Ten Best Colorful Boxing Nicknames

Colorful nicknames abound in boxing history. Jake LaMotta was "The Raging Bull," Jack Dempsey "The Manassa Mauler," Joe Louis "The Brown Bomber," Henry Armstrong "Homicide Hank," Jack Johnson "The Galveston Giant," Tiger Flowers "The Georgia Deacon," Ray Robinson "Sugar Ray," Muhammad Ali "The Greatest," Joe Frazier "Smokin' Joe" and Ray Mancini "Boom Boom."

The colorful nickname has played an important role in boxing history. Here are ten outstanding boxing monikers that are sure to get the juices flowing in any fight fan or student of boxing history. Shake hands, and at the sound of the bell come out fighting...

Jake LaMotta (1921-)/"The Raging Bull"

Born Giacobe LaMotta in the Bronx, New York, on July 10, 1921, Jake LaMotta was one of the hardest-hitting fighters ever to grace the bloody square jungle. After turning professional at age 19, LaMotta went on to compile a record of 83 wins, 19 losses and four draws, with 30 of his wins coming by knockout. In 1949, LaMotta claimed the world middleweight boxing championship in Detroit, defeating Frenchman Marcel Cerdan when the latter failed to answer the bell before the start of the 10th round. The tough, hard-charging LaMotta was known by two nicknames, "The Raging Bull" and "The Bronx Bull," both of which suited his style both in and out of the ring. LaMotta was the subject of the highly-acclaimed 1980 movie Raging Bull, for which Robert De Niro won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal as the legendary fighter.

Jake LaMotta, a.k.a. "The Raging Bull"

Jack Dempsey (1895-1983)/"The Manassa Mauler"

Jack Dempsey was born William Harrison Dempsey in Manassa, Colorado, on June 24, 1895. During his professional career Dempsey compiled a record of 66 wins, 6 losses and 11 draws, with 51 of his victories coming by knockout. On July 4, 1919, Jack Dempsey met Jess Willard for the heavyweight championship of the world in Toledo, Ohio. It was an extremely brutal fight, with Dempsey delivering a terrible beating to his opponent, who suffered a broken jaw, a broken cheekbone, a couple of lost teeth, several broken ribs and the partial loss of hearing in one ear. Unable to answer the fourth round, a battered Jess Willard and his handlers wisely conceded the fight, with Dempsey claiming the heavyweight crown. Jack Dempsey was known as "The Manassa Mauler," a nickname which Jess Willard and other opponents could readily attest to after stepping into the ring with the fearsome prizefighter.

Jack Dempsey waiting to meet Tommy Gibbons in Shelby, Montana, July 4, 1923 

Joe Louis (1914-1981)/"The Brown Bomber"

Born Joe Louis Barrow in La Fayette, Alabama, on May 13, 1914, Joe Louis was one of the most popular fighters in history. A former Golden Gloves champion, Louis compiled a professional record of 65 wins, 3 losses and one no contest, with 51 of his wins coming by knockout. On June 22, 1937, Louis ascended to the world heavyweight championship at New York City's Madison Square Garden where he scored a knockout against James J. Braddock in the eighth round. On August 30, 1937, before an estimated crowd of 32,000 at Yankee Stadium, Louis successfully defended his heavyweight crown against German Max Schmeling in what was one of the most publicized bouts in sporting history. A larger-than-life hero in the African-American community, Joe Louis was called "The Brown Bomber" – and with good reason, as he often destroyed his opponents.

Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling title fight movie poster from 1937

Henry Armstrong (1912-1988)/"Homicide Hank," "Hurricane Hank," "Hammerin' Hank," et al.

Henry Armstrong was born Henry Melody Jackson Jr. in Columbus, Mississippi, on December 12, 1912. During his career Armstrong compiled a record of 451 wins, 21 losses and 10 draws, with an incredible 401 of his victories coming by knockout. In 1938, Armstrong became the first fighter in history to hold three world championships simultaneously in the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight divisions. On January 17, 1941, at Madison Square Garden, 23,190 fans – the largest crowd ever to view an indoor sporting event up to that time – looked on as Fritzie Zivic KO’d Armstrong in the 12th round of their rematch title fight to retain his world welterweight boxing crown. Henry Armstrong has the distinction of owning some of the most colorful boxing monikers ever: "Homicide Hank," "Hurricane Hank," "Hammerin' Hank," "Perpetual Motion" and "Human Buzzsaw."

Jack Johnson (1878-1946)/"The Galveston Giant"

Born John Arthur Johnson in Galveston, Texas, on March 31, 1878, Jack Johnson compiled a career record of 73 wins, 13 losses, 9 draws and 9 no contests, with 40 of his wins coming by knockout. Jack Johnson made history in Sydney, Australia, on December 26, 1908, when he defeated Canadian Tommy Burns by technical knockout to become the first black heavyweight champion in history. Johnson later successfully defended his crown on July 4, 1910, in Reno, Nevada, when former undefeated champion James J. Jeffries – a.k.a. "The Great White Hope" – threw in the towel in Round 15. By virtue of his race and flashy lifestyle, Jack Johnson was one of the most controversial athletes in history. His nickname, "The Galveston Giant," suited him well.

The great Jack Johnson in his heyday 

Tiger Flowers (1895-1927/"The Georgia Deacon"

Born Theodore Flowers in Camilla, Georgia, on August 5, 1895, Tiger Flowers compiled a career record of 136 wins, 15 losses, 8 draws and 2 no contests, with 56 of his victories coming by knockout. An African-American southpaw, Flowers won the world middleweight championship on February 26, 1926, when he scored a unanimous decision against Harry Greb before a crowd of 16,311 at Madison Square Garden. Flowers died at age 32 in New York City on November 16, 1927, of a post-surgical infection, the result of a procedure designed to remove scar tissue from around his eyes. Flowers' subsequent funeral wake in Atlanta reportedly drew an estimated 75,000 mourners – both black and white – who filed by his coffin. A devoutly religious man, Flowers was nicknamed "The Georgia Deacon," and recited a passage from Psalm 144 before every match.

Ray Robinson (1921-1989)/"Sugar Ray"

Ray Robinson was born Walker Smith Jr. in Ailey, Georgia, on May 3, 1921. As an amateur, Robinson compiled a perfect 89-0 record, with 69 of those wins coming by knockout. Turning pro in 1940, Robinson went on to claim the world welterweight boxing championship on December 20, 1946, when he defeated Tommy Bell in a 15-round decision. Robinson later ascended to the world middleweight championship on February 14, 1951, in what became known as "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre," scoring a technical knockout against Jake LaMotta in Round 13. Named the greatest fighter of the 20th century by the Associated Press, Robinson was known as "Sugar Ray," a moniker born of the "sweet science," as boxing is sometimes called, with Robinson possessed of both a lightning quick jab and explosive knockout power. "Robinson's repertoire, thrown with equal speed and power by either hand, includes every standard punch from a bolo to a hook—and a few he makes up on the spur of the moment," observed Time magazine (6/25/51).

Sugar Ray Robinson, AP's greatest fighter of the 20th century

Muhammad Ali (1942-)/"The Greatest," "The Louisville Lip," "The Champ"

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 17, 1942, Muhammad Ali may well be the most famous fighter in history. A gold medallist at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, Muhammad Ali compiled a professional record of 56 wins and five losses, with 37 of his victories coming by knockout. On February 25, 1964, in Miami, Florida, the still-Cassius Clay claimed the world heavyweight boxing championship of the world when reigning champ Sonny Liston failed to answer the bell for the start of the seventh round. In time, Muhammad Ali (the name change came shortly after the first Liston bout in March 1964) became king of the boxing world, engaging in spectacular bouts with such notable contenders as Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton. In his earlier career Clay/Ali was known as "The Louisville Lip" for his loud-mouthed antics, but was later called "The Champ" or simply "The Greatest."

Joe Frazier (1944-)/"Smokin' Joe"

Joseph William Frazier was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on January 12, 1944. A gold medallist at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, Frazier turned professional in 1965, eventually compiling a career record of 32 wins, 4 losses and one draw, with 27 of his victories coming by knockout. Using a bruising, hard-charging style, Joe Frazier became the heavyweight champion of the world on February 16, 1970, when he knocked out Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round at Madison Square Garden. Frazier faced his nemesis Muhammad Ali three times in his career, winning their first bout in 1971 but subsequently losing in 1974 and 1975. There was no mistaking the prodding, brawling Frazier in the ring, a style which earned him the apt nickname "Smokin' Joe."

Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali fight poster, Madison Square Garden, February 28, 1974

Ray Mancini (1961-)/"Boom Boom"

Ray Mancini was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on March 4, 1961, the son of fighter Leonard "Boom Boom" Mancini. During his professional career Ray Mancini compiled a record of 29 wins and 5 losses, with 23 of those victories coming by knockout. On May 8, 1982, in Las Vegas, Mancini claimed the World Boxing Association lightweight crown, stopping Arturo Frias in the first round. Later, on November 13, 1982, at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace, Mancini successfully defended his title against South Korean Duk Koo Kim, winning in the fourteenth round. The 23-year-old South Korean fighter, however, died five days later of brain injuries suffered in the ring, a tragedy which weighed heavily on Mancini's life. Although the nickname of "Boom Boom" was an inherited one, the moniker suited Ray Mancini perfectly, whose lightning-quick flurry of punches often blinded his opponents.

Fifteen More Colorful Boxing Nicknames

  • James J. Corbett (1866-1933)/"Gentleman Jim"
  • Marvin Hagler (1954-)/"Marvelous Marvin"
  • Thomas Hearns (1958-)/"The Hitman," "The Motor City Cobra"
  • Roberto Duran (1951-)/"Manos de piedra" ("Hands of Stone"), "El Cholo" 
  • James J. Braddock (1905-1974)/"The Cinderella Man"
  • Ezzard Charles (1921-1975)/"The Cincinnati Cobra," "The Cincinnati Flash"
  • Rocky Marciano (1923-1969)/"The Brockton Blockbuster," "The Rock from Brockton"
  • Larry Holmes (1949-)/"The Easton Assassin"
  • Roger Mayweather (1961-)/"The Black Mamba"
  • Bernard Hopkins (1965-)/"The Executioner," "B-Hop"
  • Oscar De La Hoya (1973-)/"The Golden Boy"
  • Mike Tyson (1966-)/"Iron Mike"
  • Archie Moore (1913-1998)/"The Old Mongoose"
  • Hector Camacho (1962-)/"Macho Camacho"
  • James Smith (1953-)/"Bonecrusher"

Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran fight program, June 20, 1980, Montreal, Canada

Images Credits

  • All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
  • Jake LaMotta, left, loses his world middleweight boxing title to Sugar Ray Robinson at Chicago Stadium, February 14, 1951, in the famous "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" 

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