Mayorga can talk the talk, but can't always walk the walk

9/24/2008 - Boxing

Ricardo Mayorga hasn't provided boxing fans with many classic moments in the ring, but he's given us at least a DVD's worth of outrageous trash talk and news conference mayhem.

The Managua mauler's greatest hits would include offering Vernon Forrest a job sweeping his home in Nicaragua; threatening to send Cory Spinks to heaven to join his deceased mother; boasting that he would not only stop Oscar De La Hoya, but also stop his heart; and telling Fernando Vargas he would do his wife a favor and not let her cry anymore after he disfigured him.

For his upcoming bout with Shane Mosley, he's promised to knock Mosley out in three rounds, adding, "I'll be the man that night, and he'll be my woman."

Mayorga can be boorish and tasteless, and his barbs are often delivered with the same recklessness as one of his off-balance haymakers. But what's fascinating about Mayorga is that even after an opponent has knocked him senseless, he's up and talking again as soon as his next fight is signed.

Jaw-jackers usually put a lid on it after sustaining a beating, but not Mayorga. No one would be surprised to hear him talk trash in his sleep. If you locked Mayorga in a basement overnight, by morning he would've talked the mice into submission.

It is for this reason, rather than his unorthodox boxing style, that Mayorga has become a favorite opponent for superstars on the downhill side of their careers.

Trash talkers have been part of the sport since its earliest days, from John L. Sullivan's drunken hollering to Mike Tyson's threats to eat Lennox Lewis' children. Actually, Tyson went beyond trash -- what emerged from his mouth was some kind of outer-space debris. But Tyson's unhinged tirades were simply his version of boxing's oldest tradition, something the old-time writers referred to as "mouth fighting."

Granted, if you've heard one pug run his mouth at a news conference, you've heard them all, but sometimes a fighter transcends the usual tripe, like when Hasim Rahman said before his bout with John Ruiz, "If Ruiz thinks his divorce was painful, wait till he feels my right hand." Or when Greg Haugen once said of Vinny Paz, "He's running around saying he draws 15,000 people in Rhode Island. Big deal. You can get 10,000 people out there to watch the tide come in."

Haugen once infuriated all of Mexico when he said Julio Cesar Chavez had padded his record by fighting "Tijuana cab drivers." After Chavez demolished Haugen in five rounds, Haugen merely shrugged. "They must've been tough cab drivers," he said.

Of all of the great trash talkers in fight history, the one closest to Mayorga in spirit might be Tony Galento, the tubby New Jersey bartender who brawled his way into the heavyweight ranks during the late 1930s.

Galento's oft-repeated catch phrase was "I'll moider the bum," but as John Kieran of the New York Times said, "This isn't the statement as originally issued; it had to be put through the dry-cleaning department to make it fit."

During the weeks prior to his 1939 title bout with Joe Louis, "Two Ton Tony" unleashed a torrent of crude comments unfit to print, many of them aimed at Louis' wife. Louis kayoed Galento in four, but went on the record saying Galento was the only fighter he'd ever disliked.

A year later, Galento faced Max Baer, a pretty good talker in his own right. But as United Press columnist Harry Ferguson noted in a prefight column, "Galento took an early lead in the name calling, and never lost it. In rapid succession he referred to Baer as a loud mouth, screwball, playboy, peanut heart, cocktail lounger, ham actor, punchy palooka, and the following variations of 'bum' -- yellow bum, big bum, chicken-hearted bum, Broadway bum, Hollywood bum, and bum bum."

Baer responded by calling Galento a "water buffalo."

"I haven't seen Galento fight," Baer said, "But I've seen pictures of him, and his appearance alone is a detriment to boxing."

Galento's best line on Baer was, "All I want from dat bum is inflamation where to ship da body."

No one was surprised when the two scholars got into a shoving match at the weigh-in, or that their banter continued even as they fought at Jersey City's Roosevelt Stadium. As trainer Ray Arcel remembered years later, "Fans in the cheap seats could hear the vilest obscenities."

After seven rounds of slugging, cursing and butting, the AP reported that Galento was "sitting on his stool, blowing blood like a harpooned whale." His corner stopped the bout, and Galento was probably glad it did. The night before, Galento took 10 stitches in the face after being hit with a bottle at his Orange, N.J., tavern -- the bottle was thrown by his own brother, in a dispute over comp tickets.

If a story he told later in life is true, Galento didn't want to fight Baer in the first place.

"Joe Jacobs, my manager, he was trying to get Louis again, so he signs for a Max Baer fight," Galento said. "I don't want to fight Baer, but Jacobs tells me, look, we take the advance and then we get sick and back out. If they want to get the money out of us, they got to give us Louis.

"So I don't train and I'm having fun, and I think about how I'm going to get sick for Baer, and what does that lousy Joe Jacobs do to me? He goes and dies on me, and I got to go through with the fight 'cause I don't know how to duck it."

As for Baer, he enjoyed pounding Galento. "I'm sorry they stopped the fight," he said afterward. "Every time I hit him and the blood squooshed out, it was music to my ears. That's one guy I hate -- and I'd like to have flattened him."

Baer admitted he hated Tony because Galento had bested him at "popping off."

As years passed, Galento was remembered as one of boxing's colorful old characters, but he wasn't always so beloved at the time. Alan Ward of the Oakland Tribune reminded readers, "Sure, there were times we all laughed with and at Tony Galento, but often those laughs were tinted with embarrassment and pity." Renowned sports columnist Dan Parker described Galento as an "uncouth, unfunny, unskilled, unethical, and unspeakable braggart." Parker added, "He gave his profession a worse black eye than Baer gave him."

Mayorga knows, as did Galento, Baer and all other trash talkers, that a few well-placed words can make all the difference in a fighter's marquee value. If Mayorga was a shy type, he wouldn't be on an HBO main event this weekend, that's for sure.

Mayorga, though, might be losing his ability to provoke. When he exploded on the scene in 2002 with a knockout win over WBA welterweight titlist Andrew "Six-Heads" Lewis, followed by two dynamic wins over Forrest, the beer-chugging lout was a real shock to the senses. Now, Mayorga seems to be on automatic pilot, tossing off insults as if he knows it's expected of him.

What Mayorga needs is a challenger with oratory skills equal to his own, someone who can absorb his insults and match him, word for word. Some thought Vargas was up to the task, but Vargas blew his cool early. Too bad a vintage 147-pound Roberto Duran wasn't around to fight Mayorga back in '03 -- their interpreters would probably start swinging.

Mayorga has been easy on Mosley so far -- they even hugged at the end of their first news conference meeting. Perhaps Mosley is such a friendly sort that Mayorga doesn't feel right threatening his family.

Hopefully, before Mayorga's career is over, he'll meet an opponent who can match him verbally. He won't like it -- if there's one thing a windbag hates, it's to be upstaged by another windbag.

Even Galento didn't like talky fighters. Many years after Galento retired he was asked to comment on the young Muhammad Ali, who had taken the tradition of insulting opponents and revved it up for a new generation.

Galento puffed on his ever-present black cigar and said, "Someone should put a clothespin on his mouth."

Don Stradley is a regular contributor to The Ring.