Boxing: Toney prepares to cut Rahman down to size

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When boxing people talk of the good old days, they ignore the presence of James Toney, whose career resembles that of the great fighters of old.

Toney turned professional in 1988 and has fought for nine world titles at six weights, and tonight he starts as the favourite when he challenges Hasim Rahman for the World Boxing Council heavyweight title in Atlantic City.

"Man, I'm the most old school of all the old school fighters. I'm not just a throwback; I have redefined the term 'throwback'," claimed Toney, 37, who has fought 79 times, losing four.

He won the first of his world titles in 1990, when he beat Ricardo Bryant for the International Boxing Council middleweight title. It was not much of a title, but he won the more meaningful International Boxing Federation version the following year and quickly established himself, with the help of his big mouth, as one of the sport's biggest attractions.

He lost for the first time in 1994, in his 47th fight, when Roy Jones outpointed him for the IBF's super-middleweight title. After that, and after several highly entertaining events in his private life, the cigar-chomping fighter, who was difficult even for the most persuasive of promoters to control, fought for belts at three weights.

Most in the business breathed a sigh of relief when, in 1998, he failed to fight. He came back in 1999, though, and in April 2003 he ruined the previously unbeaten Vassily Jeirov to win the IBF cruiserweight title. Jeirov lost for the first time in 32 fights and has never been the same since.

Six months later, Toney did what Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and many others had failed to do when he dropped, humiliated and stopped Evander Holyfield in nine painful rounds. It was an old-fashioned beating and Holyfield looked pitiful at the end.

In April of last year, Toney conceded reach, height and weight to outpoint John Ruiz for the World Boxing Association heavyweight title. Ruiz was brutally exposed as a flat-footed plodder and received a boxing lesson that made his claim to be world champion look ridiculous. It only supported Toney's assertion that modern heavyweights simply "can't fight''.

In the post-fight celebration, Toney gripped his rolls of fat and pulled on an enormous cigar. "None of these guys have bothered to learn to fight and that's why it's so easy for me to beat them," he said. However, he was stripped of his WBA title when he failed a post-fight drugs test. He maintained his innocence, joking: "I have to be the worst advertisement in the world for steroids," as he stood up, raised his shirt and held his ample waist in his hand.

Since that night, he has beaten the young contender Dominick Guinn, in another one-sided affair, to earn the fight with Rahman.

"Lewis, Klitschko, Holyfield, Tyson and Rahman are all big dudes," he said. "They are big dudes but they can't fight."