Naming Names in the Fight Game

By Robert Ecksel on August 23, 2011
Naming Names in the Fight Game
Cassius Clay abandoned his “slave name” and would henceforth be known as Cassius X

When people say “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never harm me,” they could not be more wrong…

What is it about boxing? Occasionally in other sports, star athletes are given nicknames that stick. But for every A-Rod and Charlie Hustle, Boomer and Broadway Joe, King James and Air Jordan, there are hundreds of prizefighters, known and unknown, who had a ring moniker, a sobriquet, a nom de guerre that was as colorful as their lives.

Sometimes changing a Christian name to something more suitable seems the most natural thing on earth. Consider, for example, Cassius Clay, first known as the Louisville Lip and the Mouth That Roared. When he defeated big bad Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964, he ran excitedly around the ring declaring, “I’m King of the World, I’m King of the World.” When he calmed down the next day, he soberly announced that he was abandoning his “slave name” and would henceforth be known as Cassius X. That lasted as long as it lasted, before he was anointed Muhammad Ali, before finally settling on The Greatest.

A prefix to a real name sometimes says it all. For example, savor this sextet of sweetheart pugilists: Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Shane Mosley, Sugar Ramos, Sugar Ray Seales, and Sucra Ray Olivera. My mouth waters at the thought of all that talent.

The nicknames used by boxers in Regency and Victorian England set a high historical tone for aliases with punch. A Young Ruffian fought. So did an Old Ruffian. For fans that hungered for action, Beef a la Mode fought, as did Cabbage, Giblet Pie, Young Rump Steak and Catsmeat. Alongside these gents scuffled such well-named notables as No Neck (Duggan), Gallows Dick, Yokel Brute, The Chelsea Snob, Holy Land Pink, Cripplegate and Death.

And let’s not forget the anomalous Fighting Quaker.

Some of the animals who fought in the ring and whose bite was worse than their bark were the Pit Bull, El Terrier, Mad Dog, The Animal, The Cobra, The Old Mongoose (Archie Moore), Bobcat (Bob Foster) and Big Cat (Cleveland Williams). The Wild Bull of the Pampas (Luis Angel Firpo) gave Jack Dempsey fits in 1923. And there were those highflying champs The Hawk (Aaron Pryor) and Game Chicken (Hen Pearce).

Now and again a pugilist’s nickname was an astute summing up of his essence. Consider the Napoleon of the Ring (Jem Belcher), Old Master (Joe Gans), Toy Bulldog (Mickey Walker), Mighty Atom (Jimmy Wilde), Homicide Hank (Henry Armstrong), Human Windmill (Harry Greb), and The Undertaker (Harry Wills). There was Gentleman Jim Corbett, Gorgeous George Carpentier, Terrible Terry McGovern, Two Ton Tony Galento, Hands of Stone (Roberto Duran), and John “The Beast” Mugabi. There was the rags-to-riches Cinderella Man (James Braddock) and the Clown Prince of Boxing (Max Baer). And let us not overlook the incomparable “Slapsy Maxie” Rosenbloom and canvas-loving Fainting Phil Scott.

Our black brothers, especially in the past, were assigned politically incorrect honorifics. Of course there’s the phenomenal Brown Bomber (Joe Louis). One of Joe’s contemporaries was Gorilla Jones. The Black Terror (Bill Richmond) fought in Merry Old England. There was a Young Massa and Old Massa. There was a Kid Chocolate, Little Chocolate, Old Chocolate and Chocolito. The Black Panther (Harry Wills) fought the Boston Tar Baby (Sam Langford) innumerable times. And one of boxing’s pioneers was The Moor (Tom Molyneaux), also known affectionately as Snowball.

Boxing wouldn’t be boxing without the surname Kid. In addition to the aforementioned Kid Chocolate, aka the Cuban Bonbon, there was Kid Gavilan, Kid Broad, Kid Dixie, Kid Francis, Kid Graves, Kid Goodman, Kid Herman, Kid Kaplan, Kid McCoy, Kid McPartland, Kid Murphy and Kid Williams. Other Kids who didn’t kid around were George Kid Lavigne, “Billy the Kid” O’Shea, Hogan Kid Bassey, Jack Kid Berg, Ted Kid Lewis, Benny Kid Paret, The Stringbean Kid, and Young Zulu Kid.

Geography looms large in the history of the fight game. Some hall of fame fighters who put boxing on the map were the Manassa Mauler (Jack Dempsey), Brockton Blockbuster (Rocky Marciano), Bronx Bull (Jake La Motta), Boston Strong Boy (John L. Sullivan), Galveston Giant (Jack Johnson) and Michigan Assassin (Stanley Ketchel).

As we bob and weave our way across America we come across a Nebraska Wildcat, St. Paul Phantom, Livermore Larruper, Herkeimer Hurricane, Milwaukee Marvel, Cincinnati Flash, Kentucky Rosebud, Kansas Rube, Pottawatomie Giant, Easton Assassin, and Bayonne Bleeder. For New Yorkers, there was a Brooklyn Bomber and Brooklyn Billygoat, Harlem Spider and Harlem Harlequin, Astoria Assassin and Flushing Flash, Bronx Beauty, and Brownsville Bum. Jersey Joe Walcott and Philadelphia Jack O’Brien were terrific champs, as were the Pittsburgh Kid (Billy Conn), the Boston Gob (Jack Sharkey), and the Motor City Cobra (Tommy Hearns).

Fighters representing foreign lands fought here and overseas. There was the Light of Israel (English champion Daniel Mendoza) and Croat Comet (low blow artist Fritzie Zivic), as well as the Tipton Slasher, Bristol Unknown, Belfast Spider, Clones Cyclone, Durable Dane, Barbados Demon, Singular Senegalese, Nigerian Nightmare, Basque Woodchopper, Scotch Wop, Australian Hard Rock, and the aptly named Elongated Panamanian.

Taking a swing at the former jobs of old-time fighters in Great Britain, there were pugs known as The Gasman, The Coachman, The Bargeman, The Waterman, The Collier, The Nailer and The Tinman. There was also a Master of Rolls and Sailor Boy, a Knight of the Cleaver and Bath Butcher.

Closer to home we had ragamuffins on street corners hawking the papers: Newsboy Brown, The Fighting Newsboy (Mushy Callahan) and Abe the Newsboy (Hollandersky). There was a Georgia Shoeshine Boy (Beau Jack), Boilermaker and Fighting Marine (heavyweight champions Jim Jeffries and Gene Tunney). The Man of Steel (Tony Zale from Gary, Indiana) had nerves of steel. And no list of singular ring monikers would be complete without the Upstate Onion Farmer (macho Carmen Basilio from Canastota) and The Fighting Dentist (Leech Cross from the Lower East Side), who knocked out teeth at night and replaced them the next day.

When people say “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never harm me,” they could not be more wrong.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Anita Halstead 08:19am, 03/07/2014

    My dad was a street boxer in Baltimore,I think he fought under the nam Kayo Brown? His legal last name was Valenti,it could of been Valenti Brown, he worked at Bethlehem steel at the time!any info that you have would be so appreciated !,thank you

  2. Eric 04:56am, 05/26/2013

    Some of my favorite fighters included “The Bellflower Belter” aka Jerry Quarry, “The Camden Buzzsaw” aka Dwight Muhammad Qawi. And then you had the late 60’s trial horse who fought everyone from Sonny Liston, Jerry Quarry, Joe Frazier, to Joe Bugner named George “Scrap Iron” Johnson. This guy’s list of opponents rival even Ali’s for that time period. Wasn’t Roger Mayweather “The Black Mamba?” Stepping away from boxing and throwing in some of my favorite Baltimore sports teams nicknames Don “The Bowling Ball” Nottingham, of course Johnny U, Ted Hendricks aka “The Mad Stork,” “Human Vacuum Cleaner” Brooks Robinson, “The Duke of Earl” Earl Weaver, Earl the Pearl Monroe with the old defunct Baltimore Bullets.

  3. Michael Hegan 03:36pm, 05/22/2013

    love to see an article on Basilio…..tuff little fkr…..beat Robinson…clean and fair…little guy beats p4p greatest

  4. Michael Hegan 03:32pm, 05/22/2013

    leonard got a rematch with Duran….and that is another story altogether….

    I notice leonard didn’t give Hearns a rematch until there was another solar eclipse…and he wouldn’t give Hagler a rematch at all.

    leonard was a cherry picking prima donna who could fight some I know he’s the USA darling ......but he hosed a lot of guys….Aaron Pryor for one….

  5. Iron Beach 03:31am, 08/24/2011

    That was a fun read Mr. Ecksel, several guys I hadn’t thought of in quite awhile…Thanks.

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