Professional boxers acquire their monikers in many ways, but some of are pretty strange and might make you wonder “What were they smoking?” Keep in mind that boxers rarely pick their own nicknames. It’s generally considered bad form and even arrogance. One notable exception is Muhammad Ali, but The Champ was considered brash and arrogant when first he proclaimed “I am the Greatest.” However, Ali backed up his claims and in time, just about everyone agreed he was the Greatest. Ali was also known as The Louisville Lip for his penchant for mouthing off and arguing with opponents and sportscasters. These are my choices for the top five worst in the history of boxing because I think the nicknames aren’t doing any justice to the boxer:
Kid Chocolate (say choc-o-lotte) was a 1930s Cuban boxer who won the Jr. Lightweight championship in July of 1931, as well as New York’s featherweight title in 1932. His real name was Eligio Sardiñias y Montalvo. Kid is a common enough boxing nickname and Eligio was not the first or last boxer to be called Chocolate either. There’s a middleweight, Peter Quillin, who is called the new Kid Chocolate (say choc-o-lit), so why was Eligio’s nickname one of the worst? He was called the Cuban Bon Bon. Kid Chocolate was often criticized for his wild party ways during his short heyday, but in spite of them, he managed to rack up an impressive record of 136 wins (51 by knockout), 10 losses and 6 draws. The Kid was no creampuff in the ring so can we lose the Bon Bon part?
Sam Langford was an outstanding boxer, also from the early 20th century. Jack Johnson beat him once but refused to take him on again. Jack Dempsey said Sam was the only boxer he feared facing in the ring and he never did. Sam was called the Boston Bonecruncher and the Boston Terror, but was most well-known as the Boston Tar Baby. It’s my guess they meant the harder an opponent tried to fight him, the worse it got for the opponent. The Tar Baby was a doll made of tar and turpentine that Brer Rabbit got stuck to when he punched it in the old Uncle Remus story. When author Toni Morrison wrote a book named “Tar Baby,” her intent was to reclaim the original meaning of the phrase, after witnessing whites calling black children “tar baby” derisively. When I was a kid in the 1950s, people of all colors would use it to refer to someone who had really dark skin. It could be anything from an insult to a term of endearment. Even in his old age, Sam Langford was affectionately referred to as “the old Tar Baby” in Jet Magazine. He was discovered living in poverty and going blind in Harlem and money was raised to help him. Given the history of the phrase, maybe we could go back to calling Sam the Boston Bonecruncher. By the way, Sam didn’t even come from Boston originally. He was from Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Mississippi native, Henry Jackson, Jr. began his boxing career as Melody Jackson. He later switched to Henry Armstrong, and embarked upon a fearsome career which would earn him handles such as Hammerin’ Hank, Hurricane Henry and Homicide Hank. The worst out of these is a toss-up between Melody Jackson and Homicide Hank, but Melody was his real middle name. I guess Homicide Melody would have been the worst. In any event, Homicide is not a good choice for any boxer. Look up Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. Henry Jackson, Jr. holds the distinction of being the only boxer to hold 3 titles at the same time and also, for defending the Welterweight championship more than any other boxer. Maybe they could stick with Hurricane Henry for him.
Next we have all the boxers who have been named after their occupations. I just can’t imagine them wanting to be constantly reminded of some of these jobs. There’s Carmen Basilio a/k/a the Upstate Onion Farmer and Fred Apostoli a/k/a The Boxing Bellhop. Of course, there are exceptions. Even after 13 years in the ring, Tony Thornton, The Punching Postman, worked for the post office in Bellmawr, NJ. Tony passed away after a motorcycle accident in Aug. 2009. He liked his job and was amused by his nickname. Tony once told a reporter: “There were other names, like ‘TKO Tony’ and ‘Thunder Thornton,’ but the ‘Punching Postman’ stuck.” Well, if a boxer doesn’t think his nickname is the worst, who are we to complain? Besides, it really could be worse.
Take Garth Panter, a talented pugilist described by boxing historian, Mike Casey, as “a tough crowding fighter.” Garth was called the Toy Bulldog. When you compare that to Jake LaMotta’s moniker, the Raging Bull–well, it’s just another one of those “what were they smoking?” moments. Garth’s other nicknames, Ol’ One Punch and Mr. Perpetual Motion, were so much better.
It’s a natural thing to have preconceived notions about some words, so perhaps nickname bestowers would do well to consider a boxer’s eventual legacy before handing out nicknames like Prettyboy and Honeychile.
Wikipedia and BoxRec.com
The Mike Casey Archive
The Boxing Register, (4 Ed.) by James B. Robert and Alexander Skutt, McBooks Press, 2006
Jet Magazine, ISSN 0021-5996, Nov 13, 1952