Would A Boxer By Any Other Name ...

I arrived early to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, found my seat in what would probably be considered the nosebleed row in the media section. But the back row in the media area is a mere six rows from the squared ring, in which some seven bouts would be waged that evening, leading up to the main event: hometown fast-talking hero (or anti-hero) Paulie Malignaggi vs. British light-speed power puncher Amir Khan.

This would be the second professional fight I've seen from the media seats, both at the Garden, which is busy working its way back into the boxing world. I fancy myself an amateur fight writer, but the boxing-writer club is hard to crack. The ranks of fight scribes are closed so tight that trying to get into that union is about as easy as getting Manny Pacquiao to take a blood test the day before a fight.

Meanwhile, I parlay my marketing beat into media seats and hope for an angle. Well, I am happy to report that I've got one. It's about how astonishingly inappropriate, downright bizarre, and frankly ironic are the nicknames that fighters choose for themselves.



In a world of alphanumeric brands, where even hip-hop artists have tags that sound like nameplates for odd European cars (Jay-Z, Tone Loc, Akon, Ludacris) there is something anachronistic -- almost quaint -- about boxers' nicknames. While this evening at the Garden was no exception, it was remarkable because the nicknames belied the fighters, their personalities and what actually happened in the ring.

In the first bout, for example, one could not have been faulted for thinking that Denis "Mama's Boy" Douglin would receive a brutal schoolyard beating from one Joshua "Poison" Onyango. When I heard that Douglin's nickname was "Mama's Boy," I ran up to the ring apron and pleaded with his trainer to call the principal. But it was "Mama's Boy" with the perfect 8-0 record and "Poison" who received the thrashing.

As a brand name, "Mama's Boy" is either marketing genius or simply laughable. Like "Gorgeous George," Gorp (trail mix), the VW Thing, and the tagline for Buckley's Cough Syrup ("It tastes awful but it works"), it is so antithetical to what you'd expect for the category that it stands out and perhaps serves as camouflage tricking the competition into thinking "Mama's Boy" has a glass jaw. Maybe that's what happened to "Poison." The fight ended promptly in round two, after Poison had been floored for the second time.

The second fight, remarkably, followed exactly the same formula: there was Irishman Jamie Kavanagh, whose nickname is -- believe it or not -- "The Nuisance," suggesting his boxing method is to simply irritate his opponent into conceding the fight by throwing punches that land like fruit flies on a banana.

His opponent: William "The Wolverine" Ware of Augusta, Ga. Again, a second-round end to a one-sided pummeling dished out by Kavanagh, certainly the first time in natural history that a nuisance pummeled someone named after either the largest land-dwelling species of weasel or a vicious mutant cartoon character with razor blades for fingernails -- your pick.

Moving on, we had Kelvin "The Price is Right" Price (my notes at this point: "Ouch, another terrible nickname") beat a Brooklyn Joe Frazier-like boxer named Tor Hamer. I don't know about you, but if I were a boxer named Tor Hamer, I wouldn't bother ruining the effect with a nickname. Tor Hamer sounds like a giant from Finnish pagan lore brandishing a mallet. But it was "Price is Right" who towered over Hamer with arms the size of Douglas firs, and who won the fight.

The penultimate fight had one of my favorite boxers, Victor "Vicious" Ortiz, fighting veteran Nate "The Galaxy Warrior" Campbell. Anyone who follows boxing knows that "Vicious" is quite possibly the nicest, most friendly, affable guy to lace up gloves since his mentor Oscar de la Hoya.

At the press conference for the fight, an event at which most guys are vowing to dismember their opponents and sometimes have to be separated, Ortiz asked, with the whimsical charm of a college freshman: "You know, I just was thinking, do any of you guys know why they call this the Big Apple? If anyone could tell me that, it would be great." Unbelievable. Also, when "Vicious" wins, he goes up to the guy he just beat, puts his forehead against the other guy's, whispers sweet nothings in his ear and often gives him a little noogie on the head.

Victor beat the Galaxy Warrior (any boxers on Alpha Centauri, you are on notice), but given the style with which he won -- riding the proverbial bicycle, ducking and weaving for 12 rounds -- a better nickname might be "Viscous."

The only fight where names matched outcomes was the title bout with Amir "King" Khan looking like a human Howitzer against Paulie "Magic Man" Malignaggi. And Paulie, to his credit, used every rabbit in his hat just to stick it out for 11 rounds.

Victor, this from Wikipedia: "The earliest citation for 'big apple' is the 1909 book The Wayfarer in New York by Edward Martin, writing: "Kansas is apt to see in New York a greedy city. ... It inclines to think that the big apple gets a disproportionate share of the national sap." There you have it. Now quit the fight biz and go to college!

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