James Toney Wants to Be Two-Sport Athlete

James ToneyJames Toney insists that he's taking mixed martial arts seriously. But he also says boxing is still his top priority.

Toney, who signed with the UFC last week, told MMAFighting.com that he won't stop boxing and expects to step into the ring some time in the next couple of months before stepping into the Octagon this summer. But he compared himself to Bo Jackson, a two-sport athlete who described football as "a hobby" but was still one of the best running backs in the NFL.

"I'm still a boxer," Toney said. "Boxing is my No. 1 goal. ... This is something that's going to keep me invigorated. Unlike most boxing people, I'm a fan of MMA. Why not give it a chance?"

At the top of his game Toney, the 1991 and 2003 Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year, could fight every other month. He said he'd like to get back into fighting that frequently, alternating between his two sports.

"I'm going to go back and forth," Toney said. "I'm a two-sport guy. I'll fight in the UFC, then boxing, then another UFC fight, and then boxing. I'll do as much as I can, whatever fights I can get."

When I asked Toney whether it was realistic to think he could compete at a high level while switching between two different sports while giving himself only a couple months off between fights, he sounded surprised by the question.

"Why not?" Toney asked. "Bo Jackson played football and baseball and was at the top of his game."

That's true, but Jackson was in his 20s when he was playing both sports, and Jackson was one of the best conditioned athletes in the world. Toney is 41 and about 70 pounds heavier than he was at his peak, when he won the IBF middleweight championship at a chiseled 158 pounds. Toney said he weighs 225 pounds right now and wants to fight as a heavyweight in the UFC, although he said he'd be able to get down to 205 and fight at light heavyweight, and he insists that his ample gut doesn't make him out of shape.

"If I were out of shape I'd be getting knocked out and beat up real bad," Toney said. "I've had more than 80 pro fights and I've never been knocked out."

When I pointed out to Toney that the UFC has fighters who are world-class athletes in disciplines such as wrestling Brazilian jiu jitsu, he said he knew he'd never be as good on the ground as most UFC fighters, but that he could learn enough takedown defense to keep a fight from going to the ground. And he pointed out that no UFC fighter will ever be able to exchange punches with him.

"There are a lot of guys in the UFC who can take me down, but I'm learning how to defend the takedown," Toney said. "I'm not even worried about that. They've got to worry about that when they get in with me -- how are they going to take me down? They've got to take risks when they take me down. They're taking a risk that they're going to get knocked out. ... There ain't no one in the UFC that can go blow-to-blow with me. You know that."

Toney said he's been going over "basics" with trainer Juanito Ibarra but hasn't done any full-on MMA sparring yet.

"I've tried a little kickboxing and wrestling," Toney said. "It's all hand-to-hand combat."

Toney said he had offers on the table from other MMA promoters, including Strikeforce, but that he wanted to sign with the UFC because he wanted to test himself against the best opponents he could find. And when I asked Toney about those potential opponents, the one he sounded most interested in fighting was Randy Couture.

"Randy Couture is a legend," Toney said. "He's a great dude. If we fight I'd have to take my time and pick him apart. If that's my first fight, it'll be a huge fight."

Toney was dismissive of Kimbo Slice, saying Kimbo would be an easy opponent for him to beat and adding, "I'm not doing it to be in a sideshow." But Toney didn't rule out the possibility that Kimbo could be his first opponent. He said the only thing he knows for sure is that his first UFC fight will be this summer and will be on pay-per-view. And he said he's sure it's going to be big.

"I'm up for a challenge," Toney said. "I'm excited about it."

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