Toney, the former world champion boxer making his mixed martial arts debut Saturday at UFC 118, is being trained in MMA by Sherman, and the two couldn't come across any more differently in interviews. Where Toney is brash and cocky, Sherman is modest. Where Toney expresses nothing but contempt for his opponent, Randy Couture, Sherman shows nothing but respect, even reverence. Where Toney blabbers on at a mile-a-minute pace to the point where it's hard to understand half of what he says, Sherman is articulate and measured in his comments.
In fact, Sherman and Toney seem to have only one thing in common: They both believe Toney will knock Couture out on Saturday night.
"Knockout in the first round," Sherman said when I asked him how he thought the Toney-Couture fight would play out. "I can't tell you how accurate James is with his hands. It's scary how accurate he is. He's going to connect with a punch and it's going to be over."
Toney is fond of dismissing Couture as a washed-up practitioner of a second-rate sport, but Sherman is having none of that. Sherman is well aware of all Couture has accomplished in the Octagon. He just happens to believe that Toney's boxing skills are far too much for Couture to handle.
"I love Randy Couture," Sherman says. "I'm a huge fan. He's the godfather of mixed martial arts. He's done more for this sport than anybody. But no one he's ever faced can punch like James. He can bring anybody in to his training camp and nobody can mimic James. Randy might have great sparring partners, but he's never been hit the way James can hit him."
No one disputes that Toney is the most accomplished boxer ever to sign with the UFC, but the reason Couture is the overwhelming favorite is that there's a lot more to MMA than simply standing up and trading punches. Toney has made some dubious claims about the amount of grappling he's picked up in the short time he's been training for MMA, but Sherman acknowledges that there's zero chance of Toney submitting Couture.
"It's never been about submissions," Sherman said. "It's been about submission defense. I'm not going to waste time on teaching James to submit Randy -- if we had a year and a half or two years that would be a great luxury, but we don't have all the time in the world. If I were training a jiu jitsu specialist I wouldn't spend a lot of time trying to teach him to knock someone out, what I'd do is train him to avoid getting knocked out while he gets into position for a submission."
But Sherman insists that Toney is doing a great job of learning takedown defense, learning escapes on the ground and learning how to adjust his stance so that he won't be susceptible to leg kicks. He says that Toney has become enough of a mixed martial artist that his chances of winning go beyond just his ability to land one lucky punch.
Although Sherman won't say how much Toney weighs -- that's the one subject Toney made Sherman promise not to discuss -- he says that Toney is in good cardiovascular shape. And he says that contrary to a widespread belief that Toney is only fighting Couture for one quick paycheck, Sherman doesn't think Toney will quit MMA after Saturday night.
"Absolutely not," Sherman said. "Win, lose or draw, the UFC is going to want him back, Dana White is going to want him back, the fans will want him back and James will want to be back."
Just as Toney is an unknown in the MMA world, Sherman is, too. Sherman hasn't trained any elite mixed martial artists and knows that most MMA fans have never heard of him.
"I haven't worked with a lot of top-tier fighters," Sherman said. "This is the first time I've been to the big dance."
If Toney shocks the MMA world on Saturday, a whole lot of other fighters will be giving Sherman a call, asking him to teach them to dance.
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