Ranking the 10 Best Trash Talkers in Boxing History
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Apparently, these 10 boxers never seemed to pick up the true message of that childhood rhyme.
They are the very best of the best at unleashing verbal assaults that rivaled anything they could accomplish with their fists. Some are old-school, some are new and some may never have gone to school. Some are witty, and others are just plain vulgar.
But all are gifted in one of the most cherished and underrated aspects of professional prizefighting: trash talk.
These are the 10 best trash talkers in boxing history!
10. Paulie Malignaggi
You can call me a homer, but there's always been something particularly funny about Paulie Malignaggi's brand of smack talk. Perhaps it's because, like the fighter himself, it's Brooklyn through-and-through. It's in your face, blunt and doesn't particularly care what you think about it.
Malignaggi is a particularly gifted wordsmith. He's able to seamlessly mix in cutting one-liners with astute, but oftentimes no less cutting, observations in order to knock his opponent off his game.
Those talents were on particular display in the often vulgar—and always edgy—promotion for his welterweight title defense against Adrien Broner in June 2013 at the Barclays Center. And the Magic Man was able to show his ability to traffic in the both the personal and professional.
"Adrien [Broner] is nothing more than a Floyd Mayweather wannabe. He doesn't just fight like him. He talks like him. He breathes like him. He needs to get his own character," Malignaggi told the assembled media at a May 4, 2013, press conference announcing the fight.
And, of course, those were easily some of the nicer things Malignaggi had to say to Broner.
His complete unwillingness to pull punches has often led him into some sticky situations, particularly when discussing the often sordid world of boxing politics that gets and keeps fighters ahead or behind in the game.
Such as when Malignaggi told Anson Wainwright of The Ring Magazine:
There's an Adrien Broner in every urban gym in the United States. A guy like that exists everywhere. I see them all the time. A lot of them don't have the help Adrien Broner has. Adrien Broner is there because of (manager) Al Haymon. Adrien Broner's not there because Adrien Broner's that good. He's there because Al Haymon has pulled his career and right now in the United States (Haymon is) the guy that you have to be with to be ahead, so it's a bit of a mirage. It's a bit of an illusion and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Love him or hate him, Paulie Malignaggi never backs down.
9. Jack Johnson
The amount of adversity that Jack Johnson had to overcome in order to break heavyweight boxing's color barrier and become the first African-American world heavyweight champion was, putting it very lightly, immense.
The Galveston Giant was a controversial figure in his era—when the Civil War was still a recent memory and blacks were still largely without rights in the United States—who lived a very flashy lifestyle and sought to buck convention whenever he could.
When James J. Jeffries won the heavyweight crown around the turn of the century, virtually everyone considered Johnson to be his most dangerous threat.
But Jeffries refused to face Johnson in the ring. It wasn't that black and white boxers couldn't fight, but the heavyweight championship was an exclusively white championship at the time. Shortly after Jeffries retired, Canadian boxer Tommy Burns captured the world championship.
Burns made the title a truly world championship, skipping from continent to continent and seeking out the best fighters he could find.
After two years of Johnson basically stalking him around the globe and calling him out, Burns finally agreed to give him a world championship opportunity in Sydney, Australia.
During the fight—and as was his custom—Johnson trash talked his opponent. Nothing particularly vile or nasty like we've often seen today, but given the culture of the time, risky nonetheless.
"Poor little Tommy, who told you you were a fighter," Johnson told his foe, per Nigel Collins of ESPN.com. He would also frequently meet him with mock praise each time he landed a punch.
"Poor, poor, Tommy. Who taught you to hit? Your mother?"
Sure, mild by today's standards. But context is everything, and Johnson was a trailblazer in the world of boxing and trash talking.
8. Prince Naseem Hamed
Lost in his flamboyance, trash-talking ability and polarizing nature is the fact that "Prince" Naseem Hamed was a helluva fighter.
He won three world championships and amassed a record of 36-1 with 31 knockouts, including a perfect mark in world title fights. His U.S. debut against Kevin Kelley in December 1997 is still one of the most exciting fights of all time.
What's more, he didn't particularly care what you thought about him. He was going to talk trash before, during and after the fight.
He was going to promote himself before, during and after the fight.
And he was gonna make sure you knew it, before, during and after the fight.
It was just a constant cycle with Hamed, and it made him one of the cockiest and most interesting characters ever to step into a boxing ring.
The thing that made Hamed unique, aside from his supreme physical talents, was his ability to force people to either love him or hate him. There was absolutely nothing close to a middle ground. It just didn't exist, and even more than a decade since he last fought, it still doesn't.
Hamed's penchant for the dramatic was equal parts self-promotion, arrogance and mild disdain for anyone who dared challenge his reign as featherweight champion.
The Prince was always good for more than a few laughs, and for one of his classic moments, check out the video above where he puts his arm around Kelley and then proceeds to promise to knock him out.
And then a few months later, he did.
7. Roy Jones Jr.
With all due respect to future Hall of Famer Roy Jones Jr., the words "shameless promoter" are often used in any conversations revolving around the former pound-for-pound king of boxing.
Jones, when he was in his prime, had lightning-quick reflexes, a stunning propensity to throw punches from seemingly impossible angles and a sharp tongue that verbally boxed the ears of his foes. He was so articulate at times, that you didn't even know he was insulting you.
In recent years, as he's gotten older and more deluded about his rapidly declining in-ring abilities, Jones has sadly begun to suffer through more frequent bouts of foot-in-mouth disease.
As a fighter, not the sideshow he has sadly become, Jones was nearly untouchable. But he frequently found himself the subject of criticism for not taking the best fights. Jones, despite his star power, largely seemed content to spend his run at the top making meaningless mandatory defenses of his belts against no-hopers.
There were few subjects that got under his skin more, and his trash-talking responses to those type of questions were often epic.
Jones Jr. hates to be disrespected, and he hates to be wronged. He even went so far as to write and perform his own rap song and video—Ya'll Must Have Forgot—singing homage to his career, accomplishments and perceived slights.
Now that, by itself, is epic.
6. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Boxing's current pound-for-pound king, Floyd Mayweather, took the pedal off the metal a little bit for his most recent promotion—"The One: Mayweather vs. Canelo"—but he has produced more than his share of trash-talking rants in the past.
Mayweather is the consummate promoter. He knows, better than anyone, that there are many fans out there who will purchase his fights on pay-per-view for the right to see him ply his craft better than anyone on the planet.
But there are an equal—and growing—number who throw in their hard-earned cash in the hopes of seeing someone shut his mouth.
And that's who he appeals to with his trash talk. He inflames the senses of people watching at home—in the past on HBO's 24/7 and the present on Showtime's All Access—and gets them to shell out to see him fight.
It's all an act, but there is nobody in the game today who does it better than the pound-for-pound king. His trash talk combines elements of his own confidence and an otherworldly belief in his own abilities with disdain for any opponent who has the temerity to claim he could be—for even one night—better.
For Mayweather, there is little doubt that his opus performance in trash talking came during the promotion for his fight with longtime rival and current business partner Oscar De La Hoya. It included many choice words, a fair amount of disrespect and even a chicken at a press conference.
Some of the highlights from that can be seen above, but you have been warned, it's not close to safe for work.
5. Mike Tyson
The baddest man on the planet was also one of boxing's biggest and best trash talkers during his illustrious career.
Mike Tyson is the youngest man ever to capture the heavyweight championship, and during his rise to the top and decline, he treated fans to more than a few "huh" moments. There were times when you simply didn't know what the hell he was talking about.
But that didn't stop him from telling it.
He would be asked questions and then, clearly marching to the beat of his own drum, answer a completely different question.
Interspersed with the rantings and ravings of someone who more often than not resembled a lunatic more than a fighter were the occasional nuggets of truth and candor.
Tyson was—is—obviously a very troubled character, but it's hard to root against him, and his place in boxing history and trash-talking acumen are clearly assured.
4. Bernard Hopkins
Bernard Hopkins is a throwback in every sense of the word.
From his rough-and-tumble, some say dirty, fighting style to his old-school demeanor and his willingness to get intensely personal with his opponent, everything about B-Hops screams an era gone by.
Few could possibly forget his intense battle—at least verbal because the fight was a wipeout—with Felix Trinidad back in 2001.
The Puerto Rican icon had been handpicked by promoter Don King to emerge from the Middleweight Championship Series as the first unified middleweight champion since Marvin Hagler more than a decade prior. All the hype left Hopkins—already a middleweight champion for seven years by that point—feeling disrespected.
And B-Hops met disrespect with disrespect. One of his most iconic and controversial moments came when a younger and luckily more fleet-of-foot Hopkins snagged and threw the Puerto Rican flag on the ground at a press conference held on the island and nearly sparked a riot.
For something more recent, his 2011 trash talking to then-light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal is legendary, funny and shows us once again why Bernard Hopkins is master of his craft.
In more ways than one.
The elder statesman of the sport had a warning and a snide suggestion for his foe on HBO:
"I said to him that once I kick his (expletive) in Montreal he's gonna move. He's gonna move back somewhere where he came from. I think it's Haiti. They need him back there...He cannot walk in Montreal after May 21."
And, in an interesting twist, Pascal has barely been seen in the city—or the ring—in the nearly three years since the fight.
3. James Toney
With one of boxing's all-time greatest nicknames—Lights Out—and one of it's biggest mouths, James Toney certainly merits consideration on any list ranking the best trash talkers in boxing.
There was the time when the exceptionally gifted yapper responded to a question about who would win a fight between Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn with a quip that he'd beat both on the same night.
Or how about when he scored what was probably his signature victory over Michael Nunn to win his first world championship in 1991.
Once the fight was signed, Toney wasted little time letting his foe know what he thought about him. Spoiler alert, it wasn't highly.
Lights Out never hesitated to point out that he felt Nunn was less a fighter and more a dancer in the ring. He even went so far as to warn him that he'd quickly "find out it's no damn disco" when the fight began in an interview with ITV's Jonathan Ross.
But then Nunn went on to fight brilliantly, refusing to back down and walloping Toney with a stiff jab and fierce combinations on the inside. With seven rounds in the books, the champion was well ahead on all three scorecards.
And then Toney delivered one of the single greatest predictions and pieces of trash talk in the sport's history.
"You're losing it, son. You're losing it," head trainer Bill Miller told Toney in the corner before the eighth, per Sports Illustrated. "You've got to press him even more."
And Toney's response: "Don't worry about it. He's not going the distance."
And, he didn't. The challenger shocked the champion with a massive left hook in the 11th round that floored him, and shortly thereafter, the fight was over.
Toney had won the battle of smack talk and the championship in the ring.
2. Ricardo Mayorga
Before we even get started, let's just say that the video above contains some very choice language.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about Ricardo Mayorga that can be considered safe for human consumption. The Nicaraguan made his name by being a beer-chugging, cigarette-puffing wild man before and after his fights.
And believe me, if it were possible for him to have had a smoke or a beer during a fight, he'd have pulled that off too. But despite his antics, he managed to capture world championships at welterweight and junior middleweight, and he occasionally spends time on his Twitter account trying to troll fighters into giving him one last shot.
When you signed up to face El Matador, you knew a couple of things.
One, you were in for a match with a crude, unrefined but eminently tough SOB. And two, you were going to be on the receiving end of very personal, very vulgar verbal assaults from the minute the fight was announced until it was over.
Some of this stuff was just downright ugly, and it wasn't beneath Mayorga to frequently sling ethnic and gender-based slurs at his foe. He seemed to have a particular animus toward Latino fighters and would frequently seem to become enraged while spewing venom at them in his native tongue.
The only thing we can hope is that some of the translations were wrong.
1. Muhammad Ali
When it comes to trash talk and the sport of boxing, there is only one undisputed king.
You can make a convincing argument about why Ali was the most proficient pugilist ever to grace the inside of a boxing ring. His rare combination of speed, power and defensive elusiveness have often been imitated but never quite replicated.
But, if it's possible, Ali's verbal barrages often landed with more force than the hardest of his punches. There's really little that can be said here that will do any justice, and it's really better if you just check it out yourself.
Ali's style of trash talk was often intensely personal, and it would send the political correctness police into a tizzy if someone uttered things half as cutting today. He had an uncanny ability to get inside his opponent's head and to strike him where it hurt the most.
It's virtually impossible to settle on one favorite quote from the master, but he always seemed to wax the most poetic when he spoke of longtime rival Joe Frazier:
I'm gonna do something to Joe Frazier that might be illegal. My lawyers told me to bring a bail bondsman to get me outta jail. They might put my tail in jail and get me out on bail after what I do to Joe Frazier.
You simply don't see that sort of thing in boxing anymore. And when you do, it's not nearly as articulate and entertaining as the man who took trash talk to whole new levels.