Toney KOs Holyfield

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 6, 2003

LAS VEGAS - James Toney didn't just stop Evander Holyfield with a dominating performance Saturday night. He may have also ended his remarkable career.

Making his debut as a heavyweight, Toney exposed Holyfield as an aging fighter with fading reflexes before finally stopping him at 1:42 of the ninth round. In doing so, he may have finally convinced Holyfield that it's time to quit.

The shocking sight of Holyfield going down from a body punch in the ninth was quickly followed by another sight never seen before in his 20-year career: his cornermen jumping in the ring to save their fighter from more punishment.

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''I'm sorry I had to do that to him,'' Toney said.

Toney became only the second fighter after Riddick Bowe to stop Holyfield. But this was not the same Holyfield who engaged in wars with Bowe and Mike Tyson during his prime.

This Holyfield was an old fighter just two weeks shy of his 41st birthday still believing in his mind that his body could do things it could no longer do. The more he tried, though, the more futile his punches became and he was taking a beating before the fight was finally stopped.

''Toney did beat me up,'' Holyfield said.

Holyfield, who won only two of his previous seven fights, had vowed to fight until he became the undisputed heavyweight champion again. But after being dominated by a former middleweight champion, there were no more excuses left.

He acknowledged as much, but wasn't ready to officially call it quits just yet.

''The easiest thing to do when you don't have a good night in your mind is just to say I quit, this is it,'' Holyfield said. ''Right now, I have to make a decision. It's easy to say I'm finished.''

Holyfield was bleeding from the mouth from the middle rounds on and was taking a beating from straight right hands that Toney seemed to land at will. Holyfield fought bravely, but his reflexes weren't what they used to be - and he missed often with wild left hooks.

In the early rounds, Holyfield landed some big left hooks, and early in the third round landed a right hand that hit flush on Toney's face. But as the rounds went on, Toney slipped more punches and Holyfield grew increasingly frustrated at his inability to land solid punches.

''I have a lot of respect for him,'' Toney said. ''But I was hungry and I knew I was going to do it.''

The tenor of the fight changed in the opening seconds of the fourth round, when Toney went after Holyfield and landed a big right hand that seemed to stun the former four-time heavyweight champion.

By the time he hit Holyfield with a body punch in the sixth round that sent him staggering backward, Toney seemed confident the fight was his.

Toney (67-4-2, 43 knockouts) was landing well in the ninth round when he threw a left hook to the body that sent Holyfield backward, and Holyfield fell face first to the canvas. He got up, but by that time his cornermen were in the ring, not allowing him to fight any longer.

For one of the few times in his career Holyfield was a bigger fighter, towering over the former middleweight champion and weighing 219 pounds to 217 for Toney.

That seemed to help Holyfield in the first few rounds, but soon Toney had figured out his way inside and was not only beating Holyfield to the punch but was also landing the cleaner and harder shots.

Holyfield (38-7-2, 25 knockouts) earned $5 million for the 47th fight of a long career in which he won the heavyweight title four different times. But it may have been his last payday after a series of bad performances.

In those fights, Holyfield blamed opponents who refused to stand in front of him or injuries. He had no excuses after taking a beating from Toney.

''My left arm was fine and my legs were fine,'' he said. ''He outhustled and outmaneuvered me. I didn't get my punches off like I wanted.''