Breaking down James Toney

The opponent

Vasily Jirov (tiger stripes/white guy) is like something out of a rocky movie. As a kid he was raised by the Kazhakstan national boxing coach and put through insane training, Stuff like being pushed out of a boat in the middle of a lake 2 miles from shore. Or being forced to run down a hallway full of attack dogs to reach the door at the end. But all that madness payed off as he took gold in the 1996 olympics with his constant pressure, come forward style and left handed body attack. He was undefeated coming into this fight at 31-0 with 27 KO’s.

James “Lights Out” Toney

A crafty defensive counter puncher who was never afraid to brawl, He is the only fighter in history to land more than 400 punches in a fight 4 times. While he was always considered incredibly talented a lot of people felt like he never reached his potential due to outside the ring issues and incredibly bizzare training regimen. He refused to do anything but spar. No running, no weights, just boxing everyday. While not the most farsighted of ideas, his skills and relaxation in the ring speak for themselves.

Calm under fire

The best asset of James Toney. Jirov gets him to the ropes and throws a long combination, notice how James uses almost every part of his body to defend himself here. He takes a jab before blocking the left he moves with the right hook taking much of the power off of it. He takes a left to the body before using his shoulder to deflect a right hook and picks his hand up to block the left before cracking Jirov with a perfectly placed counter right hand. On a simple numerical level they landed the same amount of punches here but James used far less energy to do it.

Head fighting on the inside

Watch James’ head here. He keeps it on the right (weaker) side of the lefty Jirov. This is safer because the only punch Jirov can hit Toney with is a short right that won’t do much damage. This allows Toney to keep his hands low to block the body shots Jirov is notorious for. Everytime his head crosses over to the more dangerous left side he throws a right hand and quickly gets his head back to Jirov’s right.

Wrestling, boxing and street fighting

Jirov hooks Toney’s left arm here in order to push James back into the ropes so he can continue his non-stop assault. By doing this he stays shoulder to shoulder with Toney using his size and constant left hand punches to push Toney back. More on this later. And the last part, well, it certainly sends a message that this is more than just a friendly competetion.

Toney is pissed

The fight really gets going now as Toney starts pushing forward on Jirov. Notice the first jab followed by the right. Toney shifts his stance so he can stay on top of Jirov before bringing his left foot back forward and continue his attack. Jirov jabs around Toney looking for lead foot dominance (more on that here to land his left hand as Toney moves his head to make them miss. The moment Jirov stops moving, Toney establishes dominance for himself to land a right hand before changing levels, ducking all the return fire. Beautiful stuff.

Controlling the center line

Now Toney walks to his right to start the round before stepping in at an angle that allows him to land a right hand. “But Escudo?” you might ask “what about all that stuff about lead foot dominance?” By stepping in at that angle Toney puts himself almost shoulder to shoulder with the lefty leaving both body and head open for hooks. He got inside the lead hand and defense of Jirov leaving him unable to defend the center line (from forehead to groin) with out also committing his left hand. He then puts his head on Jirov’s shoulder smothering any kind of power from Jirov’s left by closing the distance. He is using Jirov’s own body to defend himself from punches and that is, well, It’s just fucking Brilliant. He lands another 2 punches on the way out.

More wrestling classes

Here Jirov gets what is called an overhook in Greco-Roman wrestling. He uses the leverage (and more short punches) to push James back to the ropes. This is where he needs this fight to happen because James is too slick and too fast when fighting on the outside. By forcing his way in James options for defending punches become far more limited.

James gets wise

Count the number of times in this gif Jirov tries to hook James lead hand here like in the last one. James realizes that the entire time that Jirov is trying to wrestle is time that he can spend punching. By making Jirov pay for his grappling he is trying to discourage him from doing it further. Notice how James keeps circling to his right away from the lead shoulder of Jirov. By moving away from the lead shoulder Jirov cannot push him and so he keeps himself off the ropes.

Staying a step ahead

Jirov lands a short right hook to the body before James steps (again) to his right opening up Jirov for a short right uppercut. Jirov turns to face him and James steps back to his left opening up a perfect angle for his left hook. James knows that when in doubt Jirov will always walk forward so James steps back and cracks him with a beautiful combination that Jirov walks into. He is one step ahead the entire time.

Timing and distance

Jirov is still looking for the overhook here to push James back but he learned something himself. Rather than try to force it on by walking forward he waits for James to step in with a jab before tying up and hooking the arm. He made Toney do half the work for him. But James remains calm, defends the onslaught against the ropes and waits for his moment to counter. He bends over to his right as the punches come. He waits for Jirov to commit to the body with the left hand while loading up his right for a powerful shot over the top of it.

Walking him into traps

James is cornered here so he throws a right hook while slowly making his way out of the corner. Jirov begins to follow here again opening his center line up for the right hook. Remember James wants to keep his head on Jirov’s right shoulder so he throws a couple left hooks to encourage Jirov to move his head away from them. Jirov gives him the position he wants. Also this defense here, Jirov threw about a dozen punches and didn’t really hit anything but shoulders, forearms and air.

A bit of payback

After Jirov hits Toney with that hard lead hook and the men come together watch the lead hands. Toney starts using Jirov’s own trick against him. James hooks his arm around Jirov’s, but instead of using it as leverage to push Jirov around he pulls his hand down, throws a right uppercut to lift up Jirov’s head before cracking him with a hard left hook. A lot of people tend to look down on fighters who grapple a lot. But the simple fact is that even in pure striking sports (boxing,kickboxing,Muay Thai or what have you) grappling can do so much for you both offensively and to smother an opponent. Train your Clinch work guys.

One of my favorite moment in all of Boxing

It’s the end of the 11th round James goes to his corner. It’s been an amazing fight, a very close back and forth war for the ages. Vassiliy Jirov just fought the round of his life, throwing almost 100 punches and keeping him on the defensive. Jirov clearly took the round. James’ trainer Freddie Roach sits him down and tells him ” You gotta put him on his ASS.” James just nods his head as Freddie continued. “Fuck” he whispered. “FUCK” There is not an actor in the world who could fake this convincingly. This is the face a guy who has had 1000 punches thrown at him in less than an hour, fought the fight of his life and still he gets told he needs to step it up to win. This moment (and the fact it’s an AMAZING fight) is why this is the first fight I show people I introduce to boxing.

The left hook

James knows this is his knockout punch. He starts looking for it in every exchange. Every single one of them at the head.

But the head isn’t where he would find it.

He finds it to the body. After James comes back off the ropes he throws a right hand before smashing Jirov with the left hook to the liver. Watch Jirov’s body sink as he takes it. That shot froze Jirov. Because the Vagus nerve that runs around the liver, a hard enough punch causes it to overload with electrical signals and basically prevents your brain from talking to your legs. The punches following it were really just throwing Jirov off balence. His legs were already gone. But Toney pulls off the unlikely knockdown and wins the fight with 15 seconds left. This is my favorite boxing match of all time.
There you have it guys. I’m quite proud of this one. The science, technique, and the heart that make fighting the best sport in the world.

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