Nicknames and Muhammad Ali – The Louisville Lip, The Champ, The Greatest

Nicknames and Muhammad Ali – The Louisville Lip, The Champ, The Greatest

“Hands of Stone’, “The Hitman”, The Bayonne Bleeder”, ‘“The Mongoose”, “The Brown Bomber” What do these nicknames have in common? If I threw in “The Greatest” you would quickly realize these are some of the best nicknames in the history of boxing. Unlike most nicknames, which are assigned by others, Muhammed Ali’s self-proclaimed himself ‘The Greatest” and he defined it many ways.
Born Cassius Clay, upon conversion to Islam, he changed his name to Muhammed Ali. Muhammad means “praiseworthy” derived from Arabic hamid, “to praise”. Ali in Arabic means ‘lofty’, ‘sublime”. In an interview with the New York Times in 1977, Muhammad Ali spoke to the global awareness of his name: “My name is known in Serbia, Pakistan, and Morocco. These are countries that don’t follow the Kentucky Derby.”
Apparently Muhammad Ali knew full well the power of labels, names, and nicknames. Ali was a man way ahead of his time. He understood (until more recently, people like Madonna, Lady Gaga, Michael Jordan), how to use the media to build his personal brand. He also knew quite well, the value and the power of a nickname, self-proclaiming himself “The Greatest”. Asked in a 1975 interview with Playboy why “The Greatest” he replied, “I’m the most talked-about, most publicized, the most famous, and the most colorful fighter in history. And I’m the fastest heavyweight — with feet and hands — who ever lived. Besides that, I’m the onliest poet laureate boxing’s ever had. “One other thing, too: If you look at pictures of all the former champions you know in a flash that I’m the best-looking champion in history. It all adds up to being The Greatest, don’t it?”
The media returned his self-proclaimed greatness in kind and nicknamed him “The Louisville Lip” because he was born in Louisville, KY and never stopped talking. Others called him “The Champ”.
But as we know, he did not stop with naming himself. Quick on his feet, quick with his tongue, he gave his opponents derogatory nicknames as some sort of psychological punch outside the ring. When he first fought Sonny Liston he called him “the Big Ugly Bear” famously suggesting Liston even smelled like a bear. He called Floyd Patterson “The White Man’s Champion.” And perhaps most famously, he called Joe Frazier an “Uncle Tom” going on to say Frazier was both too dumb and too ugly to be the champ.
His fights were also nicknamed. “The Thriller in Manilla” and “The Rumble in the Jungle” became the stuff of legend and these fights live on, because of, and through their nicknames.
Ironically, and in the end, the man who had a way with words was silenced by Parkinson’s during the last years of his life.  The “Louisville Lip” is now silenced. “The Champ” fought but lost his last battle. “The Greatest” may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. Peace to his memory. To the world he was greatest, and he was a pretty decent boxer too.

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