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BOXING / TIM KAWAKAMI : Toney's Mood Bodes Ill for Littles

March 05, 1994|TIM KAWAKAMI

James Toney is in a good mood, which, as those around him know all too well, is not something to be wasted.

He obligingly signs autographs at a table, chats with everybody who approaches him, then politely allows a reporter to direct him to a quieter place to talk.

No glowers, no menacing motions, none of those tense emotional moments in and outside the ring that the International Boxing Federation super-middleweight champion is famous for providing.

You seem happy, somebody says.

"I'm in an angry mood right now," Toney says, instantly frowning. "I'm just putting up a front."

Then he laughs, because on this day he feels so happy he can't even feign ill humor.

A few days later, Toney is not in a good mood, which is something those around him know all too well.

He is at a news conference and eyes his opponent, Tim Littles, with uncompromising disdain. Toney strides up to the podium and tosses Littles a cheap leather belt, saying that it's the only belt Littles will ever have.

Then Toney wanders back to his seat, where he raises his IBF title belt high, and the look on his face is not fake.

"He is tremendously moody," says Toney's manager, Jackie Kallen, who has seen her fighter become embroiled in a handful of far uglier moments at news conferences. "He's actually beyond moody. His moods are like everything else about him, very extreme."

To quell his roiling emotions, Kallen keeps Toney extremely busy--this will be his 14th fight since February 1992--and he never stops training. That way, Kallen says, he can stay focused on all of his many goals.

In the days leading up to tonight's fight against Littles at the Olympic Auditorium, Toney, who is 41-0-2 with 26 knockouts, has said he was not looking past Littles, 24-0 with 15 knockouts.

Littles is a smooth, slip-and-slide boxer from the Lou Duva-George Benton camp, who says Toney might get knocked out in the later rounds. But Toney, known for his relentless, wear-them-down-then-punish-them style, just shakes his head.

Even boxing's recent, bizarre run of upsets--overturning, among others, Julio Cesar Chavez, Terry Norris, Michael Carbajal and Michael Nunn--does not knock him off course.

"It's all in your mind," Toney says. "But I'm unstoppable. I'm not taking Tim Littles lightly, he's undefeated, he has a good record. I can't wait.

"There's no doubt I'm the best, pound for pound. I've beaten the best. I'm active. Pernell Whitaker hasn't fought in eight months (actually six), everybody says he's the best? Chavez, he got what he deserved. He got beat when he finally fought somebody with some heart and some skills. Terry Norris. Michael Carbajal. . . .

"So there's only one guy left: Me. I know I'm the best. There won't be any letdown. My head isn't big. I just know I'm good."

Does Toney feel disappointed that Norris, one boxer he badly wanted to fight, lost to Simon Brown before Toney could meet him?

"I don't feel bad at all," Toney says. "His loss is my gain. I get more popular every day. Everybody has seen who is the real champ and who's not."

Toney, 25, foresees a bright future unfolding for himself in the next few years: a showdown with IBF middleweight champion Roy Jones in the fall, a bout with Chris Eubanks after that, and then his big move into the light-heavyweight division as he prepares to rumble toward the heavyweight class.

Toney has fought at weights far above the 168-pound super-middleweight limit several times, but says his immediate goal is to dispose of any worthy opponents in the middleweight divisions.

"My motivation right now is Roy Jones," Toney says. "I'm obsessed with him, I've got to have him, I don't like his pretty-boy image."

A Jones fight could get Toney the multimillion-dollar purse that so far has eluded him. And although he could legitimately question why a fighter with his record is on Oscar De La Hoya's undercard tonight, he seems content with his progress.

"If you're the best fighter, pound for pound, which I am, you've got to stay busy in front of the public," Toney says. "I'm not the type of person who's going to wait for the $2-million payday like everybody else does. Keeps me sharper, too. That's all I want to do, fight."

Kallen says she never has to worry about Toney taking an opponent lightly--his desire to stay champion is too great. Though Toney at times looks sluggish in the ring, Kallen says it's only because he knows he's going to win and wants to avoid a freak injury or cut.

"James is the type of guy who would rather die than lose," Kallen says. "I seriously worry that if he ever lost a big fight, I don't know what he would do. He's got so much pride, and I think it would just shatter him.

"I just hope he'll continue to win, and he'll retire undefeated and he'll be a fulfilled human being."

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