by Mike Silver
No other sport has produced more memorable quotes or phrases than boxing. I am not referring to the many clever and colorful (and sometimes outrageous) statements uttered over the years by various boxing personalities. Mike Tyson’s obscene rants (obviously stated when he was off his meds) that included such gems as “I want to eat his children” or “I try to push the (nose) bone into the brain” do not qualify for this list. The winning quotes are those that have withstood the test of time and entered into the American lexicon. The following quotes fit these criteria. They have been used by journalists, politicians and people in all walks of life. Yet how many are aware that they emanate from the world of boxing? I’ve saved the best for last, so counting back from 10 to 1 here they are:
- “I Shoulda Stood In Bed”—Joe Jacobs (1935)
Joe Jacobs was the prototype of the fast talking cigar chomping fight manager.
Sportswriters loved him as he was always quick with a memorable quote delivered in a staccato New York accent. As described by author David Margolick, Jacobs was “the quintessential Broadway guy, a Damon Runyon character from whom even Damon Runyon, then writing a sports column for the Hearst newspapers, could pick up some pointers.” As a “Broadway guy” Joe invariably slept late but one of the few times he broke
with tradition was when he got out of a sickbed to attend the 1935 World Series between the Tigers and Cubs on a wet cold day in Detroit when the temperature was near freezing. When a reporter asked him about the experience he famously complained, “I shoulda stood in bed”, which is New Yorkese for “stayed in bed”. Shakespeare could not have said it any better.
9. “I’ll Moida Da Bum” – Tony Galento The squat 5’9’ 235 pound New Jerseyite with the sledgehammer left hook was one of the most colorful fighters of any era. “Two Ton” Tony was a crude beer guzzling brawler who often used these words to describe what he would do to a future opponent. He said it most
often when referring to heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who he challenged for the title in 1939. In an unusual fit of pique, Louis, angered by Tony’s incessant pre-fight trash talk, decided to punish him. Galento, a stubborn foe, did his best and even managed to drop Louis in the third round. After taking a short count Louis got up even angrier and battered Galento into a bloody hulk before knocking him out in the next round.
8. “We Wuz Robbed”—Joe Jacobs (1932)
Another gem from the irrepressible Joe Jacobs who regularly butchered the King’s English. He spoke the immortal words after heavyweight champion Max Schmeling (whom he managed) lost a controversial decision to Jack Sharkey.
7. “Only In America”—Don King (1975)
The phrase was appropriated by King in the early 70s. But a more accurate phrasing should be “Only in Boxing”. For only in the unregulated “red light district” of sports could a convicted killer and diabolically clever sociopath run roughshod over an entire sport and bring it down to his level.
- “The Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall”—Bob Fitzsimmons (1902)
The actual quote is: “The bigger they come the harder they fall.” It has been attributed to former heavyweight champion Robert Fitzsimmons in an interview in 1902, but it probably goes back farther than that. Fitzsimmons (heavyweight champion 1897-99) was one of the hardest punchers of all time. He weighed about 167 pounds in his prime and often beat heavier men, including a 300 pound opponent he flattened in the first round.
5.“Honey, I Forgot to Duck” Jack Dempsey (1926)
President Ronald Reagan was being wheeled into the operating room shortly after taking a bullet in the 1981 assassination attempt on his life. Still conscious, and amazingly maintaining his sense of humor, he looked up at his wife, Nancy, and told her: “Honey, I forgot to duck”. The President was referencing the line Jack Dempsey used to explain his defeat to his wife after he lost the heavyweight championship to Gene Tunney in 1926. Reagan was only 15 years old at the time but the phrase obviously made an impression on the young sports fan and future President of the United States.
4. “We Will Win Because We Are On God’s Side”—Joe Louis (1942)
Heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who had recently enlisted in the still segregated army, spoke these words at a March 1942 War Bond rally in front of 18,000 people in Madison
Square Garden. The great man’s words became a popular slogan and made its way into songs and posters.
3. “He Can Run But He Can’t Hide”—Joe Louis (1946)
Joe’s public comments were as compact and on target as his punches. He could say more in a few words than most people say in 100. On the eve of his rematch with Billy Conn a reporter asked Joe if his lighter and faster opponent’s speed would be a problem. Louis’s answer was prescient. He knocked Conn out in the eighth round.
2. “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee”—Cassius Clay (1963).
He did and he could!
- “I Coulda Been A Contender”—Marlon Brando (1954)
One of filmdom’s most famous lines. It was spoken by actor Marlon Brando in the classic
movie “On the Waterfront”. The words originated from an actual conversation screenwriter Budd Schulberg had with Roger Donoghue, a once promising welterweight who quit the ring after killing an opponent. Donoghue was hired to instruct Brando how to move and act like a former fighter. When Schulberg asked Donoghue if he could have been a champion, the fighter replied, “I don’t know, but I could have been a contender.”
Boxing historian Mike Silver is the author of The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science (McFarland Publishing, paperback 2014).