There’s confident, and then there’s cocky, the former being expected of any prizefighter with the guts to step into the ring, but the latter taking confidence and turning it into a spectacle, a display of verbal boldness or dramatic brassiness designed to impress and intimidate. Here are the 12 most arrogant boxers, the pugilists whose demonstrations of disdain for their opponents, or overbearing presumption regarding their own abilities, set them apart from their merely confident competitors.
12. Benny Leonard: “The Ghetto Wizard” was an early practitioner of the cleverest psychological ploys and projecting an aura of supreme confidence was one of them. His fans cheered with glee when, just before exiting the ring after another victory, Leonard smoothed a hand over his undisturbed coiffure, cockily showing for all to see that his vanquished opponent couldn’t even muss up his hair.
11. Pernell Whitaker: “Sweet Pea,” one of the greatest boxers of the last thirty years or more, and one of the very best southpaws of all time, knew exactly how good he was and didn’t shy away from letting people know. Rightfully proud of his defensive prowess, he once boasted that if he “didn’t want God to hit [him], He wouldn’t.”
10. Ricardo Mayorga: Whether or not “El Matador” had the skills to compete with the very best didn’t prevent him from displaying arrogance fit for a boxing king. Showing nothing but contempt for his opponents, Mayorga would offer the most vile insults between puffs on a cigarette, his smoking a demonstration of his complete lack of respect. His cockiness expressed itself in the ring via a wanton disregard for his own safety as he routinely dropped his hands and purposely let fighters such as Vernon Forrest and Felix Trinidad tag him at will.
9. Wilfred Benitez: In his prime this Puerto Rican phenom, dubbed “The Bible of Boxing,” fully embodied Latin arrogance, his haughty demeanor and sneers of contempt, not to mention some all-time great staredowns, working to either enrage his opponents or unsettle their nerves. Such was his cockiness, he rarely deigned to train seriously, regarding such strenuous activity as completely unnecessary. Amazingly, during his best years, he was usually correct.
8. Roberto Duran: For years the very image of Latin machismo and cockiness, Duran liked to boast of how he could not only defeat his rivals but also put them in the morgue. His contemptuous sneer became as much a part of his ring arsenal as his blistering right hand and once he had mastered his opponents he enjoyed taunting them as he did Sugar Ray Leonard in their first fight, pointing at his chin and daring Ray to hit him.
7. Roy Jones Jr. From playing competitive basketball on the same day he defended a world title, to recording his own rap songs celebrating his pugilistic feats, to verbally dismissing all opponents, Jones was nothing if not the cockiest dude around in the 1990s. And for so long, he could back his brashness up with one lopsided win after another.
6. Hector Camacho: In the early years, “Macho” Camacho developed an unrivaled knack for the preening and posturing of a most cocky young fighter. With his crazy costumes, flamboyant style, and shouts of “It’s Macho Time!” the young Camacho displayed a distinct brand of Puerto Rican cockiness. He became a bit more humble after Edwin Rosario and Julio Cesar Chavez got done with him, but by then he had earned his spot on this list.
5. Floyd Mayweather Jr. “Money Mayweather” took the art of overbearing arrogance to new lows with his Youtube rants, burning money in public, race-baiting and homophobic comments, not to mention his flouting of the rules of the sport with his cheap shots of Gatti and Ortiz. And then immediately after his ring performances we got his trash-talk interviews where he mocked everyone, verbally abused 80-year-old men, and declared himself the greatest fighter of all time. Classy? No. Cocky? You bet.
4. Naseem Hamed: From his unrivaled ring entrances, to his tiger-stripe or leopard-spot trunks, to his gyrating hips, to his penchant for talking of himself in the third person, the career of “The Prince” depended as much on his cocky, strutting style as it did on his crushing punching power. So much so, that after he suffered his first loss, a one-sided drubbing courtesy of Marco Antonio Barrera, he was finished as a prizefighter, his supply of cocky confidence gone for good, along with his career.
3. John L. Sullivan: The last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing and the first of the gloved era, Sullivan epitomized boxing cockiness with his famous boast: “I can lick any sonofabitch in the house!” The first great American sports hero, for a decade he ruled with impunity and his success bred a special brand of cockiness that added to his larger-than-life persona.
2. Jack Johnson: “The Galveston Giant” became the first black heavyweight champion of the world and perhaps no other man had the required nerve to assume such a conspicuous position and endure all the hatred and ill-will directed his way by an entire country. Johnson’s unshakable belief in his own abilities allowed him to succeed in the face of such animosity, just as his verbal eloquence and sarcastic mocking of his opponents drove his legion of detractors crazy.
1. Muhammad Ali: No boxer, before or since, elevated so dramatically the whole idea of being cocky. Whether, as Cassius Clay, correctly predicting the round he would stop an opponent, or as Ali, proudly proclaiming himself “the greatest of all times,” and verbally demolishing his competition in the build-up to a fight, “The Louisville Lip” personified cockiness and in the process made himself the biggest attraction in boxing.
Honorable Mentions: James J. Corbett, Tyson Fury, Adrien Broner, James Toney, Bernard Hopkins, Andre Ward, Larry Holmes, Jorge Paez, Joe Grim, Vinny Pazienza, Paulie Malignaggi, Mike Tyson, Adonis Stevenson, Battling Siki, Chris Eubank Sr.