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It's No Toney Award : Only a Few Brave Souls Step Into the Ring to Become Sparring Partners for IBF Super-Middleweight Champion James Toney

July 21, 1994|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Wanted: Sparring partners for prized fighter. Needed five days a week for one to three hours a day. Previous experience necessary. Must provide own health and life insurance. Contact the Outlaw Boxing Gym in Hollywood. James (Lights Out) Toney, the International Boxing Federation super-middleweight champion, needs sparring partners to prepare for his July 29 fight in Las Vegas against veteran (Prince) Charles Williams.

It's an opportunity for a young boxer to pick up some experience and a veteran to earn quick money, according to Toney's manager, Jackie Kallen. The pay--$50 to $100 a day--isn't bad for about two hours' work.

"We're looking for qualified boxers," Kallen said. "We're not looking for someone to get beat up."

So why is there such a shortage of volunteers to work out with a 25-year-old family man?

"Not too many people want to get paid $60 a day to get hit by a truck," said George O'Mara, one of Toney's two regular sparring partners at the Outlaw Gym.

Toney, the father of a 17-month-old daughter, is a confident, likable guy. His boxing credentials are impressive: 43 wins, no losses, two draws and 28 knockouts. And Toney has beaten some of the best in the business, including Michael Nunn in 1991 to win the International Boxing Federation middleweight title; Mike McCallum in a '92 middleweight title defense, and Iran Barkley for the '93 IBF super-middleweight title.

What separates Toney from other boxers is the way he wins: He punishes opponents who don't show respect for him in the ring.

"I put Barkley in the hospital for two days," Toney said. "I broke his ribs, his cheekbone, his earlobe. He deserve to get hurt for talking so much junk.

"I'm going to put Prince William in the hospital, period."

Toney, often called boxing's best "pound-for-pound" fighter, carries the same work ethic from the gym to the arena. He believes his workouts are as good as his fights.

"People who goof off during sparring, goof off in fights," Toney said. "I look for tough guys who can dish it out and take it. It's my job to pound them. I expect them to fight back and give 100% effort."

The Outlaw Gym, owned by actor-fighter Mickey Rourke, attracts white-collar health enthusiasts who prefer pounding a heavy bag than jumping around in an aerobics classes. Tisha Campbell, co-star of Fox TV's "Martin," is among the yuppie boxers. Larry Donald, World Boxing Council Continental Americas heavyweight champion, will use the gym to prepare for his Aug. 13 fight against Andrew Golota at Olympic Auditorium. IBF middleweight champion John David Jackson also works out there.

"We attract (everyone from) TV actors to the secretary down the street," gym manager Freddie Roach said about the facility near Wilcox and Santa Monica.

Roach, a former 10-year pro, has helped locate sparring partners for Toney, who has used the gym to prepare for his last three fights.

"He goes through them quickly," said Roach, who has contacted fighters from Broadway to Hoover Street Gym looking for sparring partners. "Their earn their money."

Despite wearing protective headgear and swinging 18-ounce gloves, Toney's sparring partners take a beating.

"The way James trains, you don't want to come in out of shape or you will be on the canvas," said Vinson Durham who became a sparring partner after losing to Toney in a 10-round bout May 18. "I try to keep my head moving and my jab going. If I give him a chance to tee off, it's good night."

Before fighting Tim Littles during the March 5 reopening of the Olympic Auditorium, Toney went through five sparring partners in a week. Toney then knocked out Littles in the fourth round to retain his IBF super-middleweight title.

"We had guys with broken noses and broken ribs," Roach said. "We had fighters leave after one day with a note saying, 'Please forward my one-day's pay.' "

O'Mara, 38, the Northwest cruiserweight champion, became enlisted as a sparring partner after coming to the Outlaw to work out. A fighter since 1979, O'Mara (14-12) has also appeared in "Rocky III" and "Lethal Weapon."

O'Mara said he began boxing because "they weren't hiring at NASA."

While Durham, 32, helps Toney develop his speed, O'Mara has been a human punching bag for Toney.

"George is a heavier guy who takes a licking and still keeps ticking," Toney said. "I've thrown everything from the kitchen sink to a dog bowl. Everything. The man will not go down."

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