“I LOVE Britain and the British fans because of the way you guys appreciate boxing and create an atmosphere, but I still don’t like Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn – I regret not getting to whip their asses,” stated James Toney, 77-10-3 (47), with typical bluntness when Boxing News caught up with him in Bristol on a crisp November afternoon.
“Lights Out” was in town for an exhibition bout, he had his feet up on a table, a cigar smouldered in a nearby ashtray and he was polishing off a coffee. In person there is something disarmingly gentle, almost shy, about the 49-year-old. He was long removed from the snarling, trash-talking presence I had grown up watching and who sits above Marvin Hagler atop the list of my all-time favourite fighters.
Talking to Toney, his voice and body damaged from a sport he enlivened, my mind kept drifting to the Squeeze song, Labelled with Love. A tune that begins with the bittersweet nostalgia of the past then ends where it began, with the narrator now chastened by the ravages of age. It was released in 1981; a decade later Toney won his first world title and embarked on the long and winding road.