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Boxing
The truth about Toney
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Oh well, so much for the benefit of the doubt.

I'll admit, after he schooled John Ruiz at Madison Square Garden on a Saturday night in Manhattan a couple of years ago, I was among those heralding James Toney as the best heavyweight in the world.

Even a couple days later, when a post-fight urine sample showed the presence of steroids in Toney's system, I was still in his camp and steadfastly buying the medical excuse he was selling.

Old habits, it seems, die hard.

The failed test cost the brash veteran the crown he'd lifted from Ruiz and earned him a one-year ban from WBA title fights, though he quickly got another try with WBC champ Hasim Rahman the following March.

And when that seashore night in Atlantic City ended in another disappointment for Toney -- this time via a 12-round draw most ringside media members scored in his favor -- I remained in his corner.

The blind faith droned on even through September 2006, when Toney came out on the short end of a 12-round eliminator against Nigerian import Sam Peter -- a bout I had seen as 8-4 in the old man's favor.

Even at 38 years old. Even though it'd been years since his last clear-cut win. Even though the opinions of people I respected told me otherwise, I loyally remained on the Toney bandwagon.

James Toney
A suspension will more than likely end James Toney's run on the periphery of the heavyweight championship mix.
But in 2007, I'm finally starting to see the truth.

Toney decisively lost a rematch with the once-beaten Peter in January, sending him back to the division's minor leagues for a tune-up bout with journeyman Danny Batchelder last month in San Jose.

But instead of a confidence-boosting triumph, Toney found himself just sliding by with a split decision and -- come post-fight cup-filling time -- floating pathetically through the same cloud of drug-use suspicion.

According to the California State Athletic Commission, the ex-champ at 160, 168 and 190 pounds tested positive for both boldenone and stanazol, results that -- without an appeal -- will prompt a one-year ban from the fight's May 24 date.

Such a suspension will more than likely end Toney's run on the periphery of the heavyweight championship mix, leaving his space to be filled by assumedly younger, stronger and cleaner competitors. And, if you ask me, it's not a moment too soon. Finally.

Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me 17 times, well, you get the idea.

In spite of a swollen, cut eye and a headache sure to linger another month, Zab Judah ought to feel like a winner this weekend.

The two-division champ, stopped in 11 in a grab for Miguel Cotto's welterweight title last Saturday, warrants respect for displaying backbone he'd rarely shown on his best front-running days.

Not only did he wobble the unbeaten phenom with sharp lefts in rounds one, three and seven, he was even more impressive while gamely hanging in after the tide had decisively turned the Puerto Rican's way.

Still, for every "attaboy" Judah deserves, Cotto warrants three.

The precocious 26-year-old may yet be susceptible to a slick stylist able to elude him for 36 minutes, but after the most-recent bashing it seems a list that's growing shorter by the hour.

Judah was surely capable of such elusive tactics and looked at times prepared to practice them, but the grindingly monotonous Cotto doggedly tracked him down, muffled his power and in the end took away his ability -- if not his will -- to resist.

It was the most impressive in a series of standout efforts for the rapidly maturing champ, who's now brutally dealt with Paulie Malignaggi (W 12), Carlos Quintana (KO 5), Oktay Urkal (KO 11) and Judah in a year spent bridging the gap from 140 to 147.

He finds himself a resident in the sport's most affluent neighborhood, where fellow belt-holders Antonio Margarito and Kermit Cintron and surging ex-champ Shane Mosley seek prolonged win streaks while hoping to attract the division's true PPV landlord -- Floyd Mayweather Jr.

And in fact it may be Cotto, too, who'll dethrone Margarito to earn the media's most prestigious title -- though in reality more meaningless and irritating -- as the man being most determinedly avoided by the still-unbeaten five-class champion.

It's baloney...but, after Saturday's bruising show, I'm not sure I'd blame the "Pretty Boy" if it wasn't.

Not everyone was so impressive on Saturday.

Antonio Tarver, who briefly flirted with a move to heavyweight before being decisively reduced to ex-champ by aging Philadelphian veteran Bernard Hopkins last summer, returned to the ring opposite Cotto with a main event on Showtime.

But instead of clearly re-establishing supremacy at 175 with a rout of set-up foe Elvir Muriqi -- a non-descript Yugoslav who just two years ago was fighting 59-loss stiffs in Greensboro, N.C. -- Tarver lost a little more luster by struggling to a majority decision triumph.

He did cop the IBO's jewelry once again by taking scorecard nods of 116-112 and 115-113 from judges John Rupert and Glenn Feldman, but the 114-114 verdict of Steve Weisfeld, whether spot-on accurate or not, is probably a better barometer of what Tarver has left.

Whether off a year or not, a supposedly elite-level fighter like Tarver should have been able to one-sidedly beat if not flat-out stop someone like Muriqi, who'd never beaten a foe of any substance and hadn't won a scheduled 10-round bout in more than four years.

In a division populated with same-old, same-old foes like Clinton Woods, Glen Johnson and Roy Jones Jr., the 38-year-old Tarver ought to be in the clear for at least a defense or two, or as long as he avoids Chad Dawson, who won the WBC crown and sent Tomasz Adamek scurrying to cruiserweight with a unanimous decision in February.

But holding it any longer than that?

Now that'd really be "Magic."

I noticed the calendar the other day, and groaned.

Could it really be 25 years since the most hyped heavyweight championship fight of my youth -- the WBC title bout between incumbent Larry Holmes and challenger Gerry Cooney in the Caesars Palace parking lot in Las Vegas?

June 11, 1982. I was 13 years old and without question the biggest boxing fan at Edward Town Junior High School in Sanborn, N.Y.

And I told as many of my seventh-grade colleagues as I could back then that it'd be Cooney, the left-hooking giant from Long Island, who'd have his hand raised by Mills Lane when the night was over.

Needless to say, I was a bit off.

Notwithstanding some dubious scorecards -- which would have had "Gentleman Gerry" ahead through 12 rounds if he'd not been docked three points for low blows -- the performance was among the most impressive, and certainly the most heralded of Holmes' 20-defense run.

I wasn't smart enough or savvy enough to recognize it then -- instead being far too taken with the brutish slugger with the balky resume -- but as the years went by I appreciated Holmes' subtle greatness, and I'd confidently rank him now among the best heavies ever.

Better late than never, right Larry?

No hard feelings.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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