Wed Jul 24th, 2013
Special to the Drum
Flyers floating around Sky Ute Casino Resort Events Center advertised mixed martial arts’ return to the Four Corners region (in Farmington, N.M.) on Aug. 24 – the day James Toney, himself the owner of an unsuccessful foray into the UFC, will turn 45.
It’s the same age as boxing great George Foreman (career mark 76-5, 68 KO) when he won the WBA and IBF belts from Michael Moorer (52-4-1, 40 KO) on Nov. 5, 1994, making him the oldest Head-of-State heavyweight still to date.
Preceded into the ring by a drove of Durango Martial Arts disciples, cornermen and others for the main event June 28, Toney appeared ready to resume his declared quest to one day hoist a title in the division, and also perhaps position himself nearer that lesser-known plateau of prestige.
But after eight rounds ending the six-fight “Rumble in the Rockies II,” the same entourage nearly teamed with his opponent’s in restraining Toney from seeking the night’s only knockout — of an obscenity-spewing fan irate over the reversal of unsung Kenny Lemos’ apparent win.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen something happen like that, you know, with the drama from a main event like that!” said Shiprock, N.M., super middleweight Steve Victor. “Never seen anything like that, other than in amateur boxing; this is the first time seeing something like that from a professional.”
“That’s one of the best things about boxing,” Lemos, a born-and-raised Denverite, Denver West High School alumnus and grandson of a Southern Ute tribal member, said afterward.
“Sometimes the judges’ scorecards aren’t fair,” he said, having heard the counts mistakenly announced to all as being in his favor. It was actually intended to favor the decorated veteran – who’d already exited through the ropes and was on his way back to the dressing room when he was recalled. “But when the crowd sees and knows who they thought won … that’s a win in my book, either way.”
Even “Lights Out” wasn’t completely satisfied with the 77-75, 79-73, 77-75 unanimous outcome.
“I give myself a C-plus,” Toney (now 75-8-3, 45 KO) said, his more frequent and efficient combinations of punches critical in swaying the scores his way. “I’m a bit rusty, but … I’m not the one who’s judging the fight.”
Showing some marquee-worthy power during a feeling-out first round, Toney was visibly amused by, but undoubtedly approved of, a solid left jab Lemos (12-8-2, 8 KO) landed in the second – indicating he wasn’t taking lightly his chance to share the same square.
“I wanted to … give the crowd a show,” Lemos said, “and prove to my idol that … I came to fight James Toney, not run from him. You know what I mean? I think a lot of people go in there, with a legend like himself, and just want to survive.”
After a strong Round 3, Lemos kept coming in the fourth, psyching himself up by uttering a crowd-mimicking “Whoo!” after Toney landed a vicious shot inside the closing 10 seconds. Sensing the scores might be closer than before, Toney began to go even harder in Round 5.
Able to trade the big blows relatively well, however, Lemos’ confidence swelled into the sixth, in which he managed to sneak in a short Popeye-esque shuffling of feet before escaping a potential corner trap set by the former world middle-, super middle-, and cruiserweight kingpin.
But the upstart’s joking ceased when Toney connected with a crushing right, designed to decapitate and which produced a breaking sound upon impact, late in Round 7 — when it became clear only a knockdown or stone-cold stoppage might be enough to completely convince the judges.
Both traded and took expected eighth-round shots in stride, but swapped sportsmanlike hugs and handshakes after the bell – before verbal jabs from the gallery almost met physical reply.
“I was in great shape,” said Toney, who did not rule out a future return to the town he thanked outwardly for its hospitality, “but the more I fight, the sharper I’m going to get.”
“For the past year and a half, I’ve been watching nothing but James Toney tapes, videos on YouTube,” Lemos said. “I love his style and admire him as a boxer, and to have this fight come up and get an opportunity … I’m glad I gave the crowd what they wanted.”
“Hopefully this performance opens up other doors,” he said. “Maybe people will say ‘He’s a real fighter,’ and it’ll get me more down the line. Win or lose, I feel like a winner right now.”