by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
Who gets the first shot at James Toney?
That is the million-dollar question… or likely somewhere near the million-dollar mark considering that Toney signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC.
It’s unclear how soon we’ll find out just who the former world champion boxer will draw in his Octagon debut, even UFC president Dana White told MMAWeekly.com content partner Yahoo! Sports that he wasn’t sure yet what he’d do with Toney.
“We’ll figure something out,” the brash UFC executive told Yahoo’s Kevin Iole. “I’m not really sure.”
He insists whomever Toney is matched up with, it won’t be a “freak show” pairing with someone like a Jose Canseco or Herschel Walker.
There are some interesting scenarios that are already gaining momentum, however.
Former heavyweight and light heavyweight UFC champion Randy Couture, via his Twitter account on Wednesday night, made it abundantly clear that he would relish the opportunity to welcome Toney to the cage.
Other speculation has ranged from Forrest Griffin to Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson.
All three options are fighters that could bridge the gap between White’s insistence that Toney fight at light heavyweight and Toney saying he wants to fight in the heavyweight class. Each mixed martial artist is a large light heavyweight, but on the smaller end of the heavies, possibly opening up catchweight options.
Kimbo, in particular, is stirring a hornet’s nest of speculation. Juanito Ibarra, Toney’s MMA consultant, told Bleacher Report that he would like to see a fight with Kimbo, feeling it was a good match-up for his new client. And he’s probably right. Kimbo’s ground game has been slow to develop, and although he fancies himself a striker, he’s nowhere near the striker that Toney is.
Adding fuel to that fire is the fact that a bout White said we take place at UFC 113 between between Kimbo and Matt Mitrione still hasn’t emerged on the UFC’s event page. Could that mean Kimbo may not face Mitrione after all and instead be slotted into an early summer bout with Toney? Possibly.
One thing is for sure, the UFC will have to be calculated about how they use Toney and hope that the former champion is up to snuff when he steps in the cage in order to quell concerns that he is just a boxer trying to grab headlines.
Many of the same concerns surrounded former WWE superstar Brock Lesnar when he entered the Octagon, but in less than a year, he won the UFC heavyweight championship.
Can Toney duplicate Lesnar’s feat? Not likely, but that’s not even something that needs to be asked of the 41-year-old.
The more valid question is if he can back up his claims that he can translate his boxing prowess into Octagon prowess. And that remains to be seen.
(UPDATED: 4:15 p.m. PT, March 4 to reflect that Kimbo Slice vs. Matt Mitrione was never on the UFC event page.)