The news first splashed across the homepage late yesterday afternoon during a time when the MMA news world seemed to be in dire need of a pick-me-up, and in it’s wake has sent countless fans scrambling for information on the most prominent boxer to enter mixed martial arts to date.

Who is this James Toney?

It could be argued that Toney is ‘just some washed up forty-one year old boxing has-been trying to cash in on mixed martial arts and the revenue it produces’ by many that didn’t know any better, however, that would only be partially true.

Is James looking to cash in on MMA? Of course he is! He’s a grown man that has needs that being phenomenally talented with his fists have afforded him through much of his adult life. The bottom line is that James is after the money, sure, but that’s just what makes the world go round. You can’t fault the man for that.

On the other side of that coin, I firmly believe that if James Toney decides that he’s going to do something, he’s probably going to do it. I feel like James wants to fight partially to get paid, but really, a lot of it is because the dude is just an old school bad ass of the rarest variety. A real life bad ass that doesn’t know any better than to believe that he will carve through the UFC like a knife through butter.

Here’s the thing: James Toney has a truly rare gift that just can’t be taught. The type of blessing with his fists that only comes along once every five or ten years. That level of natural born fighting talent will absolutely affect how he does when he makes the transition to MMA, and I feel like UFC President Dana White probably knows what I’m talking about.

Toney has “Epic-Beard Man” raw talent.

There have been other extremely high profile boxers in the past that have toyed with the idea of fighting in the UFC (Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather), but Dana comes from boxing, and being familiar with Toney and his history in the sport will vouch for the man known as “Lights Out” as being one of the grittiest and naturally gifted boxer/fighters in recent memory.

Look guys, if Kimbo Slice could enjoy any type of success in the UFC (big win over Houston Alexander) , then you better believe that a boxer as technically proficient as Toney could very realistically come away with a win or two, and provide some always welcome fireworks and hoop-la in the process.

I felt honored to be the first person to report James Toney signing with the UFC yesterday (from the 13 year old punk with KO Magazine tear out posters of Toney and others on my wall) being that my history with the man is currently running 19 (going on 20) years. Have I ever met Toney? Well no, I haven’t, but I’ve been a huge fan of his work since he shocked the world with a devastating knockout of Michael Nunn in May of 1991 to capture the IBF middleweight title.

‘Shocked the world?’ you ask. Absolutely.

Going into that fight Nunn was an undefeated champion with a record of 36-0 while coming off of legit, legit, legit wins over trained animals like Sumbu Kalambay, Iran Barkley, Marlon Starring and Donald Curry. There were many experts at the time that firmly believed that Nunn was close to untouchable.

Then James Toney touched him.

Enter the twenty-three year old kid with all of the cards stacked against him. Sure, Toney was undefeated going into the fight, but with just eighteen professional scraps he had less than half the paid experience that the dominant champion had going into the match-up that was viewed as more of a formality than as a legitimate threat to the title.

The thing is that being the underdog, whether it be in boxing, the UFC, or just life in general, is nothing new to the ghetto kid out of Grand Rapids, Michigan whose father left his mother to raise him on her own at an early age. Or in high school when the former gun toting drug dealer did a good enough job balancing his extra-curricular hustling activities with an amateur boxing and football career at Huron High in Ann Arbor, Michigan to end up at a Michigan university football camp. The same football camp that – as fate would have it – confirmed to Toney that his future would be in the ring.

It was during this same camp that Toney got into an argument with future football superstar Deion Sanders over a particular bed in the sleeping facility and wound up cracking “Prime Time” off-side his head and it was… well, it was lights out according to Toney.

“It was two hits. Me hittin’ him and him hittin’ the floor,” chuckled Toney while recalling the incident that helped to change the course his life was taking in a conversation with

After compiling an impressive amateur boxing record of 31-2 with an absolutely ridiculous 29 KO’s (remember, amateur = headgear) Toney went pro at twenty years of age. Three years later he was widely regarded to be the best middleweight boxer on the face of the earth.

To date Toney has gone on to capture titles in the super middleweight, light heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions while establishing himself as a clear cut future Boxing Hall of Fame inductee.

We’re talking about a man that was named Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year on two separate occasions which were spaced out by twelve years on 1991 and 2003. The type of talent that enables a fighter to be named fighter of the year over that stretch of time just can’t be taught.

Perhaps the most reveling statistic that has come of the twenty years Toney has spent enlisted as a practitioner of “The Sweet Science” is the fact that out of all the spectacularly violent boxers he has faced in his more than 90 bouts as a professional – such as Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, Roy Jones Jr., Iran Barkley, Mike “The Body Snatcher” McCallum, Hasim “The Rock” Rahman, or Samuel “The Nigerian Nightmare” Peter – not one of them have managed to kick his ass.

James Toney has never been finished in the ring, but that’s not to say he won’t he finished in the Octagon.

The point being is that I truly doubt anyone is going to manage to knock out “Lights Out” in an upright position in the UFC anytime soon. James has the kind of Matrix-like timing and reflexes that only a lifetime of having punches thrown at your face and body can develop.

He may not be used to taking head kicks, but his incredible ability to see what’s coming at him like it’s in slow motion will help him there.

As far as the leg kicks are concerned: I’ve always felt like the best defense to a leg kick is a good punch to the face. Trading punches to the face for leg kicks with a boxer the caliber of Toney would inevitably be a high risk gameplan.

With that being said, it’s hard for me to visualize Toney being able to suffer anything but a brutal defeat in one form or another when – because it will happen eventually – someone manages to drag the forty-one year old power puncher to the canvas. But you’re going to have to get him there first, and that could very likely prove to be a problem for many of the UFC heavyweights that will have no way to prepare for a striker of Toney’s caliber, while James will undoubtedly be training with wrestlers.

Never forget that every UFC fight starts standing.

Fighting is second nature for Toney. The Michigan hoodlum gone-right grew up in a no holds barred environment, but the truth of the matter is that mixed martial arts has evolved light years ahead of the streets when it comes to sanctioned MMA rules. James is definitely going to have some making up to do. The question is, how dedicated will he be to making the improvements to his game that will need to be done? Time will tell…

Is James Toney entering the UFC good for the sport? In this writer’s opinion: Absolutely. Allow me tell you why…

James Toney is arguably the greatest trash talker boxing – or any form of athletic competition for that matter – has seen since Muhammad Ali, however you won’t get much argument from me.

Toney takes the “gift of gab” to a new level when promoting his fights that many of today’s mixed martial artists could do themselves a favor by taking note of (you’re good Tito). This is one factor that without question played a part on his marketability to the UFC. Toney is going to talk, and talk, and talk leading up to his fights for the promotion, and you can bet your bottom dollar that major media outlets that normally don’t take the time to listen, will be listening at full attention.

There’s no doubt that mixed martial arts has the male population between the ages of 18-34 in a chokehold, but the fact of the matter is that there are literally millions of fight fans over that specific age threshold that have not been tapped into for one reason or another. But I’ll tell you this much: Anyone that knows boxing knows James “Lights Out” Toney, and they WILL be watching when he steps foot inside of a cage for the first time.

Will Toney become a UFC champion in the next year or two? I highly doubt it. But the point of this signing isn’t to find the next heavyweight champion but to propel the sport as a whole to the next level, because believe it or not, for as massive as the sport seems to have grown, we’re far from finished climbing.