzard Charles, part Clubber Lang. His interviews with Jim Rome were good for at least two or three FCC violations, and who can forget when he called out Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, when they were all competing at super middleweight.

James Toney calls out Eubank & Benn

Toney went through a rather dark stretch in his career after the loss to Jones, but eventually with the guidance of promoter, Dan Goossen, he had a renaissance that included the memorable 2003 war against Vasiliy Jirov for the IBF cruiserweight belt. There aren't many fighters who were involved in 'fight of the year' bouts a dozen years apart.

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He later went onto become a heavyweight contender. Yeah, like many others he fought on too long (he had a career record of 77-10-3, 47 KOs).  For me, his last few years are like 'Rocky V' with that franchise -- I don't acknowledge it. Regardless, that doesn't diminish his overall accomplishments, which landed him a permanent home in the International Boxing Hall-of-Fame.( It's still puzzling why he wasn't a first-ballot selection)

I see his Facebook account, where it's clear that he is enjoying civilian life, being around his kids. He seems content and happy with what he's done and where he's at. Toney spends time at the gym training clients and imparting his knowledge to young boxers.

So happy birthday to a real fighter. The likes of which wont be seen ever again.



This Saturday from Tulsa, ESPN has a Top Rank card that is headlined by Jose Pedraza-Richard Commey, and heavyweight prospect, Jared Anderson....DAZN and Matchroom Sports announced that on Sept. 24 that Leigh Wood will face 'Mr Mayhem, Mauricio Lara, for his version of the WBA featherweight title in Nottingham....Also on that day, ESPN+ will have live coverage of the heavyweight title in Manchester at the AO Arena between Joe Joyce and Joseph Parker....360 Promotions will return to the Quiet Cannon in Montebello, California on Nov. 3rd, with another show featuring Callum Walsh.....Detroit Lions head coach, Dan Campbell, is the best new character on HBO. I'm really enjoying this season's 'Hard Knocks'....'Industry' on HBO is having a strong second season....Are you ready for 'Week 0' of college football?....I can be reached at

About Author
Happy Birthday, Lights Out
  • Hosted 'the Main Event' on KIEV 870, and then later XTRA AM1150 ( a three hour show devoted to boxing) from 1996 to 1999.
  • Joined one of the first boxing websites, 'House of Boxing' in 1999, and then later became one of the founders of Maxboxing, that started in 2001, till his departure in 2014.
  • From 2014 to 2018, he was the lead columnist for
  • Was a boxing reporter for from 2018 to 2020.
  • He has written for Ring Magazine, International Boxing Digest and Boxing News.
  • Is the co-host of 'the 3 Knockdown Rule' with Mario Lopez, which has become of the most popular boxing podcasts the past several years.
  • Steve has also served as an announcer and analyst for RingTV, Thompson Boxing, 360 Promotions and CBS Sports Network.