Isaac Dogboe’s decision to enlist James Toney as his new trainer seems like a reaction to his successive losses, but the wheels were set in motion long before then.
Back in April 2018, when everyone was celebrating Dogboe’s title-winning TKO of Jessie Magdaleno, his father Paul saw storm clouds ahead.
Dogboe looked spectacular against Magdaleno. Yet Paul, who has trained his son since he discovered boxing at age 13, was concerned. Isaac wasn’t moving his head the way he used to do; the basics were withering away.
A new voice was needed.
“After we fought Jessie Magdaleno, I wanted to bring someone else in,” the senior Dogboe told BoxingAfrica.com. “But a lot of people were saying ‘don’t do it, the kid knows you, etc.’
“Plus, we wanted to move up in weight. Isaac walks around between 150 and 158 pounds. Then he comes back down to 122. We had these issues all that time. But we were convinced to stay at super bantamweight.”
Typically, Paul, a no-nonsense ex-British military vet raised in Bukom, would have ignored those voices. But who can argue against success? Dogboe was the talk of the sport. Bob Arum’s Top Rank Promotions immediately signed him to a multi-fight deal.
Yet the problems remained, even as Isaac scored a first-round TKO over Hidenori Otake.
It came to a head last December, when lanky Mexican Emanuel Navarrete dominated the 5-foot-2 Dogboe, winning a wide unanimous decision to become the new champion.
The rematch occurred six months later. Navarrete battered Dogboe until Paul mercifully stopped the fight in the twelfth.
“I lost to a true champion in Navarrete,” Isaac informed BoxingAfrica.com. “I have to accept that and give him that credit. I haven’t lost any of my hunger. Sometimes you fall short but the most important thing is to get yourself back together, get back on the horse and keep pushing.”
The Dogboe’s began conducting a search for a new trainer. They thought they found a good fit in esteemed Hall of Famer trainer Freddie Roach. Isaac spent six days at Roach’s Wildcard Gym during what an official from Roach’s camp called “a trial period.”
Ultimately, Team Dogboe concluded that Roach wasn’t the best fit, perhaps given the number of fighters he was already working with.
Enter James “Lights Out” Toney.
As a professional, Toney won multiple world titles from middleweight all the way up to heavyweight, despite his 5-foot-9 stature. His classic boxing style was taught in the Midwest, the region that produced Joe Luis, “Sugar” Ray Robinson, Floyd Mayweather, Tommy Hearns, Aaron Pryor, Michael Spinks and more.
Ironically, Toney saw a bit of that style when he first watched Dogboe spar back in 2012.
“I remember James saying that Isaac reminds him of himself, how he goes to the body,” Paul recalled. “We lost touch but now we’re back.”
Initially Toney was hesitant to wear a trainer hat.
“My pops and everyone kept telling me, ‘you should be training people,’” the boxing legend told BoxingAfrica.com. “I told him that I didn’t really enjoy it. But I liked what I saw in Dogboe even in 2012. I knew I could make him better and stronger.”
Isaac will now train out of Legends Gym in California. The gym’s founder, the great John Arthur, groomed many of Don King’s world champions. Arthur, like Toney, worked with Isaac before. His boxing knowledge, coupled with Toney’s experience, are strong additions to Team Dogboe.
“The talent is already there,” Toney said of his new student. “We’re going to improve every aspect of his game, from head movement, angles, and the most important thing, fighting on the inside. Just watch. He’s going to be very explosive.”
Paul is pleased with the results thus far.
“Because of Isaac’s structure and the dimensions of his opponents, James is the right person to work with Isaac and prepare him for taller guys.”
Toney says the changes won’t take hold immediately. However, he expects to see improvement in Dogboe in his first fight back, which will happen at 126-pounds.
According to the Dogboe’s, reports of a December 14 bout versus Michael Conlon are premature.
“We believe that is just a rumor going around,” said Isaac. “We saw it in the news, on social media. But my father and my management haven’t heard anything from anybody.”
For now, the former WBO world super bantamweight champion continues to work at his craft, preparing for that next date.
“I haven’t lost any of my hunger. Sometimes you fall short but the most important thing is to get yourself back together, get back on the horse and keep pushing.
“My next target is to win another world title, this time in the featherweight division. We are working to make sure I’m well-equipped for it.”
“And he will be,” Toney added.