Who can be called the greatest?
Nicknames, sobriquets, tags or titles for sports stars make sports even more interesting.
The practice is a throwback to the time when boxing or wrestling matches had to be hyped with superhuman names to entice an otherwise unbelieving public to buy tickets. Other sports have picked up the practice especially when a sobriquet really matches the athlete. Good tags help write the sports stories as well.
Through the years, some truly engaging ones from other sports have been “Mr. Clutch” for Jerry West, “Ironman” for Lou Gehrig and “The Sultan of Swat” for Babe Ruth.
Here at home, the best name giver was the late sportscaster Willie Hernandez, who could make the players larger than life with his nametags. Since radio was his primary medium, he had to create the dramatis personae for the theatre of the mind which is what radio basically is.
“The Big J,” for Robert Jaworski and “The Big Difference” for Caloy Loyzaga were just two of his best creations.
There are some athletes that really don’t need nicknames and sports journalists seem to know it when the athlete defies a tag. To name a few, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Bill Russell and Larry Bird really didn’t have tags attached to their sports persona. Their games just spoke for them.
This writer has named a few over the years and it’s a delight when the tag sticks and is really appropriate for the athlete. We’ve made a few so-so ones in the past that never really stuck with the athlete. Wrong fit, wrong name.
But arguably the trickiest tag one has to play around with is The Greatest. Sure, the name is attached clearly to Muhammad Ali. But more often than not, many attempt to attach the tag to an outstanding boxer for specific eras. Ali alone perhaps owns the tag when you have to capitalize the “T” in The and the “G” in Greatest because it was his promotional ploy to lure people to watch his fights.
Many did buy tickets in a pre-pay-per-view era and wanted to see him whopped and whipped by any of his opponents. But because of his skill and savvy and charisma as a public performer, Ali emerged victorious more often and enticed more to see him fight the next time.
I believe debates about who the greatest is for a sport and for a specific generation are what makes sports appealing. The arguments will never end and fans relish the barstool or online discussions on such topics.
That’s why recent reports saying that Floyd Mayweather Jr. considers himself as the greatest of his time is a delightful ball for fans to kick around. And here’s our kick: Compared to Manny Pacquiao, who is the greatest Filipino boxer of his generation, Mayweather doesn’t have that many spectacular wins nor have an impressive route to the top. Pacquiao may even be the greatest of his generation worldwide because of what he has done.
If Mayweather disagrees, then he has only one way to end all these discussions. Sign on the dotted line and agree to fight Pacquiao. Stop using all the peripheral issues as excuses. Come to terms that Pacquiao is also a draw on pay-per-view. Step into the ring so that at least the discussion of who is the greatest between him and Pacquiao will have a real starting point. Then, all of us fans will have a real discussion.