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James Toney says he’s no freak show, wants to be considered best fighter ever

After talking his way into MMA, Toney looks to knock out one of its biggest stars in his first fight

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Associated Press

James Toney works out prior to his fight with WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz on April 26, 2005.

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James Toney will be 42 years old when he makes his professional debut as a mixed martial artist against Randy Couture on Aug. 28 at the TD Garden in Boston.

The way he sees it, that leaves him three years. Three years to prove that not only can he cross over from the sport of boxing to MMA, but that he's the greatest pure fighter of all time.

"I want to do (MMA) and boxing until the age of 45, then I'm done," said Toney, who will turn 42 four days before his scheduled fight with Couture at UFC 118. "My goal is to let everybody know I'm the greatest fighter to ever put on gloves."

To say that the former boxing world champion is approaching the task of facing the most iconic figure in MMA history with confidence is a bit of an understatement.

Toney, who holds a 72-6-3 record as a professional boxer, waves off any concerns on how he'll deal with Couture's Olympic wrestling background and pokes fun at his standup style of "dirty boxing."

He actually welcomes Couture to wrestle him to the canvas where, he says, he'll become the first fighter to end a fight by knockout from his back.

"If Randy Couture gets me to the ground, I will knock him out," Toney said. "You've never seen anybody knocked out from the floor before have you? I will knock him out from my back, and if he tries to hold his head down, ribs will be broken."

Toney offers respect towards the training MMA fighters go through, but says he relishes the chance to prove boxers are the better athletes of the two.

It was those types of comments that opened the UFC door for Toney and prompted president Dana White to say his company will make an example of him in August.

"I'm always yapping about how people do freak shows — well, I'm doing one," White said. "I got sucked into one. James Toney talked a lot of smack, and he picked a fight."

Early indications suggest the majority is siding with White on how this particular matchup will end.

Las Vegas sports books have opened the fight with Couture as high as a minus-750 (risk $7.50 to win $1) favorite.

According to Toney, however, the fight with Couture is the only kind he would have taken. Had the UFC offered him a lesser-known opponent in a fight buried somewhere on an undercard, he would have turned it down.

And any notion that he doesn't deserve to be in the octagon with a fighter as respected as Couture only has added fire to the Toney camp.

"You hear people saying this is going to be a freak show," said Toney's long-time manager John Arthur. "How the (expletive) can it be a freak show when you've got two world champions coming together at a crossroads.

"(Couture) has never been in the ring with someone as vicious as James. That's always been the case, and James is going to shock the world."

Arthur went on to say that a boxer doesn't have the luxury of tapping if caught in a bad spot and that Toney won't utilize it in MMA either — no matter how bad things get.

"(Couture) is going to have to kill him out there," Arthur said. "That's how we feel about it. You can break his arm and he legs, and he's going to be out of the fight. We're not backing down."

Toney has been in an underdog position before. As a guy who started his boxing career at 160 pounds, Toney often found himself the smaller guy in the ring when he eventually moved up to the heavyweight division where he competes now.

While the UFC challenges will be different than those he's faced in the past, Toney's motivation has changed as well.

"My reputation is on the line," Toney said. "If I lost to this guy who is older than me, I'll have a lot of shame because everybody will tell me I told you so."

Although logically it would seem Toney won't have much of a shot at taking down a legend in his very first fight in the sport, Toney certainly will get the last word in if he pulls it off.

Something that, obviously, means a lot to him.

"I know that Dana is trying to set me up with a tough guy and say, 'I told you MMA is better than boxing,'" Toney said. "It is what it is. I'm proud to be the best. I'm going to set a standard — the gold standard."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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