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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Boxing's James Toney ready for UFC's Randy Couture

Veteran boxer James Toney, left, spars with trainer

Veteran boxer James Toney, left, spars with trainer Trever Sherman at M-1 Gym in Chatsworth, California. (July 9, 2010) Credit: MCT

Boxing purists would love nothing more than to see three-time former champion James Toney knock out five-time former UFC champion Randy Couture.

They drool over the chance for boxing to regain some of its juice at UFC 118 in Boston on Aug. 28.

Once you edit out all the yang Toney has been spewing about this fight and dial down the "my sport is tougher than your sport" rhetoric, this question remains: Does Toney have a chance to beat Couture in a mixed martial arts fight?

The simple answer is yes. And that's not including the "on any given night" concept, the heavyweight champion of cliches.

"I'm going to show everybody that boxing is the best sport, period," Toney said.

Toney has a puncher's chance to beat Couture, just as former WBO heavyweight champion Ray Mercer did to former UFC champ Tim Sylvia in June 2009. With a 72-6-3 record in boxing, including 44 knockouts, that figures to be Toney's only chance. Nine months of MMA training isn't enough when stepping into the ring with Couture, a UFC hall of famer.

"Boxing is a great sport," said Couture (18-10). "I've enjoyed boxing my whole life, but this is still the octagon and still MMA. There's cage tactics. There's ground fighting. There's a lot of things that don't happen in boxing that are going to happen in the cage."

Such as knees to the body, kicks to the body, hammer fists on the ground and punching in the clinch. Dirty boxing is Couture's specialty. Boxing is Toney's.

"Toney's used to clinches, the referee comes in and separates the two," said Ray Longo, a longtime boxing and MMA trainer in Garden City. "Not this time, pal."

Longo understands the subtle differences between boxing and MMA. He has trained dozens of fighters in both disciplines, including former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra of East Meadow, for more than 20 years.

MMA fighters begin with a more squared-off stance. Their hands start off a little lower and more spread apart than what you'll see from a boxer. There are just far too many angles and approaches to guard against in MMA.

"With the takedowns and the punching, kicks and dirty boxing clinch work that takes place in mixed martial arts, you have to change your stance," Couture said "You have to kind of change your fighting style a little bit in a pure boxing perspective.

The strategy for Couture should be simple. Get inside and take Toney down, just hope you don't get caught on the way in. Toney's boxing style has been to roll with punches up against the rope and counterpunch.

Well, there are no ropes in the UFC.

Couture, 46, is the perfect person to fight Toney, 41. He's represented MMA for years and is one of the main reasons today's younger fighters are in the octagon.

This is being billed as mixed martial arts vs. boxing. Call it creative marketing if you wish, but it's more about shrewd matchmaking.

That's been the heated topic between the Old Guard and the young bucks for the past five years. Is MMA even a real sport? How would a mixed martial artist fare in a boxing match? How would a boxer fare in an MMA bout?

"That's the beauty of the entertainment business," Longo said. "They're going to put some doubt in your head and make you buy the fight."

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