When most people think about boxing nicknames, they only think about boxers’ monikers: “The Greatest,” “Sugar,” “Pretty Boy” and so on. But in the long history of the sport there have been some punches that have earned nicknames all their own. Here are the top five, judged by their creativity, the stories behind how the came about and staying power.
5. Cosmic Punch
Lou Nova once got a crack at the heavyweight championship of the world, against the great Joe Louis. By the time he was granted that privilege, he’d already suffered a terrifying beating at the hands of Tony “Two Ton” Galento (a pummeling that almost left him without an eye) and met a mystic who introduced him to yoga and helped convince the him that he had otherworldly powers. Nova believed the hype job that the mystic fed him, so he named his knockout blow the “Cosmic Punch.” He trained and hoped to use that mystical punch against Louis. Unfortunately for Nova, he never got to show Louis his supernatural powers; Louis first introduced him to the down-to-earth power he brought with him from Alabama. Louis TKO’ed Nova in the sixth.
4. The Corkscrew Punch
Charles “Kid” McCoy was a middleweight in the 1890s and a serious student of the sweet science. One day while watching his cat paw at a cloth ball, he noticed that the feline extended her paw toward the ball with a twist motion at the very end. That day he developed the “Corkscrew Punch,” which one opponent described as feeling like “a telephone pole had been driven into my stomach sideways.” With 55 of his 81 wins coming by knockout, McCoy definitely had a serious punch.
The concept of adding a twist at the end of a punch to increase the impact has stayed alive to this day. There are trainers in gyms all around the country who tell their young pugs about how a little twist at the end of a punch, especially near the eyebrows of an opponent, helps open cuts — cuts that hurt like hell and win fights in the long run.
3. The Anchor Punch
The right-hand counter Muhammad Ali used to knock out Sonny Liston in the opening round of their 1965 rematch is known as “The Anchor Punch.” The legend goes that the great Jack Johnson, the first black man to win the heavyweight championship of the world, taught the punch to Stepin Fetchit, a 63-year-old actor, on the night of Ali-Liston II, who in turn handed down the mysteries of the deathly blow to Ali.
Ali said of the punch:
“It’s a snap punch. You can’t see it, but if you hit by it, you all be knocked out.”
There a hundred reasons why not to believe the incredible story behind how Ali learned this punch and whether it was even a real thing, but what would be the fun in that? A lot of the value of this punch comes from the crazy story Ali spun after the fight. And there is certainly a lot of value in that punch and in the glove that threw it. Later this month, Ali and Liston’s gloves from that night go up for auction. They’re expected to fetch over $1 million.
2. Hammer of Thor
The youngest man to hold the heavyweight championship of the world before Mike Tyson was Floyd Patterson. Patterson had defended his title four times before he ran into Ingemar Johansson and his brutal right hand known as “The Hammer of Thor” (sometimes “Thunder and Lightning”). Its place on this list is rightfully deserved because that is one of the coolest sounding nicknames ever. It certainly helps that when they met in the ring, Johansson used his hammer to knock down Patterson six times on his way to winning the heavyweight crown.
1. The Bolo Punch
This most famous of punches got its start back in the 1930s with a middleweight champion by the name of Ceferino Garcia. He said he developed the unusual circular motion that distinguishes the punch from his time cutting sugar cane in the Philippines. The punch was sort of a cross between an uppercut and softball pitcher’s windup.
Two decades later, when welterweight champion Gerardo González, better known in the boxing world as Kid Gavilan, brought the bolo punch into the homes of America through television broadcasts.
Later, Sugar Ray Leonard would bring even greater notoriety to the punch by repeatedly using it on network television. Leonard was fond of using the punch as a distraction. He’d wind up with one hand and then jab with the other — a modification on the original but one that has stood the test of time.
“The bolo punch” has found its way into the common lexicon, television and movies. It’s one of a few examples of boxing entering the mainstream and finding a home there. Its place on this list is richly deserved because it’s one of the few punches that people might recognize even if they aren’t boxing fans. And that’s special.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.