Toney had his first professional fight on October 26, 1988, beating Stephen Lee by a technical knockout in the second round. He was scouted and trained by Gregory Owens as a teenager, who also was his trainer through the mid-nineties. His moniker of “Lights Out” was also given by either Gregory or his son.
On March 10, 1989, his manager Johnny “Ace” Smith was killed outside of the Page One Bar in Detroit. Jackie Kallen then became his manager. He won the Michigan Middleweight title in 1990, knocking out Philip Morefield in the 1st round.
A draw with Sanderline Williams was the first blemish on Toney’s record, although he beat Williams by unanimous decision three months later and in early 1991 he beat Merqui Sosa in a minor upset, between the two top-10-rated contenders.
This win propelled Toney to a title shot at the IBF Middleweight championship, with this hard-earned 12-round points victory.
Toney’s unbeaten run landed him his coveted title shot at the IBF Middleweight title against the best of the title holders at the time, Michael “Second to” Nunn, in May 1991.
Nunn dominated the relatively inexperienced Toney over the first 10 rounds with his excellent boxing skills. In an unusually aggressive performance, there were many heated exchanges, but in the 11th round, with time running out for the young Toney, he dropped Michael Nunn to the canvas. The fight was stopped and Toney was the champion.
Toney continued a regular fight program over the next 18 months at middleweight, before outgrowing the division, where he made several successful yet disputed defenses, outpointing Dave Tiberi in a split decision, outpointing Glenn Wolfe and tough Reggie Johnson and a draw and a win against Mike “The Body Snatcher” McCallum, in two evenly and heated contests.
Super Middleweight Champion
Toney moved up to the 168 lbs Super Middleweight division, a weight Toney felt would be to his advantage, after struggling to make the Middleweight limit of 160 lbs.
On February 13, 1993, he challenged Iran Barkley for his IBF Super Middleweight title. After a dominating performance by Toney, the bout was stopped after 9 rounds by Barkley’s trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, due to Barkley suffering severe swelling around both eyes.
With Toney now a title holder at 168 lbs, alongside Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and his old nemesis Michael Nunn, the division was now one of the strongest in boxing.
Toney remained one of the most active boxers in the sport, winning five mark-time fights throughout 1993, then defeating Tony “The Punching Postman” Thornton in his 1st title defense in October, via a landslide points victory. In his second defense, Toney beat the 24-0 Tim Littles by a 4th round KO.
During this bout, Toney suffered a bad cut which caused the referee and ringside doctor to intervene before round 4, allowing him one more round to try to end the fight.
His next defense was against former IBF Light Heavyweight champion Prince Charles Williams, whom he knocked out in the 12th and final round.
This win paved the way for his fight with Roy Jones, Jr.
The fight was Jones’ first at Super Middleweight; Jones vacated his Middleweight belt to challenge Toney on November 18, 1994.
The fight was the biggest and most anticipated fight of the year with Jones and Tony ranked highly in the pound-for-pound rankings going into the fight. Toney was fancied to win by many experts due to his superior level of competition he’d faced up to this point.
Jones won a landslide decision over Toney, an upset at the time, taking Toney apart and briefly flooring Toney for the first time with a flash knockdown in the 3rd round. After the fight Toney blamed making the weight for his flat performance and the loss of his cherished unbeaten record. It was his last fight at the weight.
His next fight after losing his title to Roy Jones saw him lose to Montel Griffin at light heavyweight in February 1995. After then winning a series of fights at light heavyweight, cruiserweight, and even heavyweight, he again faced Montel Griffin in December 1996 and once again lost a close decision. He beat old foe Mike McCallum in February 1997, but then lost to journeyman Drake Thadzi in his next fight.
In August 2002, Toney beat Jason Robinson in an IBF Cruiserweight title elimination fight. This set up a fight between Toney and the champion, Vassiliy Jirov.
After a postponement, the fight happened on April 26, 2003, a fight many thought Toney would loseâ€”his championship days were almost 10 years ago, so Toney was expected to be a notch on the young Kazakh’s perfect boxing CV. Going into the 12th and final round, with the scores fairly even and the fight in the balance, Toney knocked the undefeated Jirov down in the 12th.
The Kazakh rose from the canvas to go to the distance, but Toney got the judges verdict and was now a three-weight World Champion.
For Toney’s performance he was awarded comeback of the year and named fighter of the year. Immediately afterward, Toney moved up to heavyweight.
Even when Toney was a middleweight, he insisted that he would one day be the heavyweight champion of the world. His good hand speed, slick defense and exceptional counter-punching had enabled him to defeat physically better (but technically less-skilled) opponents. His October 4, 2003, victory over aging former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield was Toney’s entry into the heavyweight division. After a shaky first round, Toney picked the Atlanta legend apart with shots to the body and head before stopping him in the 9th round.
On April 30, 2005, he defeated John Ruiz by a unanimous decision in a 12-round match for the World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight Championship. However, as of May 18, 2005, it was reported that Toney failed his post-fight drug test, testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. This led to the New York Athletic Commission changing the bout’s official outcome to a “no-contest”, deducting the win from Toney’s career record and banning him from boxing for 90 days. The WBA ordered that Ruiz be reinstated as its champion and that Toney be ineligible for another WBA Heavyweight title shot for two years. Toney defended himself by claiming that the steroids were given to him by a doctor to treat an injured arm that occurred during his victory over Rydell Booker in his previous fight. Toney was also subject to a civil lawsuit by Ruiz claiming that Toney’s illegal use of steroids gave him an edge in the fight.
In his bout after the Ruiz fight, Toney won a unanimous decision victory over former heavyweight contender Dominic Guinn. Toney next fought against Hasim Rahman on March 18, 2006, for the WBC Heavyweight title. The result was a twelve-round majority draw and Toney weighed a career-high 237 lb for his lackluster performance.
Toney’s next two outings were losses to Samuel Peter. The first fight was held in Los Angeles, California on Sept 2, 2006. Toney lost by split decision. The return bout was held in Hollywood, Florida, on January 6, 2007, and Toney once again lost to Peter, this time by unanimous decision. Both fights were WBC eliminator bouts for the belt held by Oleg Maskaev.
Toney returned to action in May 2007 and won a ten-round split decision over Danny Batchelder. Following the bout, Toney once again tested positive for boldenone and stanozolol and was
fined $2500 and banned from boxing for a year, Toney appealed the suspension and it was reduced to 6 months after he appeared before the CSAC and claimed he didn’t knowingly take any steroids and suggested that he was set up and someone had tampered with his water bottle.
On July 16, 2008, Toney’s rematch against Hasim Rahman was stopped in the third round. An accidental head butt by Toney opened a cut above Rahman’s left eye. The ring doctor stopped the fight after determining that the cut was blocking Rahman’s vision. Initially, the fight was called as a TKO win for Toney, but this was overruled by the California State Athletic Commission and the fight was declared no-contest.
Toney’s next bout came on December 13, 2008, against Fres Oquendo. Oquendo was penalized 1 point in round eight for a rabbit punch, which would prove to be the deciding factor in the fight.
Toney won a close split decision. On September 12, 2009, James fought heavyweight fighter Matthew Greer (12â€“5â€“0 11 KO) at the Pechanga Resort & Casino, looking visibly trimmer than he had been in recent years. James won via TKO victory in round two.
On February 24, 2011 Toney made his return to boxing when he successfully defended his IBA Heavyweight Championship against Damon Reed.
Toney won a ten round unanimous decision with all three judges scoring the bout 100-90