Home Columns The Power of Trash Talking in Boxing and Poker

The Power of Trash Talking in Boxing and Poker

Analysing how trash talking in boxing and poker differs and how the two could be fused together.

Credit: pixabay.com
Credit: pixabay.com

Trash talk has built up some of the biggest boxing fights and poker tournaments through the years, making some look foolish along the way.

For several decades, trash talking has been a key factor in the build-up to many of the biggest boxing fights. There is a saying that gutter talk between fighters helps put bums on seats and increase pay-per-view bookings on satellite TV. Some people are very ambivalent when it comes to trash talking, with old-school boxing fans preferring their fighters to do their best talking with their gloves in the ring. However, given the rapid commercialization of professional sports like boxing, with all the broadcasting and media rights it entails, it’s no surprise to see trash talking remain alive and kicking in boxing.

It’s not just the boxing fraternity that like to wind up their opponents with war words either. Poker is one of the most gruelling mind games on the planet, with players having to play their opponents as well as the probabilities and odds on the tables. The best Texas Hold’em players are those that can either put their opponents off verbally or those that can cut through the trash talking ‘noise’ and play the pot odds to perfection. Let’s celebrate some of the past masters of spooking their boxing and poker rivals.

The best trash talking in the history of boxing

One of the oldest and best-loved trash talkers in the history of boxing was Jack Johnson. The sports first African American heavyweight champ way back in 1908, Johnson’s trash talking was downright condescending towards Tommy Burns, a fighter Johnson used to call “poor, little Tommy”. He’d even trash talk Burns in the ring, pointing to part of his stomach for Burns to hit, saying “hit here, Tommy”. When he hit, Johnson would smile and laugh at him to underline his superiority.

More recently, James Toney has arguably been the king of trash talk in the boxing scene. A quick search of Toney in YouTube is sure to bring up plenty of hilarious moments of him running smack on many of his contemporaries.

In fact, Toney is up there as one of the few fighters to be able to trash talk his way into a lucrative fight in the world of MMA – the opposite to what Conor McGregor achieved even more recently.

Toney once said that he would be prepared to take on Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank during the same evening, so confident was he in his own abilities. Whether he truly believed he could do that or not is an entirely different thing!

Hatton and Mayweather exchange barbs prior to putting their undefeated records on the line.

Floyd Mayweather is never too far from controversy when it comes to trash talking. He’s still regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers and his fight with Ricky Hatton back in 2007 was a clash between two undefeated welterweight champions of the world.

It was a fight where trash talk helped whip the fight fans up into a frenzy, with Hatton proclaiming after his penultimate fight with Jose Luis Castillo that he did more work in four rounds against the Mexican than Mayweather had done in his entire career.

Mayweather’s famous trash talk line was that Hatton would “face the truth” against him; and sure enough he was right, with Hatton stopped in the tenth round.

How poker trash talking differs to boxing

The topic of trash talking is even more a bone of contention in Texas Hold’em poker as it is in professional boxing. There’s a fine line between trash talking being viewed as bad table etiquette and being a good strategy to put opponents off the scent.

One prominent exponent of trash talking at the poker tables as the “Poker Brat”, Phil Hellmuth. He has been known to lash out at the tables after opponents make what he perceives to be “donkey” moves. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say he was someone that saw his trash talking pay off given that he now has a record 15 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets to his name.

Another hugely unorthodox trash talker in the world of poker is Jamie Gold. The American television producer was a neighbor of former 2000 WSOP Main Event champion, Chris Ferguson, and entered the 2006 Main Event himself on a whim, having finished in the money in several California-based poker tournaments playing as an amateur back in 2005.

Gold would go on to shock the poker world by winning the 2006 Main Event, holding a huge chip lead from Day 4 that he would never relinquish. Gold’s trash talk at the table caused plenty of controversy throughout however, as he had a tendency to let his opponents know what is hand was, which contravened WSOP rules. He even flashed one of his hole cards to his opponent during the final table.

Although Gold sailed very close to the wind, his unorthodox play meant that his rivals could not get a genuine read on him throughout.

What a fusion of boxing and poker trash talking could look like

Could poker players take a leaf out of the books of professional boxers and use some of their trash talk lingo at the tables? Being condescending like James Toney or Floyd Mayweather might not go down so well in your local poker room, where the etiquette is such that players are required to deal with bad beats gracefully and respectfully; accepting them as part and parcel of the game.

On the flip side, boxers could certainly use some of the poker trash talk language to enhance their vocabulary. A common phrase that most poker players use to describe a poor player is a “donkey” or “donk”. You could certainly see the likes of Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder calling each other donks ahead of their big heavyweight fight.

Texas Holdem poker players label opponents that cannot fold even modest hands and continue to bet big regardless as “whales”. The connotation of calling a fellow boxer a whale might be a little different, but it’s something you could imagine a fighter doing at a pre-fight weigh-in to tease their opponent about their weight. There’s no doubt that success in both boxing and poker is about those fine margins and if trash talk can give you that extra 2-3% edge on your opponents, so much the better.