If there’s one thing boxing still has over all other sports, it’s nicknames. I mean, every time I see Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard referred to as “D12,” I can’t help but feel like I’m reading about a vitamin I took this morning.
Boxing nicknames are timeless in how they define fighter personalities, matchup promotions and era aesthetics.
Nicknames cover the stylistic gamut of clever alliteration, an homage to a fighter’s hometown, references to death and pain, titles of imaginary royalty and even animals.
It’s interesting to chart the evolution of nicknames and see, for instance, how “Gentleman Jim” Corbett fought “The Boston Strong Boy” John L. Sullivan in the 1890s. “Gentleman” and “Boy” aren’t words we conventionally associate with fighters, and sometimes it is the oddities or contradictions found in nicknames that make them so memorable.
Compiling this list was somewhat agonizing because you inevitably have to set aside some fantastic monikers.
Some are also controversial. While “The Boston Tar Baby” (Sam Langford) caries a cool sound and ring, it also has unfortunate racist connotations and recalls how Langford, despite being one of the historically best pound-for-pound fighters, was denied a title shot because of his race. I also steered clear of Joe Louis’ moniker, “The Brown Bomber,” because it has also sparked online debate.
On a far less controversial level, I tried to avoid monikers that have been adopted by several great fighters (i.e. “Sugar”).
In making final cuts, I tried to go for nicknames that are memorable in how they encapsulate the image of specific boxers and how closely they are associated with the fighter in question.
As someone who appreciates wit and puns, I inevitably had to select a few that made me laugh, and I always went with my gut in picking nicknames that appeal to me on a visceral level.
So, what’s in a name? Well, let’s find out—in no particular order.