When even the inevitably drunk-in-public Larry Merchant can’t gin up the enthusiam enough to make a fight seem like it wasn’t excruciating, it becomes more obvious than ever that the heavyweight division is as moribund as it has ever been. After Saturday night’s draw between James “Lights Out” Toney and Hasim “Knocked Out Lennox Lewis In 2001” Rahman, the ordinarily booze-ish/boosterish Merchant admitted that boxing fans hadn’t found a fighter to “lead the parade.” Sports Illustrated’s Richard O’Brien elaborates:

 “If Bob Arum got the guts, we’ll do [a rematch] right away,” said Toney, who in the next breath, or maybe the same one, strongly implied that Arum was highly unlikely to display those guts. Arum, standing at the podium a few feet from Toney, chuckled uncomfortably. Toney’s manager, Dan Goossen, joined the scene about then, and with his arm on Arum’s shoulder, praised Rahman’s effort in the fight, but insisted that Toney had landed the heavier blows.It was an assessment with which Toney clearly concurred. “I betcha he swolled up,” said Toney of the man with whom he’d spent 12 rounds swapping shots, “swolled up like he got the mumps.”

When Rahman entered, however, he looked relatively lump-free — if less natty than Toney in a baggy jacket and gray ski cap. Toney interrupted his speechifying at that point to stand up and greet Rahman with an embrace, sharing what he called “the love.”So ended what many observers had hoped would be a defining encounter for the current heavyweight scene. Alas, all that was really made clear was that neither Rahman nor Toney is ready to be the dominant figure among boxing’s big men.

 Rahman looked every bit the heavyweight contender, but failed to take control of the fight or land punches with any regularity. He was also thoroughly out-strategized by the apparently out-of-shape Toney, who threw half as many punches as Rahman but landed the same number. Toney, who didn’t deliver much in the way of power punches but managed to open a cut above Rahman’s left eye and control the pace and style of the fight for the last six rounds, looked like the savvy, accomplished, and thoroughly-gone-to-seed middleweight that he is, and still seems to be the heavyweight least likely to be knocked out by any of his peers. He also thanked his Uncle Boo-Boo during his post-fight interview. These are all nice, but, as O’Brien says: 

At age 37, Toney (69-4-3) can’t have too many big fights left in him. Rahman (41-5-2), likewise, has a limited shelf life. A rematch between the two has some attractions, in an old-school, grudge-match kind of way, but it would hardly light a fire under the division.

The same can probably be said of April 22’s Vladimir Klitscho/Chris Byrd bout, although it’s certain that neither one of those two will provide the effortless sociopathy/entertainment that Toney delivers without even trying. If he manages to unify the heavyweight title, Toney will surpass Jersey Joe Walcott as the oldest fighter ever to win the heavyweight title for the first time.