BOXERS WITH THE “IT’ FACTOR — Irish Jerry Quarry, a well-spoken and good looking kid from Southern California but an offspring of the dust bowl, was humble and accessible to his adoring fans. His walk-ins were all about getting the business done in the ring and were not accompanied by rappers or huge entourages. No Justin Beibers for Jerry. When he lost, his fans felt the pain along with him. “Nobody didn’t like Sara Lee” went the popular food commercial and nobody didn’t like Jerry Quarry. His was what personal magnetism was all about.
Iron Mike Tyson had his own brand of charisma and it was structured around his fearsome persona. The electricity before a prime Tyson old-school walk-in would surge through the entire arena. Excitement was on its way. Tyson aroused enthusiasm like no other, though Carlos Monzon had it in a more surreal and romantic sense. Here is what the opening paragraph from an early Tyson Mini Bio states: “One of the most frightening human beings ever to step into the boxing ring, Mike Tyson was the model of the supreme gladiator – unbeaten and unbeatable. Never before had one individual captured the attention of the wider world via sport except Muhammad Ali.”
Strangely enough, Floyd Mayweather Jr, notwithstanding his 49-0 record, great skills, changing monikers, monster bodyguards and Justin Bieber, has never really made that deeply electric connection with fans that a Manny Pacquiao or Marcos Maidana has. Maybe it’s because Junior seems to prize his trophies of wealth above his in-ring accomplishments. As Frank Lotierzo puts it, “I’ve always maintained that as great as he was on the basketball court, there was nothing more boring or condescending than a Michael Jordan Sunday night conversation on ESPN. Move over Michael, because Floyd Mayweather is in da house and he’s every bit your equal, perhaps even surpassing you.”
These days, a red-headed Mexican named Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has that special quality and then some. Just 26 years old but mature beyond his years, Canelo (“Cinnamon”) has a remarkable record of 48-1-1 and is often ranked in pound for pound lists. Showing concern for his knockout victims in the ring has endeared him to devoted fans throughout Mexico and has provided the basis for fighting Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., a fight already being dubbed the biggest fight in Mexican boxing history.
Perhaps if Abel Sanchez stopped trying so hard to hype Gennady Golovkin at each and every turn, GGG’s charisma would burst out, though for many it already has. Conversely, no matter what Andre Ward seems to do, charisma is not going to be part of his makeup.
The above are simply examples from a long list of fighters who carried the label of being charismatic for having a special connection with the fans. There were some others — though not as many– who combined charisma with swagger in their persona.
Charisma and Swagger
“[Jack] Johnson enjoyed a bit of renaissance in the late 1960s when Howard Sackler’s play, ‘The Great White Hope,’ a thinly veiled fictional version of Johnson’s life, was performed on Broadway. But more people at the time thought the play was actually a commentary on then-heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who openly identified with Johnson in interviews and in his autobiography, ‘The Greatest: My Own Story’ (1975).” –Gerald Early
Back in the day, Jack Johnson (the first African-American world heavyweight champion), and later Max Baer, had plenty of both. Here is what the International Boxing Hall of Fame has to say about Max: “Possessing perhaps the most powerful right hand in heavyweight history, Max Baer was a flashy performer who wise-cracked and clowned his way through his career. Although he never fully realized his tremendous potential, Baer won the heavyweight title, and his showmanship entertained an America rocked by the Great Depression.”
It just didn’t get any better than when Max Baer (as the heartless Buddy Brannen character in “The Harder They Fall,”) sauntered over to the doomed Gus Dundee’s corner to wish Gus well against the duped Toro Moreno — the way he sauntered defined swagger.
As for Jack Johnson, the following analysis of the film “Unforgivable Blackness,” directed by Ken Burns, says it all. See http://www.pbs.org/unforgivableblackness/rebel/
Muhammed Ali arguably was the greatest example of someone who could behave in a boastful and arrogant manner, yet concurrently be the very epitome of charisma. His ostentatious display of arrogance was often perceived as tongue-in-cheek and simply contributed to his charisma. In this, he was unique.
Chris Eubank Sr. is the quintessential combination. Even his nickname—“Simply the Best” – carried pomp, but there was far more. His eccentricity, attire and posing was unique, and unlike a more humble Nigel Benn, he milked it to the limit. Of course, Chris could back it up in the squared circle. His air of overbearing self-confidence was his trademark. Check out this YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0zlIMvgoBo
Again, the above are representative; there are far more.
Now when it comes to an air of overbearing self-confidence, it’s hard to top Jorge Paez Sr. who wore a dress to his 1992 fight against Rafael Ruelas. “El Maromero” was the very definition of a scary clown and the fans loved him for it. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKI9nqM5nfM
Some might argue that Adrien Broner is the quintessential boxer with swagger, but I’d counter by asserting that “The Problem” is more of a supercilious front. Swagger has to have some substance to back up the pomp. Broner has in large part been seen as a hyped gimmick that can’t back up his motor mouth by winning the big one. This could change.
Roy Jones Jr. was all about swagger and he could back it up. (He still swaggers, but sadly he can no longer back it up.) Macho Camacho, Prince Naz, James Toney, Fernando Vargas, Fighting Harada, Khaosai Galaxy, Anthony Mundine, Sung Kil Moon all had it in spades.
Deontay Wilder has plenty of swagger but is lacking in the charisma department. Conversely, Jerry Quarry had charisma but not much swagger; he was all about business.
Tyson Fury is an original and even wears a sweat shirt that says SWAG DON’T COME CHEAP. He’s not quite a “Peck’s Bad Boy,” but he comes pretty close. Some say he is dragging boxing through the mud; I say he just might be what boxing needs in a sport/business that overwhelms us with nonstop lawsuits. Whatever the case, he is not hesitant to speak his mind. Yes, the giant gypsy’s temperament could use more tempering, but I suspect he could care less what others think about him. All the rhetoric and loud mouthing is likely a load of blarney and he knows it better than anyone. Oh sure, he could embrace humility, but then he wouldn’t be Tyson Fury. He is the UK’s answer to Ricardo Mayorga, and his quotes or those he inspires are the stuff of a promoter’s dream. Let’s hope he comes back.
Like the other two categories, this one is representative. Perhaps you can add some more names to the lists.
Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records in the Grand Master class. A member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he enjoys writing about boxing.