What’s in a Nickname?
By Eric Coronado Jr: Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “At present our only true names are nicknames… Some travelers tell us that an Indian had no name given him at first, but earned it, and his name was his fame; and among some tribes he acquired a new name with every new exploit. It is pitiful when a man bears a name for convenience merely, who has earned neither name nor fame.”
Modern boxing fans are, of course, reminded of Floyd Mayweather’s ditching of his “Pretty Boy” moniker in favor of “Money,” and indeed, there is no better example of a fighter’s exploits inside and outside of the ring shaping the public perception of them. Love him or hate him, his motivation is always clear, and his sort of rebranding reflects that in full.
Like Native Americans from ages passed, a fighter’s nickname is earned through their exploits rather than an arbitrary social practice, and these exploits do not necessarily have to be inside the squared circle. Case in point; Muhammad Ali, AKA, The Greatest. You’d be hard pressed to find any real boxing fan who would consider Ali the best boxer of all time, yet his nickname stands. Not because of his skill in the ring or his record. Though his status as The Greatest would certainly not hold had he not been supremely gifted, the real reason that Ali is remembered and honored in the boxing world is because of his exploits outside of the boxing ring in addition to his feats within it. He’s recognized as The Greatest because he was a boxer who was also a civil rights leader, a humanitarian, and an entertainer. Ali used his influence as an athlete to speak on a variety of topics, which in turn boosted ticket sales. He influenced generations of African Americans, and aspiring fighters. He fought against The Man, and sacrificed his prime years to prove a point. Similar to Mayweather, whether people wanted to see him win or lose, they were paying for it. By becoming something more than just a boxer, Ali claimed his title of “The Greatest.”
Contrarily, perhaps the most coveted nickname in boxing, the legendary “Sugar,” is another great example, but one that has been earned through skill in combat. Widely accepted as the greatest pugilist who ever lived, “Sugar” Ray Robinson earned his nickname when an observer of one of his fights mentioned to his manager, George Gainford, that he was a “sweet” fighter. Gainford replied, “sweet as sugar,” and the rest is history. Ironically, Sugar Ray Robinson’s birth name, Walker Smith Jr. was never used after Robinson borrowed a fellow boxer’s Amateur Athletic Union card to compete, so in reality, his ring moniker was his entire identity. The nickname was proceeded in use by Sugar Ray Leonard, and later, the less deserving, but still talented Shane Mosley.
Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini inherited his nickname from his father, Lenny, who was also a great fighter before being injured at war. Though Ray is thought to be more refined, they were both sluggers who could pop. “Manos de Piedra” or “Hands of Stone,” and “Iron” perfectly define the great power punchers Roberto Duran and Mike Tyson, respectively. The list goes on and on, but the point is that nicknames in boxing serve to illustrate, define, or represent the true identity of the fighter they’re attached to. They can acknowledge a fighter’s accomplishments, skills, and talents, (Maravilla, Filipino Flash) or an alternate ego that comes to life under the bright lights (The Bronze Bomber, Cuban Hawk). They can come from obvious or humble beginnings (Canelo, Chocolatito), or from fantastic displays of ferocity (Hitman, Lights Out). I can think of no greater honor than being called by a name earned, rather than given. What are your favorite nicknames?