The 10 Most Memorable Quotes in Boxing History
Boxing is a sport of extreme drama and emotional intensity. So it should be no surprise that the sweet science has inspired so many terrific quotes over the years.
Narrowing a list down to 10 means leaving out terrific lines and omitting some of the most memorable figures who have been associated with the sport.
When I started looking on the Internet and in books for my favorite selections, I ended up feeling a little bit disappointed about how many great lines I would have to leave out.
10. A Warning from Joe Louis
Joe Louis was one of boxing's most iconic figures. One of the biggest punchers in history, he ruled the heavyweight division for an unprecedented 12 years.
During the first part of his historic run as champion, his toughest bout came against former light heavyweight champion Billy Conn in 1941, who used clever movement and speed to beat the great Louis for the first 12 rounds of the fight before going down to a classic Brown Bomber KO in Round 13.
Prior to their long awaited rematch in 1946, a reporter asked Louis what he planned to do if Conn ran.
"He can run but he can't hide," Louis replied. It was the perfect expression of Louis' stoic, tough guy persona, and an important truth about his dominant style.
Clever movement could trouble Louis, but ultimately he had the offensive boxing skills to turn the ring into a very tightly enclosed space. Louis won the rematch by KO, as well.
9. Thomas Hearns on the Difficulty of Hitting Sugar Ray Leonard
This entry comes from Roger Kimball's terrific Four Kings, which chronicles the four-way rivalry in the 1980s between Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler.
Hearns was beating Leonard in their first fight in 1981 when Leonard staged a dramatic comeback to win by Round 14 TKO. Although their 1989 rematch was a draw, Hearns dropped Leonard twice, and many observers felt he should have won.
If anybody ever really had Sugar Ray Leonard's number, it was Hearns. Yet, when asked later why he hadn't made more use of his lethal right hand against Leonard, the Hitman replied:
He kept moving off to the side, so I couldn't hit him with the full force of the punch. I still haven't hit him with my best shot. Why didn't I try to land more right hands? Basically, because I don't throw a punch if I know it's not going to land.
I like this quote for the way it reveals just how difficult boxing truly is. Anybody who has even done some low-level sparring knows how hard it can be to actually land a clean punch on a moving target.
When the target is a pound-for-pound superstar like Sugar Ray Leonard, even one of the best offensive fighters in the sport's history can find himself unable to unload.
8. Sugar Ray Robinson on Rhythm
Over half a century since he ruled the sport, Sugar Ray Robinson remains the all-time pound-for-pound king for most boxing historians. Robinson mixed dazzling footwork, speed and defense with knockout power in both fists.
Robinson, a noted jazz aficionado famous for his dancing ability, distilled the heart of the sweet science to one over-riding element that had to be mastered: "Rhythm is everything in boxing. Every move you make starts with your heart, and that's in rhythm or you're in trouble."
7. Jake LaMotta on Sugar Ray Robinson
The Jake LaMotta-Sugar Ray Robinson rivalry is among the greatest in the history of the sport with perhaps only Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier surpassing it. Robinson, the all-time, pound-for-pound king, won five of the six fights, but LaMotta handed Robinson his first loss and gave Sugar Ray more trouble in his prime than anybody else.
LaMotta later dabbled in public speaking and stand-up comedy, with this great rivalry providing one of his best lines: "The three toughest fighters I ever fought were Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Robinson. I fought Sugar so many times I'm surprised I'm not diabetic."
6. Tex Cobb on Earnie Shavers
Tex Cobb was a tough-nosed, journeyman heavyweight in the 1970s and '80s who transitioned into a successful career as a character actor. As a boxer, Cobb was well-known for two things: being able to absorb a beating and delivering some of the best quotes of his era.
One of his best lines was about Earnie Shavers, almost universally acknowledged as the hardest puncher of the 1970s. Cobb colorfully captured the bone-jarring impact of a monster heavyweight puncher when he said, "Earnie Shavers could punch you in the neck and break your ankle."
5. George Chuvalo on Fighting Muhammad Ali
George Chuvalo never broke through to the championship level, but the Canadian was one of the toughest heavyweights of the 1960s and '70s. His first fight with Floyd Patterson is one of the most neglected classics in the history of the division.
Against Muhammad Ali, Chuvalo was entirely outclassed on the cards in two separate fights. Still, Chuvalo managed to subject the Greatest to some of the most grueling rounds of his career.
Remembering their first fight later, Chuvalo was at his swaggering, tough guy best: "He went to the hospital with bleeding kidneys and me, I went dancing with my wife."
4. Cus D'Amato on Self Defeat
Cus D'Amato was a legendary boxing trainer. In the 1950s, he trained Floyd Patterson and helped him become the youngest heavyweight champion ever.
Almost 30 years later, he helped Mike Tyson break Patterson's record. D'Amato discovered Tyson as a teenage reform school inmate and became a surrogate father to him, along with developing him into one of the most exciting and explosive heavyweight champions in history.
But Tyson's fall from glory was more sudden than his climb, and in many ways it played out for years. Although he never lived to see it, D'Amato might have been speaking about his star pupil when he said: "To see a man beaten, not by a better opponent but by himself, is a tragedy."
Boxing is a brutally tough sport physically, but it's at least as tough mentally. And when a champion reaches the top, sometimes staying there can be much harder than getting there was.
3. Paulie Malignaggi on Fighting Miguel Cotto
Even as he remains an active fighter, former world champion Paulie Malignaggi has already begun a successful transition to a career as a boxing commentator on Showtime. Paulie Mags has always been a slick fighter, but he might be an even better talker.
He delivered one of the best lines in the history of the sport after suffering his first professional loss against Miguel Cotto in 2006.
The fight took place in Madison Square Garden, and although Malignaggi is the actual New York City native, Cotto's popularity at the Garden has been unrivaled in this century. In a physically punishing fight, the crowd cheered every blow Cotto landed.
Malignaggi turned in a gutsy performance, but ultimately took a beating. As quoted in Thomas Hauser's collection An Unforgiving Sport, Malignaggi said of the experience, "Fighting Cotto in the Garden is like fighting the Devil in Hell."
2. A.J. Liebling on Joe Louis
A. J. Liebling is among the best prose stylists to ever write on boxing. The former amateur boxer was a staff writer for The New Yorker and one of the best American essay writers of any kind during the 1940s and '50s.
He was always at the top of his game when he approached the sport of boxing. His collection of essays, The Sweet Science, is a must-have for serious boxing fans who also enjoy a good book.
An important theme of the book is the late-career decline of the great Joe Louis. Very few athletes in the history of America have been more important to society than Louis, who held the belt during the desperate period of the Great Depression and World War II.
Louis became a national hero who transcended his sport and the traditional racist attitudes of the era. Liebling spoke for a generation of fans when he wrote this about the fading ex-champ:
When Louis knocked Savold out, I came away singularly relieved. As if I, rather than Louis, had demonstrated resistance to the erosion of time. As long as Joe could get by, I felt, I had a link with an era when we were both a lot younger. Only the great champions give their fellow citizens time to feel that way about them, because only the great ones win the title young and hold onto it.
1. Muhammad Ali on Winning and Losing
Who else could get the top spot on this list but Muhammad Ali? Ali is not only one of the most quoted boxers in history, he is also one of the most quoted athletes and celebrities of the 20th century.
Lists of great Ali quotes can easily fill entire books. His lines run from entertaining boasts in verse to trenchant social observations to motivational slogans.
My favorite quote by Ali is on the topic of winning and losing. More than anything, these words seem to me to explain how his remarkable career was even possible: "Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even."
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