An Early Look: James Toney vs Jameel McCline

09.01.04 - Paul Ruby: James Toney has lost four fights in career, but only twice has he been in the ring with a superior fighter. James lost to Roy Jones, Jr. fair-and-square. James was getting beaten when he stopped Michael Nunn back in 1991. In his losses to Drake Thadzi and Montell Griffin, his controversial win of Dave Tiberi, and his rarely mentioned draw with the unheralded Sanderline Williams, James Toney brought with him a bad attitude into training camp and carried it into the ring. He believed he would win those fights based on talent alone, and it showed. Among active boxers, I believe James Toney’s natural talent for boxing is surpassed only by Roy Jones, Jr. He has tremendous natural talent and great mental make-up in the ring, but his career has been marked with occurrences of failing to make weight and under-training. Only time will tell if he can work past years of abusing his body to establish the great legacy in fighting of which he is quite clearly capable.

Jameel McCline is big. He stands 6-foot-6 and comes into the ring anywhere between 250 and 280 pounds. He is simply a very large human being, and it is obvious because he carries that enormous amount of weight very well. Jameel has the discipline that many heavyweights today lack. He always shows to fight in very good condition and can outlast an opponent. He did this quite clearly in his most recent fight where he stopped Cedric Boswell in the 10th round when I believe he needed a knockout to win.

When these two men step into the ring February 7th, something’s got to give. Personally, I suspect it will be Jameel McCline. To be totally honest, I believe McCline is tailor-made for Toney, both mentally and physically, and I suspect this fight will not go to the scorecards. James Toney’s first big advantage in this fight is the mental one. He knows he is the most talented fighter in the ring, and has recently shown the drive and desire to back that talent up with hard work in the gym. Everyone will know his game plan going into the fight. He will stand in front of McCline and not move around very much; he will occasionally let McCline lace into him when he’s resting against the ropes. The whole time, though, James will be counter-punching to the head and body and slipping punches left and right. Although their defensive styles are different, Toney’s mental approach is similar to that of Archie Moore. He often allows himself to get hit, but manages to slip many punches and absorb that pain so he can get on the inside and fight in the style that will bring him success. Regardless, James’ style is a known commodity and he will not change it. If he didn’t change it for Evander Holyfield, he will not change it for Jameel McCline. McCline is also a counter-puncher by nature. He tried to counterpunch against Cedric Boswell, but Boswell was more committed to the counterpunching. He let McCline bring the fight to him and I believe he was winning it when Jameel’s conditioning and experience took over and stopped him in the final round. I believe Toney will do the same thing. Jameel will intend to counterpunch, but Toney will force McCline to bring the fight to him- that is not a situation where Jameel is comfortable. I feel James will be too committed to his game-plan to allow Jameel to dictate anything in this fight from a style standpoint, and that will be the biggest difference.

Physically, Jameel McCline is the larger and stronger man in this fight- make no mistake about that. Still, he does not fight like a man who is six and half feet tall and weighs 270 pounds. There is no excuse for someone that large to be a counter-puncher. Jameel lacks the killer instinct that all great fighters at any weight class possess. I would love to hear the great Julio Cesar Chavez’s opinion on McCline style; they’re polar opposites in just about every regard you can imagine. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that Jameel McCline should model his style after someone like a prime Larry Holmes, and not a smaller, more sprightly counterpunching and defensive style. McCline’s decision to rarely press the action in a fight takes away his greatest natural advantage- his size. Jameel occasionally uses his long jab and works behind it. Like John Ruiz, he has a deceptively powerful right hand for which he is not given credit. Still, he rarely uses it to good effect against his opponents because he needs to establish his jab before the straight right can be thrown with good results. In his fight with Toney, I cannot see McCline establishing a jab effectively, because Toney will get under it relative ease and go to McCline’s body like no one has before. Toney is a slow starter and I envision McCline succeeding in the first round before Toney’s body attack takes over and tires the big man out.

I was very impressed by Jameel McCline’s fortitude to weather a surprisingly precise attack from the untested Cedric Boswell before stopping him late. Still, his fight plan was not good. He showed a good ability to take a punch in that fight, which I found surprising because he was rocked in the 2nd round of his previous fight against Charles Shufford. Although he stopped Shufford, I was not impressed with Jameel’s physical performance either of his last two fights. Nonetheless, he looked decent in losing to Wladimir Klitschko and I thought that was probably his best performance to date considering the size and skill level of his opposition. James Toney, on the other hand, has looked great recently. He stopped Jason Robinson in his cruiserweight eliminator bout with a textbook hook, fought an intelligent fight and a hell of a 12th round against the tough and underrated Vassily Jirov, and joined Riddick Bowe as the only man to stop Evander Holyfield. Of course, the first two are cruiserweights and Evander is clearly not the fighter he once was. Still, James looked great in all three of those fights and has shown the desire and drive to improve and become great that he never showed prior. In each of those fights, James stuck to is game-plan and came out a winner in impressive fashion.

That said, there is always one big “if” surround James Toney. Will he show up in shape and ready to win a decision? I wish I could answer that question, but we’ll all have to wait until February 7th to find out. Personally, I believe he will because I feel he thinks he’s finally making the money and garnering the recognition he deserves and he does not want to screw it up. Still, that’s just my opinion.

All things considered, I see the fight in pretty simple terms. Jameel McCline is physically a big guy, but does not fight that way. He doesn’t jab well nor does he plant his feet and commit to his punches. He is mentally weak and too often allows his opponents to dictate the style of the fight to him. James Toney is not as big or strong as his opponent, but he has the mental edge that will allow him to neutralize McCline physical advantage. James will determine how this fight plays out. I see James losing the first round and then beating McCline to the punch for the next 6 rounds or so and abusing him to the body. I think James will break Jameel both mentally and physically in this fight. In other words, my pick for the February 7th fight between Jameel McCline and James Toney is that James Toney will score a 7th round TKO over a badly beaten Jameel McCline because James will dictate the style and pace and Jameel will be incapable of using his size advantage to create openings for himself.

That same night, make sure to tune in and watch junior welterweight champ Kostya Tszyu take on the underrated Sharmba Mitchell for that division’s crown. Tszyu has fought sparsely over the last 18 months, and I’m eager to see if it will affect him. Both men are getting older, but remain the division’s elite. Anyway, I’m glad the fine folks at Showtime put together a card of exciting fights and exciting fighters for early February and that they thankfully left all of their contracted, overrated, and unproven young guns off of the bill.

*please send in questions or comments to: - I would like to do a mailbag Q & A session one of these days.

Article posted on 10.01.2004

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