Intimidation can come in many different forms — body language, facial expression, rippling muscles, the cold stare that sends chills through another’s backbone — but whatever its manifestation, its objective is the same: to force a crack in the opponent’s psyche through which fear can enter. Every fighter tries to intimidate their opponent, but these are the men who developed it into an art form, causing foes to either lose all confidence before the opening bell, and thus the fight, or to avoid facing them altogether.
12. Iran Barkley: A former street gang member, Barkley’s face was a dark visage of total menace. Prior to the opening bell, “The Blade” would pace and prowl, eager for combat, before fixing his opponent with a stare that could freeze water.
11. Carlos Monzon: A true macho man, this Argentinian brawler brought to bear the attitude of both a genuine street tough and a champion of unshakable confidence. Not to mention, a cannon of a right hand. As Tyson himself put it: “I always loved Carlos Monzón. He was a tough guy, for real, a guy from the streets. He didn’t talk much. He didn’t need to. The ring belonged to him…”
10. Thomas Hearns: First the incredibly tall (for a welterweight) “Motor City Cobra” would look down and fix you with that intense stare of his. Then he’d show you his right fist, the same fist that cold-cocked a long list of tough champions including Roberto Duran and Pipino Cuevas. Then you’d be wishing you were at home, fast asleep. Then, suddenly, you were.
9. Bob Foster: It took eight long years before Foster got a shot at the light-heavyweight title. Why? No one wanted to fight him. A tall, long-armed sharp-shooter, Foster’s wicked left hook and icy stare caused many a champion and contender to take a pass.
8. Stanley Ketchel: A true destroyer of the ring, “The Michigan Assassin” brought a cold-eyed glare, a contemptuous sneer, and one of the hardest right hands in boxing history into the ring, and when facing the total package, his opponents felt more than a bit weak in the knees.
7. Marvelous Marvin Hagler: With his shaved head and perpetual snarl, Hagler struck fear in the hearts of men, making it that much easier for him to run them out of the ring. That is, when he got the chance to fight them. For years, top contenders and champions in the middleweight division did everything they could to avoid facing the Marvelous One.
6. Joe Louis: “The Brown Bomber” didn’t have to work too hard at intimidating people; his record and reputation accomplished that all by themselves. One of the most fearsome punchers in boxing history, Louis left a path of destruction that unnerved all the heavyweights of his day. Add his cold, distant stare and unflappable demeanor and many of Joe’s opponents were searching for the exits before the first round got underway.
5. George Foreman: Big and bad, Foreman learned from Liston before him that all you had to do was not talk too much, not change your facial expression, and stare your opponent down and you’d gain the psychological upper hand. Of course it also helps if you’re 6’3″, one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, and have a long line of comatose heavyweights behind you.
4. Jack Dempsey: Dempsey’s reputation for ring ferocity preceded him and proceeded to leave many of his opponents with a sudden urge to pack up and go home. Bolstered by his scowling visage, this intimidating reputation no doubt had much to do with “The Manassa Mauler” racking up an astonishing 60 first round knockouts (including exhibition matches).
3. Roberto Duran: “Manos de Piedra,” or Hands of Stone, gave off such an unmistakable aura of ferocity and violence that it unnerved even the most talented of boxers. Sporting a sneer of contempt, and black eyes that could bore holes into people’s heads, he compiled no fewer than 21 first round knockouts, a tribute, at least in part, to his image as a savage maniac bent on destruction. Joe Frazier was asked once if Duran reminded him of anyone. “Yeah,” said Smokin’ Joe. “Charles Manson.”
2. Sonny Liston: An ex-con, a rumoured leg-breaker for the mob-controlled unions, an associate of Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo, Liston had intimidation down to a science. In addition to his reputation and underworld connections, he sported a massive physique and perhaps the best poker face of all-time.
1. Mike Tyson: Iron Mike’s talent for terrifying his opponents is legendary. With his muscular physique, malevolent glare and a ring costume of nothing but black trunks and shoes, he looked the part of a homicidal henchman from some dark lair of the underworld. In short, for most of his career, he was incredibly intimidating. Proof? Tyson’s 94 second demolition of a terrified Michael Spinks; Frank Bruno walking to the ring as if it were the gallows; or consider that more than half of Tyson’s 44 career knockouts took place in the first round.