Boxing nicknames to conjure with
By Jimmy James
The vivid and gaudy nature of Boxing is defined at least, in part, by its eclectic collection of nicknames!
Take your pick and deal your hand, because they can be counted, listed, shuffled and filed in their thousands and we all have our own particular pick in the deck. Yet some simply stand a head and shoulders above the others. The best among the rest. They stick in the mind, lodge in the imagination and ultimately blaze in glorious everlasting memory.
Certainly a subjective process, some logically fit like a glove, while others are born from the magic of a moment. So… in no particular order or disorder, here are a few to ponder and smile at, because in each case they’ve been earned by some feat on some street or under the arc lights of a stadium and then they adhere like super glue.
He was dubbed Gorgeous George, but his principal nickname was The Orchid Man. The pride of France Georges Carpentier was the darling of the ladies, rivaling Maurice Chevalier. A debonair dandy and pompadour with a flower in the buttonhole of his sartorial elegance. Blessed with a smooth almost baby face, things hadn`t always been so suave or chic as the nectar of Moet de Chandon.
For his pro debut at just fourteen, Georges trudged one hundred miles to Paris to win a four rounder. He emerged from the carnage of World War One, as a dashing fighter pilot who won the Croix de Guerre with Palme. Georges started as a bantamweight and fought his way up to become light heavyweight world champion. As brave as a lion, he had the temerity to petulantly challenge The Manassa Mauler Jack Dempsey. It was Jack’s third defense and dubbed Fight of the Century. There have been more fights of the century since!
Fought on July 2nd 1921 at Boyle’s Thirty Acres in New Jersey, the experts scoffed at flamboyant promoter Tex Rickard, who had the audacity to state that it’d be the first ever million dollar gate. They pompously pointed out that the receipts would require a crowd of ninety thousand and that had yet to happen
Undaunted and unabashed Rickard replied that he’d have it his own way, get his own way and create his own stadium from scratch. Stout of heart but more slender of wallet, he borrowed quarter of a million dollars from banks to do it!
So they packed into its vastness to witness a scowling, unshaven, rugged, menacing Jack tear apart the handsome challenger from La Belle France. Georges rocked Jack in the second with an immaculate right, but Jack dropped him with a left right combination in the fourth and although Georges bravely got up, a sinking right to the “Slats” put him down and out for the count. The Orchid had been stalked and wilted in the bracing air of the Eastern seaboard, so thus crushed. A flourishing and blooming financial success for risk taker Tex, as the tickets take added up to 1,789,238 dollars. Sometimes to accumulate you have to speculate.
Another Dempsey classic when he fought The Wild Bull of the Pampas Luis Angel Firpo on September 14th 1923 at the Polo Grounds, New York. Luis Angel was the first Latino to challenge for a world title and he gave it his all. Knocked down seven times in round one and on the horns of a dilemma, an infuriated Wild Bull staggered up, charged, cornered Jack and sent him through the ropes with a mighty combination. Jack also had the additional splitting headache of banging his head against a reporter’s typewriter.
Even though friendly hands pushed him back, it took him seventeen to get back into the ring and upright. Fighters are given the leeway indulgence of a twenty seven count in such dire circumstances. Jack beat the count and polished off Luis Angel in the next round, but it had been a mighty scare. Boxing historian and famous Editor of Ring Magazine Bert Sugar who’d not even been a twinkle in his mother’s eye back then, insisted that when the cigar smoke of that dust up had cleared, it was clearly the greatest fight of all time. Paradoxically following his retirement wild Bull became a very successful cattle rancher on the range.
Literally the most fragrant of them all was Two Ton Tony Galento. Five feet nine inches tall and weighing in at two hundred and forty pounds in his prime, it wasn’t Tony’s girth which earned him his nickname. Late again for a training session he reasoned: “Hey…I had two tons of ice to deliver on my way here!”
To get into the shape he craved, Tony wasn’t a frugal eater. He would devour six chickens, lashings of spaghetti, plus half a gallon of red wine and a case of beer to digestively wash it down. In case he was still hungry, he’d snack on the meals of his sparring partners.
Tony once won a bet he could eat fifty two hotdogs, on the day of his bout against Arthur Dekuh. His coach had to slit his trunks to accommodate an even wider belly. Tony said it took him a while to get his second wind, until he KO’d Arthur in round four with his trademark left hook.
Tony was known for being a dirty fighter in every sense, thumbing his nose at hygiene. Prior to fights he went without bathing for days and munched pickled herring minutes before the opening bell. Max Baer shuddered while remembering: “Tony smelled like rotten tuna and a tub of old Liquor being sweated out.” “Pores” for thought and quite appalling.
A reporter once flippantly asked Tony what he thought of William Shakespeare? Two Ton didn’t bat an eyelid as he snarled: “I just hate them foreign heavyweights!”
Tony’s moment of near glory came when he fought The Brown Bomber Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium in 1939. Tony mercilessly needled the champ in his waddle up to big night:
“Joe who? I’ll molest the bum!” In round one Tony hurt Joe with several left hooks. Joe returned the compliment in round two, slicing open Tony’s mouth, then lifting him up and off his feet with a blistering combination, which dropped Tony to the canvass for the first time in his florid career.
But Tony then felled Joe in round three with a peach of a left hook. Joe got up and lambasted Tony for the impertinence. The Referee stopped it in round four and Tony’s cut man Whitey Bimstein had to work feverishly to get the big guy into some sort of condition to leave the ring under his own steam.
Fast forward almost five decades to heavyweight icon Iron Mike Tyson. Previous fighters had adopted the Iron, namely James William Hague who was British heavyweight champion, or a ferrous variation with Man of Steel Tony Zale, who came from the steel town of Gary, Indiana.
At his peak Mike Tyson was a lean, mean fighting machine rather than muscle bound statuesque. Not an inch of flab or excess flesh, that we all too often see on the big men which make some of them tubby, portly, flabby and downright fat! Surely not a fitting epithet or even “Epifat” for a top athlete! In those early years anyone fighting Iron Mike, was stepping into a blast furnace, receiving molten hammer blows. Most melted.
In contrast “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom who was light heavyweight champion, had 298 fights, many of which went the full distance. Of his 207 wins, only 19 came by way of KO. Nicknamed by a journalist, due to his open glove style, Maxie tenderly insisted: “I didn`t want to hurt nobody, just smack em around and let em know who`s boss!”
Archie Moore, who’s the longest reigning light heavyweight champion from December 1952 to May 1962, and the only man to have fought both Rocky Marciano and a young Cassius Clay. In an era when birth certificates were a superfluous financial luxury, was he born either on December 13th 1913 or 1916? He was known as Ageless Archie. But his main nickname was the Mongoose… Why?
Possibly it was to do with Archie’s uncanny way of knocking them out one after the other. In the course of his two hundred and twenty fights he racked up one hundred and thirty two KOs. It’s a record which will stand forever, and probably doesn’t include some of the early bootleg bouts. Archie KO’d Billy Sims in round two of his official debut in 1935. He hung up his gloves after a TKO victory over Mike DiBase in 1963.
In his marvelous book the Big Punchers, the late great scribe and maestro commentator Reg Gutteridge says a young Archie used to practice shadow boxing holding two of his Auntie’s flat irons. After that gloves were like gossamer. Covering his fists of natural granite-like hue, on the end of those brawny arms. He also used to do a handstand and walk around the block on his huge hands. With his decades in boxing, Archie developed a well-honed sense of exquisite timing, using reflexes akin to a mongoose stalking a King Cobra. Reg writes that opponents would be dispatched with what seemed like little more than a clip. But so very deceptive, because those guided missiles only traveled a few inches to land on the button. An economy of power, brilliantly utilized by the KO King of them all.
Roberto Duran, another all-time Great, well earned the nickname Hands of Stone. Roberto fought from 1968-2001, won world titles in four weight divisions and KO’d seventy opponents. The argument still rages whether he or Benny Leonard was the greatest lightweight of all time. I think Roberto edges it in the power department.
Hulking Chuck Wepner who stands six feet five inches tall, rejoiced in the nickname The Bayonne Bleeder. Durable Chuck absorbed everything opponents could throw and inflict upon his homely visage during his boxing career. A once time bouncer as well as a liquor salesmen, many thought Chuck had his fill, after fearlessly encountering Sonny Liston, when Charles` in his final fight in 1970 KO`d him in ten. It took seventy stitches to close Chuck’s wounds. He also suffered a broken cheek bone. Broken in face but never in spirit, Chuck ruefully recalls: “Before the Liston fight I mistakenly thought I was the Enforcer and I learned otherwise!”
Lesser mortals would have retired then and there, but Chuck challenged heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali for the title in 1975. His aim was to withstand the blast and last the distance. His titanic efforts were set to film with the classic Rocky. Chuck decked Ali in the ninth with a huge right to the body. The Greatest insisted that Chuck had upended him by accidentally stepping on his toes.
In that gloriously unlikely moment Chuck joyfully but prematurely yelled at his manager Al Braverman: “Al start the car. We`re going to the bank!!! We`re going to be millionaires.” To which Al laconically replied: “You better turn around. He`s getting up and oh boy he looks pissed off!”
Annoyed Ali then cut loose, carved up Chuck over both eyes and broke his nose, but Chuck somehow, goodness knows how dug deep and fought on. Finally, the ultimate heartache, when Chuck who by now was exhausted, hit the canvass in the fifteenth and final round. The Referee counted until seven, before stepping in and mercifully saving him. So near but so far. He’d been stopped just nineteen seconds before the bell would have tolled.
Pride of Guyana Andrew “Six Heads” Lewis, was WBA welterweight champion. Years before this, aged just seven at an amateur tournament in Georgetown he recalled: “I knocked down the other boy twice in the first round and twice in the second. The Referee asked him if he wanted to continue, and he declined, muttering: “No, I see six heads in front on me.””
Last but by no means least on this shortlist, is Lloyd Honeyghan who won the undisputed welterweight title off Donald Lone Star Cobra in Atlantic City on September 27th 1986. Enterprising Lloyd bet five thousand dollars on himself to win by stoppage and pocketed thirty grand, because Donald who was cut on the lips and above both eyes could not continue after round six.
Previous to all this, Lloyd had sauntered into a press conference rather too casually attired, to which the sharply dressed champion icily inquired: “Who is this ragamuffin?!” Jamaican born Lloyd loved the rag tag. Over there it means a cool, street wise dude.