The sport of boxing is a serious one, no doubt about it. Each and every time the brave warriors we call prizefighters step between the ropes, they know and we know they are quite literally putting their very lives on the line. It’s a truly amazing ability being able to do this. Yet what must a fighting man be made of if he can welcome this task while at the same time being able to throw out a joke, being able to welcome the heat of battle with a huge dose of humour?
It may well have been a case of releasing the building pressure, of putting the nerves in place, but throughout history certain quite incredible fighters were indeed able to laugh in the face of danger, to laugh at their opponent, at their critics, even at themselves. Today, where are such characters? We have vocally proficient fighters like Tyson Fury, sure, but where are the crossovers: pro fighters who were as equally adapt at comedy, of making an audience smile, laugh out loud, as they were at beating their ring rival?
Maybe we need some laughs today?
Here’s a look back at some of the finest fighters who were also fine mirthmakers:
The King: Randy “Tex” Cobb.
Cobb, a helluva tough guy who had a chin cast from iron, was also/is also (“I had some great memories taken from me, so they tell me – I guess I’ll find out how many in time”) a superb joker and later a raconteur. Some of Cobb’s finest lines include:
“Rocky Marciano? He was a tough dude, and you wouldn’t wanna be in a bar fight with him. He’d fight night and day and still wouldn’t have had enough. A whole britches full of nasty.”
“Larry Holmes, a fine American – ah, hah! He’d just got through with Gerry Cooney and now he was fighting me. And he said ‘all white boys look alike to me.’ Larry came to my room after the fight – and I had him (in the fight, Cobb losing pretty much all 15 rounds), I just ran out of time. He was tired. You think it’s easy kicking my ass all night, but you’re wrong – he dragged his big ass into my room and he told me his hands hurt. You know, it broke my heart! But I didn’t know what I was gonna do because I couldn’t chew!”
At a dinner in 1980: “I want to say how much of an honour it is to be surrounded by some of the baddest nig*** ever (Holmes, Joe Frazier, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali were there, as was Renaldo Snipes). Snipes got up and said ‘I ain’t no nig***.’ Cobb said, ‘relax, I wasn’t talking about you.’”
What about Tony “Two Ton” Galento:
On his upcoming fight with Joe Louis: “I’m serious about this fight. So serious I’ve been off beer for two days.”
“I’ll moida the bum,” Two Ton on Louis.
George Foreman (Mark-two):
On his fight with Evander Holyfield: “I’ll swing a left, I’ll swing a right, and if that don’t do, I’ll belly-bump him.”
Foreman on Holyfield again: “208 pounds? I eat that much for breakfast.”
Foreman speaking to Teddy Atlas ahead of the Michael Moorer fight: “Go get me a sandwich and sit down.”
Larry Holmes (not being intentionally funny):
After losing to Michael Spinks and failing to equal Rocky Marciano’s legendary 49-0 record:
“If you really wanna get technical about it, Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap.”
And also on Rocky: “He was a 25 year old man fighting old men and I’m a 35 year old man fighting young men.”
To Peter Marciano: “If I’ve hurt you’re feelings, so fu****g what!”
Joe Louis to Billy Conn after their close fight, won by Joe in the 13th: “I gave you my title for 12 rounds and you didn’t know what to do with it!”
Sugar Ray Robinson after being knocked down by Artie Levine and losing track of the referee’s count: “I heard ‘five, six;’ and I thought, this guy’s starting off at five!”
More from Cobb:
On why, when he had a movie career, he continued to fight: “I think it improves my looks.”
On wanting a fight with Gerry Cooney: “I’d love that but I have my price: $25 bucks and a loose woman.”
On Howard Cosell quitting calling pro fights due to the one-sided nature of the Holmes-Cobb fight in 1982: “Hey, if it gets him from calling NFL games, I’ll go play football for a week.”
And finally, on a potential rematch with Holmes: “I don’t think his hands could take the abuse.”
How to lose with dignity, and with a smile and a grin.
Some more great lines:
“Why waltz with a guy for ten rounds when you can knock him out in one?” Rocky Marciano
“No, his manager is,” Sonny Liston when asked if Chuck Wepner, who he had cut to shreds in beating, was the bravest fighter he ever faced.
“He’s so slow I can eat dinner between his punches,” the incomparable Muhammad Ali on George Foreman.
“I didn’t have time to bleed,” a badly cut Iran Barkley when asked if he’d worried about his cuts in the Thomas Hearns fight.
“Id rather see a people doctor,” eternal joker Max Baer when asked if he wished to see the house doctor after collapsing (later sadly dying) in a hotel.