When it comes to cocky personality, no one's done it like Muhammad Ali.
Boxing, by its very nature, cultivates attitude.
As one of a select group of sports in which combatants are matched one-on-one—and an even more select group in which those combatants are asked to be violent while securing victory—it caters to those with a healthy level of self-assurance.
And when that self-assurance meets an outspoken nature, cockiness flows forth.
The modern art of cockiness was perfected in the 1960s by a young Muhammad Ali, who charmed some and infuriated others while bridging a gap between athlete and performer and becoming the world’s most famous person.
Few would argue that no one’s reached Ali’s level since he left the main stage, but that doesn’t mean the sport is barren when it comes to guys mixing outside showmanship with in-ring acumen.
Read on for our view of the cockiest fighters going today.
When Floyd Mayweather Jr. became his target, Robert Guerrero stepped up his verbal game.
The soft-spoken Northern Californian wasn’t much of a talker—or at least not to an extent where anyone noticed—while racking up victims at 126 and 130 pounds. But once his sights became set on Floyd Mayweather Jr., the vitriol was ratcheted up.
Subsequent wins were suddenly punctuated with all manners of shots over the Mayweather bow, including one in which he brazenly encouraged his would-be quarry to “Step up, punk.”
A match between the two was ultimately made for May 4 in Las Vegas. And, on the inaugural episode of Showtime’s “All Access” feature, Guerrero’s co-manager, Luis De Cubas Jr., conceded the verbal barrage was contrived.
“You’re as good as the opportunities you get,” he said. “He wasn’t able to get those opportunities because he was too good for his own good. So I said ‘You gotta start being a little more open. You gotta start calling guys out.’”
Mission accomplished, though it remains to be seen if the fists can back up the words.
Rios, one of the young jewels in promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank stable, has what many would consider the ideal fighting style to go along with a not-shy tongue.
He’ll not only chatter at you during press conferences and at weigh-ins, but he’ll more often than not be right in front of you in the ring as well—a fighting style that produced a fight of the year-worthy stoppage of Mike Alvarado in 2012 and a high-end rematch this spring.
But he was a wordy phenom even before reaching the big stage, as evidenced by the run-up to a lightweight title defense in 2011 against Urbano Antillon, whom Rios claimed motivated him into both a threatening—and ultimately punishing—performance.
“I love it when (opponents) talk smack about me. It motivates me,” he said. “I need that. I love that. The gym was getting a little boring before this. Now I’m mad and I come in and work that much harder.”
Now 35, Zab Judah is still a young man when it comes to attitude.
If old-school Brooklyn cocky is your thing, Zab Judah is your man.
The one-time slugging phenom is a few years into his third professional decade these days, and shows no sign of slowing down either with his hands or his mouth.
He took in-ring misbehavior to a new century level in 2001, when referee Jay Nady's decision to stop a fight with Kostya Tszyu—in Tszyu's favor—was greeted with a toss of the corner stool and a gloved hand on the burly official's throat.
Judah has managed to keep his antics within mostly respectable boundaries since, though his pre-fight punch to Carlos Baldomir's thigh during mid-ring instructions and egregious low blow against Floyd Mayweather Jr. were true to his bad-boy nature.
He gave as good as he got in the run-up to a recent 140-pound title fight loss to Danny Garcia, spending much of the time jawing with Garcia's father, Angel, which ultimately led to a weigh-in event in which the fighters and their hair-trigger entourages had to be separated.
Representing the new-school brand of cocky is Philadelphian Danny Garcia, who toppled No. 8 Judah in the ring after going barb for barb with him before the opening bell.
Truth told, the 25-year-old gets a valuable attitudinal assist from his dad, Angel, who elevates Team Garcia from your garden variety blather into a truly high-echelon position.
The elder Garcia began making a name for himself—alongside his unbeaten son—when Danny fought Kendall Holt in 2011 and continued it through last week's Judah fight, before which he labeled the former champion a "loser" and challenged him at a press conference.
The contrast between composed son and combative father led promoter Oscar De La Hoya to label the duo the "Penn and Teller of boxing."
Paulie Malignaggi has combined flashiness in the ring with social media savvy outside.
Another product of Brooklyn, Paulie "Magic Man" Malignaggi has won world championships at 140 and 147 pounds, in addition to self-proclaimed status as the sport's "Twitter King."
In fact, he's assembled more than 47,000 followers.
And while his fighting style, which has yielded only seven knockouts in 32 wins, isn't what you might expect from a cocky fighter, Malignaggi more than makes up for it with his quick wit and complete lack of inhibition when it comes to engaging both fans and detractors.
A trip to London a few years back was illustrative of in-ring antics, when a title defense was interrupted so a cornerman could remove the fake dreadlocks he'd worn for the fight.
Malignaggi's Twitter feed is often awash in debate between those who attack him and those who support him, a chasm that's sure to widen as he prepares to meet Adrien Broner for the WBA welterweight title in June.
Not to mention, his home page on the site describes him as "two-division world champ, current 147-lb. WBA champion, Showtime broadcaster, model and actor! Future legend."
Others may be smoother with their delivery or more fearsome with their taunts, but a select few put together the total package of cocky like Philadelphia veteran Bernard Hopkins.
Now 48 years old and again holding a title belt at 175 pounds, Hopkins has been displaying his brand of brazen confidence in parts of four decades as a professional.
His "Executioner" persona has long involved him ordering up a last meal for foes before heading to the ring in a hangman's mask, not to mention his status as an early-adopter of the now far-more-prevalent thumb across the throat gesture.
Elsewhere, his mastery of pre-fight buzz creation once saw him stomp on a Puerto Rican flag in front of Felix Trinidad, and teeter on the brink of racial insensitivity by insisting to Welshman Joe Calzaghe that "I will never let a white boy beat me."
Love him or hate him, he's one of a kind.
Though certainly unpolished as a fighter, Ricardo Mayorga generates heat as well as anyone.
If the WWE's Vince McMahon had created a pro boxing persona, chances are it would have looked a lot like Ricardo Mayorga.
Though the 39-year-old Nicaraguan has tumbled in and out of relevance during a 20-year pro career (he's reportedly planning a comeback in the MMA cage), his stature as one of the sport's most entertainingly brash performers has never faded.
He emerged from the shadows with consecutive defeats of Vernon Forrest for the welterweight title—after which he lit up cigarettes in the ring—and remained in the consciousness by continuously raising his level of pre-fight vitriol no matter who the opponent.
The approach was rewarded in the December 2003 issue of The Ring, which featured him on the cover with the headline: "The Craziest Man in the Sport - Mayorga Lights Up Boxing." Unfortunately for Mayorga, his words often motivated foes to deliver smashing KO at his expense—as was the case with Felix Trinidad (2004), Oscar De La Hoya (2006) and Shane Mosley (2008).
If there was an award for the biggest drop-off between pre-fight attitude and in-fight performance, it'd be a cinch win for David Haye.
The English-based cruiserweight-turned-heavyweight conceded to intentionally pulling out all the stops while trying to get either Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko to fight him, including designing a memorable T-shirt which showed the two brothers with severed heads.
The antics eventually prompted Wladimir to put up his IBF, IBO and WBO titles against Haye's WBA belt in what was forecast as a grudge match, but the Londoner barely held his end of the bargain, while losing nine, 10 and 11 rounds on the official scorecards in July 2011.
He's fought just one time since—defeating countryman Dereck Chisora by fifth-round TKO last summer—and is scheduled to meet Manuel Charr in June on what he says is a path toward Vitali's WBC championship.
He may not ever get the fight, but it's certainly worth hoping for just to see his follow-up antics.
From his in-ring strategy to his outside antics, it's clear Adrien Broner has had high-end persona mentoring.
Love him or hate him, you've got to give Adrien Broner props for creativity.
Just moments after polishing off Vicente Escobedo on HBO last summer, the Cincinnati-based stylist dropped to his knees in mid-ring (and on live TV) in front of his girlfriend. Then, rather than delivering a cliched marriage proposal, he instead asked, "Can you brush my hair?"
Exactly what response the swerve got when the pair got behind closed doors is uncertain, but it certainly unnerved HBO analyst Max Kellerman and generated far more chatter than the fight—which Broner had dominated before scoring a fifth-round TKO.
The mentoring he received from another cocky former 130-pound champ (click to the next slide to learn his identity) came full circle in the first episode of Showtime's current "All Access" series, when Broner showed up on set claiming his pal was taking "my easy work" by fighting Robert Guerrero.
An upcoming match with Paulie Malignaggi in June will no doubt set records for composite cockiness.
As if there was any doubt.
While his rise to the top of the pound-for-pound ranks came incrementally, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been making a case as being the sport's cockiest fighter since shortly after his debut in 1996.
Simply put, the guy knows how to work the personality game better than anyone since Ali.
He played the babyface role while fighting Diego Corrales in 2001, made a heel turn and thumbed his nose at Arturo Gatti's Atlantic City fan base in 2005 and helped usher in the "24/7" and "All Access" age on premium cable when he signed to meet Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.
And even now, at age 36, he's still flashing wads of cash, sending censors scrambling for their bleep buttons and generating pay-per-view buys from a new generation of folks polarized into either loving or hating him—making him boxing's answer to the New York Yankees or Notre Dame football.