Nicknames go with athletes like beer and chicken wings go with Sunday afternoon football. If you don’t think beer and chicken wings pair up nicely with football, I suspect you may be an agent of the North Koreans. Either that or a tea-totaling vegan, which is nearly as concerning.
The purpose of a nickname can be placed squarely inside the realm of the show and pageantry of professional sports. At the end of the day, a sporting event is a moneymaking entertainment venue and catchy nicknames are just one small way for broadcasters, teams, fans, and athletes themselves to add to the value of their product. Origins of nicknames can stem from the praise of teammates, broadcasters or the God-complexes of athletes themselves. Similarly, nicknames can be intimidating, humorous or just clever. This list will detail some of the nicknames in the world of sports that are the most popular for these three purposes.
Obviously this is a subjective list and there are thousands of athlete nicknames, but for our purposes, these were chosen based on originality, in conjunction with their catchiness, humor, and level of intimidation. Obviously, given the subjective nature of a list like this, throw your own favorite into the almighty comments section.
There are plenty of honorable mentions for a list like this. Ron Artest/The Panda’s Friend/Metta World Peace – or whatever he’s calling himself this week, gets an honorable mention for his pseudo-sensical name changes. Chad Johnson, on the other hand gets a dishonorable mention here. Chad Eight-Five, golf clap for you, good sir, how’s the CFL treating you? Seven receptions all season for a total of 151 yards and a touchdown, making him the Montreal Allouettes’ eighth receiver in statistical terms.
Rod Smart gets a nod here too for “He Hate Me.” He chose the slogan for his jersey based on how he felt other teams would feel getting beaten by him. Unfortunately, as an NFL running back, his nickname should have been “He Hate Himself,” given his four fumbles on just 29 career rushes.
20. BenJarvus Green-Ellis: The Law Firm
This one isn’t intimidating by any means, unless you are a criminal, of which the NFL has its share. For those who missed it, he is called “The Law Firm” due to the fact that a hyphenated last name in conjunction with a first name that sounds like it could be a last name, sounds like a potential name of a legal office.
While The Law Firm is currently a free agent, he had some solid years in the NFL. Undrafted in 2008, Green-Ellis ran for 275 yards in his rookie year with five touchdowns. After a nearly non-existent 2009 season, he looked impressive for the New England Patriots in 2010 and 2011, running for 1008 and 667 yards with 13 and 11 touchdowns respectively. After a move to Cincinnati, he rushed for 1,094 yards and 756 yards, with six and seven touchdowns respectively, in 2012 and 2013.
His first 589 carries in the NFL stands as the record for longest start in the league without a fumble.
19. Ryan “Darth” Bader (Also “Master”)
Ryan Bader, a former “The Ultimate Fighter” winner, is always a contender in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division. After a 12-0 start to his mixed martial arts career, including wins over an aged Keith Jardine and Antonio Rogerio “Little Nog” Nogueira, he suffered two lost bouts to Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz. Since then, he has gone 6-2 with his only losses coming to Lyoto Machida and Glover Teixeira. In layman’s terms, Bader is a safe bet to beat anyone but the promotion’s best. His last three fights have been won via unanimous decision.
The six-year UFC veteran has two nicknames. “Darth” is obviously a Star Wars reference, to one of the greatest sci-fi/action villains of all time. His other nickname is a hilarious pun that we will not explain. He has yet to actually be announced as Ryan “Master” Bader, but has indicated that he thinks it would be hilarious to hear Bruce Buffer announce him by that name prior to a fight.
18. Randy Johnson and Frank Thomas: The Big Hurt/Unit
These two retired baseball players share number 18 on our list because their names are similar, despite their completely different positions on the diamond. Frank Thomas is one of the most prolific hitters in baseball history. The five time All-Star and two time American League MVP was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year. A well-earned honor for The Big Hurt. The nickname was coined by Ken Harrelson while Thomas was a member of the Chicago White Sox early in his career.
Randy Johnson is often referred to as The Big Unit, due to his 6’10 height and devastating fastball. He is number two all time in terms of strikeouts thrown and won the World Series back in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. With 22 seasons in MLB, ten All-Star selections, nine years as the MLB’s strikeout leader, a perfect game, a no-hitter, and one dead dove that flew in front of his pitch back in 2001, “The Big Unit” is undoubtedly destined for the Hall of Fame. It was Tim Raines, a teammate while playing for the Montreal Expos, who first called him “Big Unit.” The name was later picked up by commentators and analysts.
17. Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith
The former NCAA Champion and Utah Jazz first round pick from 1980 is number 17 on this list and it’s well-earned. How can anyone ignore a nickname like Dr. Dunkenstein? The Jazz’ starting guard throughout much of the 1980’s was an NBA Rookie of the Year and was one of the most prolific three point shooters of his time, not to mention his insane dunking abilities. His acrobatic dunking style and multiple selections to the NBA Slam Dunk Contest earned him his awesome nickname.
16. The Nigerian Nightmare: Two Athletes
While there are many witty nicknames in the sports world that involve athlete’s countries of origin or ancestry, such as Chan Sung Jung “The Korean Zombie” and Krzysztof Soszinsky “The Polish Experiment,” a football player and boxer share this spot on the list as a pair of “Nigerian Nightmares.”
The former Kansas City Chief, Christian Okoye, was a Nigerian-American running back who played six seasons in the NFL, earning one rushing title and two Pro Bowl appearances. His speed, combined with a 6’1 250-260 lb frame, made him an absolute nightmare for would-be tacklers.
The second Nigerian Nightmare is Heavyweight boxer Samuel Peter. Another Nigerian-American, Peter has been competing professionally since 2001, and was briefly the World Boxing Council’s Heavyweight champion. He currently holds a professional record of 34-5.
15. Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon
One of the greatest NBA centers of all time, Hakeem Olajuwon takes number fifteen on this list. While the shared number sixteen are a pair of Nigerian Nightmares, Olajuwon, who was born in Lagos, Nigeria, is not a nightmare by any estimation, unless one is playing ball against him.
The seven foot tall Dream is the NBA’s all-time block leader, is a two-time NBA Champion and a twelve-time All-Star. “The Dream” is a nickname that stemmed partially from his religious faith, but more from his flawless and graceful footwork. He is widely believed to be one of the NBA’s most agile big man, standing seven feet tall and around 260 lbs, but moving like a much shorter and trimmer man. His series of moves used to make opposing players look silly was referred to as the “Dream Shake,”not to be confused with the Harlem Shake which is the stupidest internet fad of all time.
14. Floyd “Money” Mayweather
The current multi-division World Champion belongs on this list, without any shadow of a doubt. With a professional record of 47-0, Mayweather has a couple of great nicknames that do his success justice. “The Best Ever” may have been debatable a couple of years ago, but the more he wins, it seems to become less of a prophecy and more of a reality.
“Money” on the other hand is a nickname that references the fact that he is the highest paid athlete in the world right now. Fans like to make a big stink about baseball players getting $325 million over thirteen years (Giancarlo Stanton, which averages out to $25 million per year) but Floyd Mayweather has made hundreds of millions in the last couple of years. For a breakdown of his earnings from fights, see TheRichest.com.
13. Michael “Air” Jordan
The owner of the Charlotte Hornets has earned lucky number thirteen here due to his iconic nickname. Jordan’s nicknames “Air Jordan” and “His Airness” both refer not only to his play on the basketball court, but “Air Jordan” was also his shoe brand’s name.
Michael Jordan is a six-time NBA Champion, five-time league MVP and a fourteen time All-star. He is widely referred to as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), but for our purposes, his nicknames referring to his jumping and dunking abilities are his best aliases.
12. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion turned Bellator competitor has a nickname that personifies his fighting style and is one of the most intimidating in the business. He currently holds a professional fighting record of 35-11, but is on a three fight winning streak since his 2013 start with Bellator, which of course followed his three fight losing streak with the UFC.
Rampage is a skilled striker and his nickname reflects his prowess. Many of his knockout victories have followed flurries of punches, knees and kicks that would have fatigued other fighters. In his prime, nobody freed the beast quite like “Rampage” Jackson. Now 36 years old, two of Jackson’s three Bellator victories came via very convincing knockouts, showing fans and critics that he still has a few years of Rampage left.
11. Brett Favre: The Gunslinger
While Peyton Manning did surpass Brett Favre’s all-time passing touchdown title a few weeks ago, Favre still holds a few records. He has thrown for the most career yards of any NFL quarterback, has completed the most passes of any quarterback and still holds the most consecutive starts of any NFL player. Unfortunately, he has thrown the most interceptions of any NFL quarterback. The pick total of 336 over the course of his career is indicative of the origin of his nickname “The Gunslinger.”
In essence, his extremely competitive nature, coupled with the tendency to gamble while throwing the ball earned him this name. While he remains one of the greatest ‘field generals’ in the league’s history, there is no doubt that his constant attempts to fit passes into nearly impossible places were risky and occasionally lost games.
10. First Name Nicknames: Boomer, Magic and Tiger
Another shared spot on the list goes to all athletes whose nicknames have become more widely known than their actual first names. Three of the most famous are PGA Tour star (and world class womanizer) Tiger Woods, basketball star turned businessman Magic Johnson, and NFL quarterback turned commentator Boomer Esiason.
Norman “Boomer” Esiason was a four time Pro Bowl selection over his fourteen year career, but few have ever referred to the 1988 MVP by his real first name. In a New York Times interview over a decade ago, Esiason announced that the nickname had been created by his own mother, prior to his birth, because of how much he kicked while she was pregnant.
Eldrick Woods’ nickname “Tiger” was coined in honor of a friend of his father, according to an interview with Golf Digest. Again, very few would ever say “what a great putt that was by Eldrick Woods on the 18th.” “It’s Sunday afternoon and Tiger’s on fire today” is much more catchy.
Magic Johnson is the third man to share this spot on our list. While he may be widely known today for his HIV/AIDS diagnosis and activism, he is also one of the most decorated point guards in the history of the game. One doesn’t get a name like “Magic” without showing something special on the court. His actual first name is Earvin, but “Magic” is his widely accepted name these days. Additionally, his ability to survive and remain in good health twenty years after an HIV diagnosis is nothing short of magic.
9. Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell
The UFC Hall of Famer makes this list for his nickname “The Iceman,” which is a reference to his fighting style and overall demeanor. Chuck Liddell is one of the most prolific fighters in the history of the promotion and fought from 1998 until 2010, when he retired at age 40. Throughout his career, Liddell was known for keeping a cool head at all times, whether he was preparing for a fight or in the ring competing.
His alias, referring to his cold, calculating and ultimately calm style, is an intimidating nickname indicative of a psyche that many athletes wish they had.
8. Troy Polamalu: The Samoan Headhunter and The Tasmanian Devil
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ veteran strong safety is known not only for his phenomenal head of hair, but also his hard hitting style of play, coupled with his overall intelligence. The eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl winner has been a threat to ball carriers and quarterbacks alike, being able to lay down devastating hits on running backs or receivers, while also having soft hands that can intercept passes. His nicknames come from his head of hair along with his wild play on the field.
Oddly enough, in a league where there are many loud men attempting to intimidate each other, Troy Polamalu is actually known among his own teammates for being one of the more soft spoken and spiritual players in the league.
7. Jason “White Chocolate” Williams
Back in 1999, in his second year with the Sacramento Kings, a lady named Stephanie Shephard, a public relations employee of the team, offered up the name “White Chocolate” for Williams. She commented that his game reminded her of how youths in Chicago played street ball and said his ball skills were reminiscent, for her, of the enthusiasm of such young people.
Williams himself, likes his nickname to this day, and even has “white boy” tattooed on his knuckles. That didn’t stop people from complaining about the complimentary but racist nickname however.
6. Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch
One of the NFL’s most explosive runners of the past decade, the 2014 Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawk makes our list at number six. His self-assigned nickname has become a fan favorite, as Lynch is one of the most difficult NFL players to tackle and can also run faster than most of those trying to bring him down. Off the field, however, the four-time Pro Bowl selection is soft spoken and rarely shows much emotion. He truly is a dominant presence on the field while maintaining a laid back, quiet demeanor in his own life.
5. The Rocket: Maurice Richard and Roger Clemens
Another shared entry is split between one of hockey’s greatest heroes and one of Major League Baseball’s best pitchers.
Maurice “The Rocket” Richard is a legend in the city of Montreal. He was by no means a large and imposing figure, but he played with the bravery of a ten-foot-tall behemoth while also being the fastest player on the ice. “The Rocket” led the Montreal Canadiens to multiple Stanley Cup Championships throughout his career.
“Rocket” Roger is currently third all-time with regard to Major League Baseball strikeouts, after Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. Clemens won the Cy Young award seven times and the World Series twice. The name “Rocket” came from the speed of his fastball, which was steadily between 97 and 100 mph early on in his career.
4. Walter “Sweetness” Payton
Walter Payton, who played thirteen seasons for the Chicago Bears, is widely believed to be among the greatest players ever to grace the gridiron. He held several NFL records for years including most career rushing touchdowns, most career rush attempts, most rushing yards and most all-purpose yards from the line of scrimmage.
“Sweetness” is a great nickname for the late Walter Payton, who earned the nickname during his college career. His play on the field was sometimes referred to as “sweet,” although no defender that he flattened would have classified the experience as such. In reality, it is widely believed that “sweetness” was an accolade given to him early in his college career at Jackson State because of his genuine, kind-hearted personality.
At just age 46, Walter Payton died of a liver disease in 1999.
3. Reggie White “The Minister of Defense”
What do you get when you cross one of the most intimidating presences in football with a Baptist minister? That’s right, the Philadelphia Eagles/Green Bay Packers great, Reggie White. While the name may sound like a government position, the NFL’s second all-time sack leader was actually ordained as a minister while in college at Tennessee.
The ten-time All-Pro player finally won a Super Bowl in 1997 with the Green Bay Packers. In that year he managed to get 11 sacks, which was actually two under his career average of 13 per season. Much like Walter Payton, White died far too soon, passing away at just age 43 from complications due to a heart condition.
2. “Babe” Ruth: “The Great Bambino/The Sultan of Swat”
Possibly one of the most well-known athletes of all-time, George Herman Ruth could have had his nickname “Babe” included with Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, and Boomer Esiason, but it was just one of many for the 22 year pitcher turned outfielder.
While “Babe” and “Bambino” are the opposite of intimidating, they are among the most iconic athlete names in sport. “The Sultan of Swat” presents a clever alliteration which indicates that he was the best hitter of his time. The seven-time World Series Champion and twelve-time American League home run Champion is number two on this list, but not by much.
1. Wayne Gretzky: “The Great One”
Almost every league has a G.O.A.T. but there are none as clearly defined as Wayne Gretzky is to the NHL. Wayne Gretzky leads all NHL skaters in points by nearly 1000 points. He also has the highest point per game total with 1.92. The next highest point per game total is Mario Lemieux, but he played almost 500 fewer games than Gretzky, thus totaling over 1000 fewer points.
He has a 93 goal lead over Gordie Howe in terms of all time goals, and leads the league in career assists by over 700. He achieved all of these amazing totals but is just 18th in terms of games played in a career. I could keep rambling off stats but these are some of The Great One’s most impressive, and they prove that his nickname is the most iconic of the sports world, as he is, without any shadow of a doubt, the greatest who has ever lived. “The Great One” is not only the best hockey player of all time, but also has the greatest nickname in the sporting world.
- Ad Free Browsing
- Over 10,000 Videos!
- All in 1 Access
- Join For Free!