The sport of boxing has been in the news a lot lately because of the upcoming Mayweather/(conspicuously correct Hispanic pronunciation) Pacquiao fight, and also because the public at large seems to be finally admitting to itself that when we watch people smash their heads in for entertainment, that might just be bad for their heads. In fact, I recently saw the great documentary Champs, which highlights how particularly dangerous the sport can be given the lack of any real medical oversight or support system for fighters.
But another thing I walked away with is a new appreciation for my new favorite genre of comedy/performance/public speaking: the post-fight rant. The latest and greatest entry into this genre is by Adrian “The Problem” Broner:
What are some of the circumstances that make this genre unique? Well it’s first and foremost a performance. Seth Meyers in one episode of the B.S. Report talks about how doing the White House Correspondents Dinner is a deceptively hard gig because you go on last after 7-8 speakers, and the whole time you’re making polite dinner conversation with the First Lady. So it’s kind of hard to be in the mindset to do your jokes. In Champs, Evander Holyfield compares fighting 15 rounds to “having your hands tied behind your back, having a bag put over your head and thrown into an ocean” for 45 minutes. So yeah, those guys don’t have to remember a bunch of jokes, but they do sometimes manage beautiful monologues like this classic:
I mean damn. Once he gets going, there’s just nothing better. It’s just beautifully written, high-grade shit talking. I mean there’s a reason that’s like as iconic as any political speech, it’s fucking awesome.
Which brings up another kind of aspect of these rants – the writing. Tyson did study a lot about the history of boxing with trainer Cus D’Amato, and picked up a penchant for $50 words somewhere along the way. But how much of that was pre-written, either by him or someone else? In my inexpert opinion, I’d say it seems like these speeches are kind of worked out in the same way that a talk show interview is planned out with a segment producer, or even like the beats of a Curb Your Enthusiasm scene are hammered out before hand. Like, either explicitly or implicitly everyone knows the stakes of the fight and the story of what that means in the larger picture in the boxing world. Tyson knows he’s gotta get to the line “I want Lennox Lewis”, how he does it is up to him.
But of course, there’s the most famous exception, the kind of George Carlin of boxing shit talking, Muhammad Ali, who had his routines memorized word for word: “if that don’t do, I’ll get him in two/if he try to run I’ll get him in one/if he don’t wanna fight, he should keep his ugly self home that night.” And then of course, he’s got his go-to catch phrases you don’t even have to memorize: “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee/your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.”
Ali is notable in another important way too: he was the first to really do it, and really do it on his own terms. So like George Carlin also in how he wasn’t just choosing the alternative path to the mainstream, he was inventing the alternative path, and also like Lenny Bruce in how he was doing it knowingly at great cost to himself.
So if Ali is the first shit-talker to really set a precedent, and Broner is the latest hot shot, there’s been a huge amount of other boxers in between who have put their own spin on the genre:
Floyd Mayweather seems to go very minimalist these days. He lets his fists do the talking, even to a fault. Doesn’t take the bait in interviews, kind of like how Eddie Murphy doesn’t wanna do sketches anymore. In this interview, he’s giving interviewer Larry Merchant so little to work with that Merchant calls him out on it:
So apparently no more shit talking for Mayweather, which is a shame, as Merchant definitely remembers his earlier, funnier stuff:
Now this is all very fun and entertaining, but there’s also some more serious matters. This clip of Mitch “Blood” Green is a fantastic entry into the boxing shit-talking genre, although there is some debate as to whether it’s possible to appreciate is on its artistic merits alone, whether it’s moral to value the hilarious “not knowing the camera’s on and then flexing your bicep while talking” strategy while ignoring the reprehensible social message. Can we separate the shit talker from the shit opinions? Even if so, it really makes you reconsider your shit-talking fandom.
The vast majority of boxing shit-talking, however, sort of middle ground of high-energy bragging about how great they are and how much ass they’re going to kick. Roy Jones Jr. is a great example of this category of shit-talker, although sometimes he’ll surprise you, like in this interview, where he says Bernard Hopkins’ forehead “looks like a giant potato”:
So I hope this article does something to help these very talented shit-talkers get the recognition they deserve as public speakers as well as athletes. Because remember, acting was basically just making different funny faces until Brando came along and changed everything. He made it a whole art form unto itself. I don’t see why Big Joe Joyce can’t go down in history the same way: