For whatever reason, boxer James “Lights Out” Toney wanted to try his hand in MMA. He was terrorizing Dana White, following him around from event to event demanding they sit down and talk. It looked like the idea of Toney entering the octagon had been nixed when he laughed at White’s offer and even went on record calling it “a joke”. Toney kept persisting and eventually a deal was met and the stage was set for Toney to face Randy “The Natural” Couture at UFC 118 in Boston. Not much good came out of this fight (other than a hilarious interview with Toney and Ariel Helwani). Dana White even went as far as billing it a “Freak Show”. Theoretically, financially and ethically, this so-called “Freak Show” did not make sense for a number of reasons.
This fight made absolutely no sense. I say this because while Toney was a championship-level boxer with numerous titles and accolades, boxing is only one discipline in MMA. It was very apparent that Toney had not trained a lick in Wrestling, Muay-Thai, Kick-Boxing and especially Jiu-Jitsu. This was apparent when Couture passed his guard within seconds of being in the top position. Another issue was that this fight was redundant, as we had already seen what happens when a pure boxer meets a grappler in an MMA fight. This lesson was already demonstrated all the way back in 1993, at UFC 1! Poor Art Jimmerson walked to the octagon with one boxing glove on, thinking he was going to grab Royce Gracie, one of the greatest MMA fighters of all-time, with his bare-hand and pound him with the other. How sadly mistaken he was, as Gracie double-legged him, mounted him and put him in a choke while Jimmerson tapped out looking helpless and confused. If this lesson was applied at UFC 1, why would it change seventeen years later at UFC 118 when the sport has evolved into the juggernaut that it is today?
By the numbers, this PPV wasn’t exactly a home-run. It brought in 535,000 buys on pay-per-view, which is not horrible by any means, but there were already numerous high-profile fighters on the card. BJ Penn was fighting Frankie Edgar in a highly-anticipated rematch for the Lightweight Championship and Gray Maynard was fighting Kenny Florian in a number one contender’s fight. Of course, Randy Couture was on the card as well and he always garnered heavy interest. The card had enough big names on it to begin with and probably would have drawn in similar numbers anyway, regardless of James Toney. This begs the question; if his presence did not have the desired effect, and he had zero MMA experience, then why was he the highest-paid fighter on the card? He got paid $500,000 for this “one and done” appearance. The fight stats indicate that he landed a mere 4 punches, all of which were glancing shots from his back. This breaks down to $125,000 per punch landed. So far this is looking like a worse investment than my “ShamWow.”
Toney’s salary was not even close to anyone else on the card. BJ Penn and Randy Couture are the only two fighter’s in the company’s history to hold titles at two weight categories. If you combine what Penn and Couture made for their fights ($150,000 and $250,000 respectively), it still would not total what Toney pulled in. I find it hard to justify Toney making exactly double what Couture made in that fight when Couture is a pioneer of the sport, Hall-of-Famer and has held belts in multiple weight classes. Not to mention that he won the fight! It’s not a very promising message to send to aspiring fighters who are pouring their hearts into training, hoping to eventually make good money. It’s discouraging to see a disgruntled boxer just slide in and dwarf everyone’s salary.
Upon further investigation of this financial/ethical conundrum, I stumbled upon some stunning facts. Out of all 953 fighters that have fought in the UFC, Toney ranks 92nd in career earnings when he’s not even an MMA fighter, landed 4 punches, and only fought once! What’s even more mind-boggling is some of the names that he’s ahead of on this list of 953 fighters.
Gray Maynard ranks 97th on this list as the UFC veteran has only earned $482,000 throughout his career. The former #1 contender has fought fourteen times under the UFC banner and has challenged for the title twice.
Former Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk had fought 12 times in the UFC and is even lower on this list at 107th, only bringing in $436,000. Nobody can convince me that it’s appropriate for Toney to earn more in a “one and done” freak-show appearance than someone who has fought 12 times and carried UFC gold at one point. It does get worse, though.
Current Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao checks in at #161 on the list, having only earned $278,000. Barao has fought in the UFC seven times and is currently holding a belt. Dana White has gone on record saying Barao is in the running for top pound-for-pound fighter in the world as his last loss came in 2005. He defended his belt this past weekend at UFC 169 and only earned a meager $22,000.
Sigh… There are some things I’m never going to understand, and this James Toney debacle is certainly one of them.