MOSCOW – James Toney, a former champion fighting at 43, lost a unanimous decision Friday to Denis Lebedev of Russia for the interim WBA cruiserweight title.
Cheered by the home crowd at Khodynka Ice Palace, Lebedev started tentatively but would up battering a fading Toney toward the end and won all 12 rounds. The three judges all scored the bout 120-108.
Toney dropped to 73-7-3, with 44 knockouts, and was limping after the fight. At 197½ pounds, he was at his lightest weight in eight years. This was his second straight defeat.
"I had a bad night, but I'll come back," he said. "I'm definitely not retiring."
Lebedev, 11 years younger than his opponent, began landing his powerful jab in the second round, forcing Toney to the ropes. Toney said he hurt his left knee in the second round and never recovered.
The American, a former middleweight, super middleweight and cruiserweight champion, tried to impose his will in the third round. He threw several hooks but they were clumsy and seemed only to spur the Russian to attack.
In the ninth round, Lebedev landed several heavy shots that sent Toney reeling and left him in retreat for the last three rounds.
Lebedev, who beat Roy Jones Jr. in May in Moscow, improved his record to 23-1 (17 KOs). The crowd wanted a decisive finish after Lebedev managed to knock out Jones with just seconds remaining in the bout. But Toney, who has never been beaten by a knockout, held on.
Lebedev's coach, former champion Kostya Tszyu, said his fighter wanted a more colorful victory. But Tszyu warned him against touching a "wounded beast."
"I saw in Toney's eyes that he can strike back any time," Lebedev. said. "He was dangerous until the end."