What do you say we lighten things up a little bit and get back to business tomorrow?
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Boxing is somewhat unique among sports for its prolific use of the nickname. You can find them in virtually every other league as well, but infrequently and generally only among the elite standouts of the sports. The word ‘league’ is likely the giveaway, since in team sports it is the entire unit that gets the nickname, whereas in a one on one contest it is the athlete. Boxing has historically been and remains the only true home of the nickname and since the 1970’s the percentage of fighters adopting one has skyrocketed.
Like a press conference, an entrance, and a post-fight interview, a nickname is a big part of the overall display and an important element of a fighter’s persona. Selecting an appropriate and cool nickname early in a career indicates the aspiration and motivation to live up to it. It is an extremely delicate process however, for choosing poorly can have negative and even humiliating effects down the road. Once assumed, a nickname is virtually impossible to shake or even change and the wrong choice will alienate fans just as surely as will look foolish on a marquee.
Who then has chosen wisely and who has completely blown it? Let’s examine that very issue by reflecting on the top ten coolest and top ten dorkiest nicknames of the past 30 years:
10. Thomas Hearns “The Hitman” Great use of the double entendre referencing a cold-blooded killer and the object of the sport: to hit, man.
9. Mike Tyson “Iron” Good flow, with the adjective “Iron” preceding the name; simple, clean and effective, it’s custom made for a ring announcer. Also a perfect match with the understated, all business entrance and gear.
8. Roberto Duran “Manos de Piedra” translated to English, “Hands of Stone” is still cool but in Spanish it sounds lyrical. It’s also true and warned opponents what they were in for and would not be able to avoid.
7. Donovan Ruddock “Razor” Most casual fans, even those who remember Ruddock would be hard pressed to give you his first name but the “Razor Ruddock” alliteration is difficult to forget. When a fighter’s nickname supersedes his given name, his choice was on the money.
6. James Toney “Lights Out” What kind of an arrogant, loud-mouthed, cocky SOB comes up with such a slick nick? One who deserves it, lives up to it and owns it.
5. Bernard Hopkins “The Executioner” Hopkins has had this name for a long time and the confidence it showed for a young guy to adopt such a name is unbelievable. He put the world on notice back then, and his career accomplishments have reserved him a space in the Hall. Good thing he ditched the mask though.
4. Erik Morales “El Terrible” For Spanish speaking fans, this moniker sounds more foreboding and impressive but substitute the English translations and the effect is the same. “The Terrible”. It sounds like a ruthless despot with no capacity for mercy or compassion. Very cool, but the Spanish gives it much more poetic flow.
3. Vitali Klitschko “Dr. Ironfist” Intelligent, well educated and extremely dangerous…a fearsome combination summed up masterfully in a dynamite nickname. I can’t decide whether it sounds more like a comic book bad guy or the quintessential cinematic, Soviet wrecking machine a la Hollywood.
2. Marco Antonio Barrera “The Baby-Faced Assassin” He is the guy you would never see comin’, never suspect…and he’s a stone-cold killer. The second coolest nickname, maybe of all time.
1. James Smith: Who? See most of you don’t have any idea, or remember who James Smith is…he sounds made up. But his nickname is the greatest of all time by far, and once you see it you’ll recall and you’ll agree. Without it, he fades from memory. In spite of losing to pretty much every top guy he faced, he carved out a place for himself in boxing lore. “BONECRUSHER”. You can’t get any better than that.
Marvin Hagler: For those of us old enough to remember, Hagler was just the coolest cat out there. He looked and acted the part, inside the ring and out. Even his 7-Up commercial was Marvelous.
Antonio Tarver: I’m guilty of not giving the “Magic Man” his due, but I’m working on it. Props for getting the job done…the nick is well earned.
Arturo Gatti: I liked his nickname better before Floyd pointed out that lightning strikes while “Thunder” just makes noise. Still though…
John “The Quietman” Ruiz: nah, just kidding.
Next up: the top ten worst and the jury’s out.
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