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Toney out to defend boxing's honor

7/6/2010
Jacob De Golish/Icon SMI

His fight plan is a simple one: enter the Octagon, deliver the knockout blow and go home.

Former boxing champion James Toney has 83 professional fights under his belt, but none as a mixed martial artist. That will change Aug. 28 when he meets Randy Couture at UFC 118 in Boston.

Taking on one of the greatest fighters in mixed martial arts history doesn't bother Toney. He believes the strategy that has worked throughout his boxing career will serve him well on fight night -- just keep punching.

His fight with Couture will be contested under MMA rules, but Toney couldn't care less. To him, it's just another fight, and he promises to rely solely on his boxing skills to prove a point.

"I look at this [fight] as a way to show everybody that boxing ranks supreme," Toney told ESPN.com recently while in Las Vegas to observe UFC 116. "It's still the No. 1 sport; it's still the best sport. I like MMA; I'm not a hater. I watch it all the time.

"But when somebody like [UFC president] Dana White, who started in the boxing game, says that MMA is better than boxing -- then hold on. You're wrong there."

It's this attitude that motivated Couture to ask White for the chance to fight Toney. Couture loves boxing, but not the disrespect he believes many boxers show toward mixed martial arts.

"The mixed martial artists I know have a ton of respect for boxers and what boxers do," Couture told ESPN.com. "Most of us train in boxing as part of our mixed martial arts training.

"You don't hear too many mixed martial artists going around, running their mouths about how boring boxing is, which is what we could easily be saying about boxing. On the other side of the coin, you continuously hear boxers running their mouths about how terrible mixed martial artists are with striking and how they'd knock everybody out."

The former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion is confident his hand, not Toney's, will be raised when the bout is over. The Octagon is his domain, and he refuses to let a boxer walk in and dominate.

Couture (18-10-0) is one of the best fighters ever to compete in MMA. His wrestling abilities are legendary, and he's also comfortable applying several other fighting disciplines. The same can't be said for Toney.

The former International Boxing Federation middleweight, super middleweight and cruiserweight champion has never competed in wrestling, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu or kickboxing. Toney will rely primarily on his hands and is confident that will be enough to get the job done.

"In [MMA] you have people like Randy Couture who are scared, and will try to hold me like a girl," said Toney, who has a professional boxing mark of 72-6-3 (2 no-contests). "I'm going to make him pay for that. Everybody knows that if you're inside on me, one mistake and that's your ass.

"Did y'all tell Randy Couture that I'm wearing smaller gloves? What do you think is going through his head right now? 'How am I going to stay away from his hands?' That's what he's thinking."

Interestingly, that is exactly what Couture has on his mind. He knows Toney is a very skilled striker whose hand speed and punching power are likely to increase with five-ounce MMA gloves.

But Couture is a seasoned mixed martial artist who knows his way around the Octagon. There is nothing in the cage that Couture hasn't seen or experienced.

He will have a huge advantage in the experience department. Couture plans to avoid Toney's striking, then use his inexperience in the cage against him.

"He's a great striker; he's got good power. To be honest, he's going to be dangerous in that realm of the fight," Couture said. "If I try to trade punches with him, then [getting knocked out] is a possibility. "That's why I'm doing my homework, and have no intention of standing in there and boxing with James Toney. That would be stupid.

"Experience is a huge thing in our sport, but you can't discount the boxing experience that James has. Many people did that with me when I started; they discounted the years of wrestling experience I had. This is an individual combative sport; experience counts for something."

Cage experience should play a significant role in this fight, especially if Couture can get Toney off his feet. But like all fights, this contest will begin standing and that's where Toney is at his best.

Toney will enter the cage with a chip on his shoulder. He knows White wants him to lose but vows it will never happen. In fact, his intent isn't just to defeat Couture, but to humiliate him by registering a knockout.

"I heard all the things that Dana said, but if I listened to that I wouldn't be me," Toney said. "Losing is not an option. I'm not going in there to lose; I'm going in there to destroy this dude."

Competing in the Octagon excites Toney. He doesn't have a shred of fear as the days wind down to his MMA debut.

His confidence is at an all-time high. And while he won't allow the thought of losing to enter his mind, Toney isn't taking Couture lightly.

"Y'all talk about Randy this and Randy that, but if you look at my background, you know I have never had an easy fight," Toney said. "I've fought the biggest and best fighters in the world. Why should I be afraid of an MMA fighter?"

Franklin McNeil is a contributing mixed martial arts/boxing writer for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which now airs on ESPN2.