By Steven J. Canton
Perhaps no other sport in the world produces so many picturesque, colorful, zany, unforgettable names as those used by professional boxers. There are animals, birds, insects, Acopy cat” names, geographical names, destructive names, and catastrophic names...in short...descriptive names that somehow fitted the boxers properly.
For example, let’s look at ANIMAL names, as we stroll through memory lane:
- ARCHIE “OLD MONGOOSE” MOORE: Oldest fighter to ever win a world title at age 39 (before George Foreman). Was light heavyweight champion longer than anyone (nine years and one month), and knocked out more fighters than anyone in history (anywhere from 131-145, depending on the source). Member of boxing’s Hall of Fame.
- MICKEY “TOY BULLDOG” WALKER: Welterweight and middleweight champion. He also fought twice for the light heavyweight title. One of the greats in boxing and member of the Hall of Fame.
- JAKE “BRONX BULL” LaMOTTA: Great middleweight champ. Had six classic fights with Ray Robinson. Elected to the boxing Hall of Fame in 1985.
- TIGER FLOWERS: Member of boxing’s Hall of Fame. Won the world middleweight championship from the great Harry Greb. Died at
the age of 32 from the effects of an operation. Was also known as the “Georgia Deacon”.
- DICK TIGER: Two-time middleweight and also light heavyweight champion, from Nigeria. “Fighter of the Year” in 1962 and 1965. Member of Hall of Fame. Died at the age of 42 from liver cancer.
- TIGER JACK FOX: Was a top light heavyweight who fought all the best fighters from 1932-1950, engaging in 147 total bouts.
- “GORILLA” JONES: Middleweight champion in 1932. Had 145 bouts and was never knocked out.
- LUIS ANGEL FIRPO “THE WILD BULL OF THE PAMPAS”: Had the famous fight with Jack Dempsey, knocking him out of the ring before
getting stopped in the 2nd round. Was the first Argentinean to fight for a world title.
- MARVIN CAMEL: The first world cruiserweight champion, and first Native American world champion, winning the title in 1980. The new division was created in 1979 but Camel and Mate Parlov fought to a 15 round draw so they had to do it again, before Camel won the title.
- TONY “THE TIGER” LOPEZ: Popular junior lightweight champ from Sacramento, California. Known for his aggressive, non-stop style.
- BILLY FOX: Started his career with 43 consecutive knockouts, (second most in boxing history). Was unsuccessful in two attempts for the light heavyweight title against Gus Lesnevich in 1947 and 1948.
- RALPH “TIGER” JONES: One of the best middleweights during the 1950's. He spoiled Ray Robinson’s comeback in 1955, winning a 10 round decision.
- CLEVELAND “BIG CAT” WILLIAMS: One of the top heavyweights during the 1950's and 60's.
- STANLEY “KITTEN” HAYWOOD: A popular welter and junior middleweight of the 60's, lost in a bid for the world junior middleweight title to Fred Little by a 15 round decision in 1969.
- FRANK “THE ANIMAL” FLETCHER: Southpaw middleweight from Philadelphia, always in crowd pleasing fights from 1976 through the mid 80's.
- JOHN “THE BEAST” MUGABI: Started his career in 1980 with 25 consecutive knockouts, then lost by
- GLENWOOD “THE REAL BEAST” BROWN: Turned pro in 1986 after winning the New York Golden Gloves 139 lbs. Title. Was unsuccessful in two attempts at the world welterweight title against Maurice Blocker and Meldric Taylor. Did win the IBO world middleweight title.
- GENE “MAD DOG” HATCHER: Boxing would not be complete without a mad dog...and a good one too. Was world junior welterweight champ, from Fort Worth, Texas, winning the title by beating Johnny Bumphus by an 11th round T.K.O.
- JACK “KID” WOLFE: The first world Jr. featherweight champion, winning the title in 1922. He lost his title the following year and the title fell into obscurity until re-introduced in 1976.
K.O. in a great fight with Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title. Later won world junior middleweight championship.
Jack “Kid” Wolfe
20. GENE “HONEY BEAR” BRYANT: Popular middleweight contender during the 1960's.
There has also been an interesting array of “Bird” and “Insect” fighters, who have entertained boxing fans for years. Among them are:
- AARON “THE HAWK” PRYOR: Great junior welterweight champion from Cincinnati, Ohio. Had two memorable fights with Alexis Arguello, winning both by K.O. in 1982 and 1983. Elected to Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996.
- MARLIN STARLING: Known as the “Magic Man,” from Hartford, Connecticut; won the world welterweight title by knocking out Mark Breland, a former gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics, but was unsuccessful in a try for the middleweight title against Michael Nunn.
- BRUCE FINCH: Top welterweight from Las Vegas, turned pro in 1973, was NABF Champion, but lost in a try for the world title against Sugar Ray Leonard. Fought all the best fighters of his day.
- CARLTON SPARROW: Junior lightweight, also from Las Vegas. Was top ranking when stopped by Roger Mayweather in an excellent fight in 1982. With two top fighters, Las Vegas must surely be for the birds...
- ALEX “BIRDMAN” BYRD: Started his career in 1981. Hailing from Detroit; was a good lightweight but couldn’t understand how he got his nickname.
- FREDDIE ROACH: This Las Vegas lightweight contender during the late 1970's and 1980's was the best from a family of fighting Roaches. He was an exciting fighter, but had a tendency to cut easily. Has established himself as a top trainer after his retirement.
- SPIDER WEBB: One of the top middleweights during the 1950's. He fought all of the best fighters of his day and had one title attempt, losing a 15 round decision to Gene Fullmer in 1959.
8. TOMMY “SPIDER” KELLY: One of the first bantamweight champions, winning the title in 1890. He was from New York City.
Tommy “Spider” Kelly
Sometimes a fighter only had one name, but he used it twice...for example:
- TONY ANTHONY: One of the top light heavyweights during the 1950's. He was stopped in the seventh round by Archie Moore in his only attempt for a world title in 1957.
- HENRY HANK: Detroit middleweight contender for many years: was known for playing possum when hit, falling into the ropes, then coming back with a tremendous left
hook and a big smile on his face. He fought for the light heavyweight title in 1963, losing a 15 round decision to Eddie Cotton.
Boxing history has also given us a:
- SMALL MONTANA: He was small (Flyweight champ from 1935-1937) but never fought in Montana. He was from the Philippine Islands.
- ROCKY KANSAS: Lightweight champ 1925-1926. He neither lived nor fought in Kansas. He was born in Buffalo, New York, fought most of his 165 fights in that city, and died there in 1954.
Everybody knows that the “Man of Steel” is Superman. Actually, the real “Man of Steel” is TONY ZALE, the former great middleweight champ from Gary, Indiana. Tony, a member of boxing’s Hall of Fame, had three tremendous battles with Rocky Graziano, winning two of them. He was champ from 1941 - 1947, then won back and lost his title again in 1948, before retiring after 87 bouts.
The first boxing gloves were used in 1743, in England. At the time, they were known as mufflers. They were used strictly for teaching boxing by the then champion, Jack Broughton. The first time they were used in a title bout was 149 years later, when John L. Sullivan lost his heavyweight title to Gentleman Jim Corbett on September 7, 1892 via a 21 round K.O. Sullivan had been the first American world champion.
Sometimes two different fighters with the same name have won world titles at different times. Perhaps it began with the first Jack Dempsey back in the 1880's. Fighters since then who adopted those names hoped to be destined for greatness too!
- JACK DEMPSEY “THE NONPAREIL”: Was the first middleweight champion, winning the title in 1884. He was born in Ireland. He died at the age of 32. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1954.
- JACK DEMPSEY “THE MANASSA MAULER”: Won the heavyweight title from Jess Willard and became one of the most popular fighters ever before losing to Gene Tunney. Also elected to the Hall of Fame in 1954. Owned his famous restaurant in New York City, until his death in 1983, at the age of 87.
- JOE WALCOTT “THE BARBADOS DEMON”: One of the greats. Was welterweight champ 1901-1904. Killed in 1935 when struck by an automobile at the age of
- “JERSEY” JOE WALCOTT: Oldest fighter to ever win the heavyweight championship at age 37 (before George Foreman). Member of Hall of Fame. After retirement he became a referee and chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission.
- DAVEY MOORE: Won the world featherweight title in 1959. He was a classic boxer and puncher. Tragically
62. Member of Boxing’s Hall of Fame.
he died in a fight with Sugar Ramos, when he lost his title in 1963.
- DAVEY MOORE: Won the world junior middleweight title in 1982 in his ninth pro fight. He made three successful defenses before losing his title to the great Roberto Duran. He was crushed to death when an unoccupied vehicle rolled down his driveway and ran him over as he tried to stop it.
- JACK SHARKEY: Engaged in 168 bouts from 1915 until 1925, as a bantamweight. Twice lost 15 round decisions for world championships.
- JACK SHARKEY: Heavyweight champion from 1932-1933. Elected to Hall of Fame in 1980. He had lost to Max Schmeling two years prior to winning the title by a foul in the fourth round. He won the title in a rematch by 15 round decision.
The list of “Natural Disaster Fighters” is also interesting:
- RUBIN “HURRICANE” CARTER: Top middleweight contender during the 1960's, he lost a 15 round decision for the title against Joey Giardello.
- TOMMY “HURRICANE” JACKSON: Heavyweight contender during the 1950's. Lost in a bid for the title against Floyd Patterson, in a savage bout in 1957. This was Patterson’s first title defense.
- AL “EARTHQUAKE” CARTER: Excellent lightweight during the late 70's and 80's, from Alliance, Ohio.
- EUGENE “CYCLONE” HART: A popular middleweight from Philadelphia during the 1960's.
- “LIGHTNING” LONNIE SMITH: From Denver, Colorado, he turned pro in 1980 and won the world junior welterweight championship. He was known for his quick boxing style and unorthodox moves.
- “STORMIN” NORMAN GOINS: Lightweight contender from Indianapolis, Indiana. Had two memorable fights with Aaron Pryor and Howard Davis Jr., losing both.
7. GABRIEL “FLASH” ELORDE: Great southpaw champion from the Philippines. Fought from 1951-1971. Won world junior lightweight title in 1960. Had two unsuccessful attempts for the lightweight title losing both times via 14th round T.K.O. to the great Carlos Ortiz.
ORLANDO ZULUETA, was a top ranked lightweight, from Cuba, during the 1950's. He was known as “The fighter with knives in his gloves,” because his opponents always seemed to get cut. Tragically, Zulueta was stabbed to death outside a San Francisco bar in 1971. He was only 45 at the time.
HERE’S A LIST OF “DESTROYER” FIGHTERS.”
- JOE LOUIS “THE BROWN BOMBER”: One of the greatest fighters of all time. Was a world champion longer than anyone in history, in any weight class; over 11 years and 8 months.
- ROCKY MARCIANO ATHE BROCKTON BLOCKBUSTER”: Retired with a perfect 49-0 with 43 by
- K.O. record as heavyweight champion in 1956. Tragically killed in an airplane crash August 31, 1969, the day before his 46th birthday.
- THOMAS “HIT MAN” HEARNS: First fighter in history to be a world champion six different times! He is from Detroit and was also known as “The Motor City Cobra.”
- RAY “BOOM BOOM” MANCINI: From Youngstown, Ohio, he won the lightweight title in 1982. Was known
for his aggressive, hard punching style.
- ROBERT “BAM BAM” HINES: A Philadelphia southpaw world junior middleweight champion. He started his career in 1981 as a junior welterweight.
- RAFAEL “BAZOOKA” LIMON: Was a two-time junior lightweight champion from Mexico City. He began his career in 1972. He was a southpaw who displayed tremendous courage and was always in crowd pleasing fights.
- OSCAR “SHOTGUN” ALBARADO: Began his career in 1966 and won the junior middleweight title via a 15th round K.O., in Tokyo, in 1974.
- JAMES “BONECRUSHER” SMITH: He was one of the few fighters to lose his first fight by K.O. then win a world title later in his career. He was the only heavyweight champion who was a college graduate.
- MICHAEL “DYNAMITE” DOKES: He won the heavyweight title by K.O. over Mike Weaver in 1982 but lost it the following year to Gerrie Coetzee, of South Africa.
- TONY “TNT” TUCKER: Started his career in 1980 after a great amateur career. He won a version of the heavyweight title, but then lost via 12 round decision to Mike Tyson.
These fighters had familiar names but the same names as personalities in other career fields. For instance:
Most everybody knows that JIMMY CARTER was the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia who became President of the United States. But, did you know that the other JIMMY CARTER was a great lightweight champion? In 1954, he became the first fighter to hold the same world title three different times. He fought from 1946 until retiring in 1961 after a total of 120 bouts.
JOHNNY PAYCHECK was a country singer who was in and out of trouble with the law for years. He was best known for his hit song ATake this Job and Shove It.” However, the other JOHNNY PAYCHEK was well known to boxing fans long before that. He was a popular heavyweight in the 1930's who once fought Joe Louis for the title in 1940, losing by 2nd round K.O.
Sports fans know that DUANE THOMAS was a great running back for the Dallas Cowboys football team, but did you know that another DUANE THOMAS was a world junior middleweight champion from Detroit about 12 years later?
JACKIE WILSON was a well known singer from Detroit in the 1950's and 60's. Perhaps, you will recall his biggest hit, “Lonely Teardrop.” JACKIE WILSON, the fighter, was long retired, after 122 fights from 1931-1947. He was good enough to have won the world featherweight championship during his career.
Everyone, whether or not a boxing fan, knows DON KING, the boxing promoter with the eye-catching hairdo, but how many know DON KING the middleweight fighter from Indianapolis during the 1980's? He was not a great fighter but did fight Duane Thomas for the USBA junior middleweight title in 1983.
During the 1960's and 70's AL MARTINO, an excellent singer, was hitting with such songs as “Spanish Eyes,” “I Love You More and More Everyday,” “Painted, Tainted Rose,” and many many more. During the 1980's another AL MARTINO was getting hit by such fighters as top contender Johnny De La Rosa. Martino was a so-so lightweight southpaw, from Washington D.C., a good boxer, but no punch.
RICHARD BURTON was one of the great movie stars of all time but his counterpart in boxing was a decent middleweight from Kingston, Jamaica, fighting out of New York during the 1980's. He lost to Mustafa Hamsho in 1986 after he had won 12 of his previous 14 fights, 10 by K.O. He had a 40-2 amateur record, including a New York Golden Gloves title.
When we hear the name BILLY GRAHAM we think of the great evangelist, who is known all over the world. Boxing fans however, probably remember the BILLY GRAHAM who was the great welterweight and middleweight who fought from 1941 until 1955. He had 102 victories and 9 draws out of 126 total bouts and fought such fighters as Kid Gavilan, Carmen Basilio, and Joey Giardello.
Music listeners of the 1950's remember JOHNNY RAY and his ballads, such as AThe Little Cloud That Cried.” Boxing fans remember JOHNNY RAY from 1913-1924 and his 138 fights against the top flyweights, bantamweights, and featherweights of his day. Some of the names he fought were a who’s who of boxing’s immortals...Johnny Dundee, Johnny Kilbane, George K.O. Chaney, Rocky Kansas, just to name a few.
To baseball fans, the name PEPPER MARTIN brings back memories of the 1931 St. Louis Cardinals Gas House Gang and the classic world series that year. To boxing fans, the name PEPPER MARTIN brings back memories of a great junior lightweight contender from the 1920's who lost two world title fights by 15 round decisions in 1924 and 1925.
Fighting in England in recent years, with limited success, were PAUL NEWMAN, GARY COOPER, RAY PRICE and TOMMY COLLINS. Newman and Cooper, of course, were otherwise known as brilliant actors, while Price and Collins were fixtures in Nashville, as a singer and writer/producer.
TOM LANDRY was one of the greatest coaches the game of football ever had. Ironically, TOM LANDRY was also a heavyweight fighter from Beaumont, Texas during the 1980's with a rather nondescript record against mediocre competition. Sometimes, even a famous name does not help.
WILLIE McGEE, an excellent outfielder, made baseball history by winning the National League batting title, while playing in the American League! He was traded during the 1990 season...while leading the league in batting. No one topped his average and he had gotten enough at bats to qualify for the title. WILLIE McGEE may never make boxing history, but nevertheless was a decent middleweight, though he had a mixed bag of wins and losses. McGee fought out of Tampa, Florida. He started his professional career on April Fool’s day in 1983.
JIMMY JONES was a popular singer during the 1950's and 1960's. His biggest hit was “Handy Man.” Back in the 1920's JIMMY JONES was one of the best welterweights in the world, losing in a world title attempt against the great Mickey Walker.
ED “TOO TALL” JONES was a great all-pro defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys. ED “TOO TALL” JONES was also a heavyweight boxer with a 6-0 record, 5 by K.O. in 1979 and 1980. Actually, in this case, it was the same man. Though he was undefeated in his brief career, he realized his skills as a boxer were limited and he returned to the gridiron where he continued to star for the Cowboys.
Following boxing, like following any sport, is a very interesting hobby. They say that great names come and go in any field of life. However, as we have noted above, sometimes the names do not change, only the person with the name. Perhaps some of these names have brought back memories for the boxing fan. Maybe we now have a better understanding what is meant when they say: Athough he is gone, his name lives on!”