Lights Out: The James Toney Story - Hamilcar Publications

Lights Out: The James Toney Story

Coming in 2025.

In 1994, James ‘Lights Out’ Toney had battled to the top of the boxing world. A stunning knockout of undefeated 20-1 favorite Michael Nunn had brought Toney the middleweight title and crossover celebrity. Heralded as ‘throwback’, Toney’s dazzling skills and constant activity recalled the Golden Age fighters who had been his role models. Brash, volatile and fearless, Toney also personified the 90s hiphop culture that America both feared and admired, a role he embraced with lavish spending, press conference brawls and strip-club escapes. Still only 24, this ‘nigga you love to hate’ seemed unstoppable.

Then in one night he lost everything, his humiliating defeat to Roy Jones, Jr. casting him into the boxing wilderness, and the police blotter. For nine years, Toney wandered the margins of the sport, taking losses and gaining weight, a cautionary tale for any fighters who didn’t value their gifts and succumbed to their demons. But James Toney wasn’t finished yet.

In 2003, Toney was given a second chance, the opportunity to push back into the championship picture and regain his lost kingdom. All he had to do was defeat a monster, Vassily ‘The Tiger’ Jirov, a real-life Drago from the Iron Curtain who had destroyed every man put in front of him. In the fight of the year, James Toney would reveal exactly who he was.

Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with James Toney and his inner circle, Lights Out portrays the rise and fall, and rise, of a fighter who never faced a tougher opponent than himself.

Award-winning author Robert Anasi searches for the clues to Toney’s identity in the tragedies of Black America and the boxing mecca of Detroit. Forged by the savagery of his criminal father and the tenacious willpower of his indomitable mother, James “Lights Out” Toney overcame impossible odds to become a boxing legend.


Robert Anasi is the author of The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle and The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). His work has appeared in the New York Times, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Observer, Los Angeles Times, Pacific Standard, Salon, and Publishers Weekly, among others. Anasi’s story “First Fight” was recently published in The Bittersweet Science (University of Chicago Press). He is a regular reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement and has received numerous fellowships and grants. A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Anasi now lives in Los Angeles.