Trash talk essentially boils down to two things. Either hyping up your own game by telling everyone how great you are, or attacking your opponents game and telling everyone how bad they are. It is often humorous, and generally meant to be taken in good spirit, although at times there can be some vitriol behind the words.
Trash talk has grown in popularity largely since the days of Muhammad Ali in the 1960's. At that time, boxers and fighters tended to let their trainers do the talking, but not Ali. Of course, 'the Greatest', as he crowned himself, could back up his trash talk, but the individuals on this list, could not.
Trash talk is most common in combat sports, or at least sports which involve an element of physical aggression, and it is no surprise that fighters and NFL players make up a large portion of this list. Whilst the likes of Ali and Jordan were known for talking a big game, they also played a big game. The athletes on this list, on one occasion at least, trash talked and ended up humiliated. Here are the top 20 trash talkers in sports who couldn't back it up:
20 Freddie Mitchell
In February 2005, prior to the Super Bowl XXXIX between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, Freddie Mitchell told the press that he only knew the Patriots cornerbacks numbers, and not their names. In a string of less than impressive trash talk, Mitchell also claimed that he "had something" for Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison.
Whatever it was Mitchell had in mind, it wasn't enough, the Patriots won the game 24-21. Mitchell's performance was particularly underwhelming as he managed just one catch for 11 yards.
19 Jenn Stuczynski
Jenn Stuczynski is one of the finest pole vaulters the world has ever seen, but sadly her main rival over the years, Yelena Isinbayeva, is widely regarded as the greatest female pole vaulter of all time. Isinbayeva won gold in Athens four years earlier, and heading into Beijing, Stuczynski boldly declared, "I hope we do some damage, and, you know, kick some Russian butt." Isinbayeva won gold once more, while Stuczynski had an impressive silver, but looked something of a fool. She did make amends at the London games in 2012, where she won gold.
18 Rex Ryan
Rex Ryan has a history of trash talk, which most commonly involves him making incredibly bold statements which are inevitably difficult to follow through. This has at times led to discord within his own dressing room, most famously when LaDainian Tomlinson commented that Ryan's comments had added unwanted and unnecessary pressure upon the Jets in 2012. After that incident, Ryan went on statement saying he would try to tone down his predictions in future.
17 Nyjer Morgan
Things came to a head in September 2011 in a game between the Cardinals and the Brewers, reportedly a result of Nyjer Morgan's trash talk. There was an altercation between Morgan, Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols. Morgan didn't stop there, he took to twitter after the clash, tweeting, "Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in that playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!!", later adding, "Alberta couldn't see Plush if she had her gloves on!!! Wat was she thinking running afta Plush!!! She never been n tha ring!!!" Morgan's barely decipherable tweets and trash talk came back to bite, as the St. Louis Cardinals went on to became National League and World Series champions that year.
16 Brian Bosworth
NFL linebacker turned Hollywood actor Brian Bosworth spent 3 seasons in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks in the late 80's. Bosworth famously ended up with egg on his face in November 1987 when the Seahawks were set to face the Raiders. It was Bosworth's first season, and also the Raiders new star running back Bo Jackson's first season in the NFL. Prior to the game, Bosworth boasted that he would "contain" Jackson. The result was Bosworth getting flattened by one of the greatest sportsmen of all-time, as Jackson knocked him to the ground to score the touchdown as the Raiders won 37-14. Jackson reportedly said to Bosworth, "next time, make sure you've got bus fare". It was the game that launched Jackson into the stratosphere and left Bosworth humiliated.
15 Tiki Barber
Unlike most on this list, Tiki Barber's trash talk came after his retirement from professional sports, however his comments clearly still came back to bite him. In an interview before the start of the 2007 season, Barber took to criticizing his former teammate Eli Manning's leadership skills. Barber went on to say that Manning's motivational pre-game speeches were "almost comical". Manning replied by saying he wouldn't lose any sleep over the comments and went on to win the Super Bowl that season, before leading the Giants to another Super Bowl win four years later.
14 Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson learned not to trash talk LeBron James the hard way. Stephenson hoped his clowning in early 2014 would throw LeBron and his Heat, but he soon found out that he was way off the mark. LeBron was simply too smart and too professional to be put off his game. Stephenson had claimed he was able to get in James' head, but the Heat won, led by James who scored 32 points to Stephenson's nine. He later admitted, "I think I said some things that shouldn't have been said."
13 Matt Hasselbeck
Most trash talk comes either pre or post-match, but Matt Hasselbeck's actually came during game play. It was the 2003 NFC Wild Card Play-Off between the Seahawks and the Packers, and having won the coin toss, a supremely confident Hasselbeck proclaimed, "We'll take the ball, and we're gonna score." He was half right; the Seahawks did take the ball, but it was the Packers who scored. The QB's pass was intercepted, the Packers had a touchdown and Hasselbeck was humiliated live on national TV.
12 Anthony Smith
Anthony Smith picked the wrong man to annoy when he riled up Tom Brady by trash talking the New England Patriots prior to a game between the Pats and the Steelers in late 2007. The height of the trash talking concluded with Smith making the oh-so-silly claim "We're going to win. Yeah, I can guarantee a win." If you're taking out a loan and looking for a guarantor, I wouldn't recommend Smith. His predictions weren't sound, as the Steelers were roundly beaten 34-13, with Brady even targeting Randy Moss, who Smith was covering, in order to make a point to the Steelers safety.
11 Rick Dutrow
Rick Dutrow is currently serving a 10-year ban from horse training for numerous training violations, which isn't set to end until 2023, although he is appealing the decision. Dutrow's greatest horse was Big Brown, although he had admitted to using the banned steroid Winstrol on the thoroughbred, as well as a number of his other horses. Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, before heading to Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown. Dutrow described the final race a "foregone conclusion", but Big Brown finishedin dead last place, becoming the first horse to ever finish last when going for the triple crown.
10 Tom Brady
As one of the greatest NFL players of all time, Tom Brady is of course capable of backing up most of what he says. But even someone as experienced and talented as Brady delved into the world of unwise trash talk back in 2008, prior to Super Bowl XLII. After Plaxico Burress predicted a win for the New York Giants and only 17 points for the Patriots, Brady was not impressed. He replied by saying, "We're only going to score 17 points? OK. Is Plax playing defense? I wish he had said 45-42 and gave us a little credit for scoring more points." Final score: New York Giants 17-14 New England Patriots. Perhaps Brady should have taken the 17 points Burress was giving the Pats.
9 Kevin Keegan
Sir Alex Ferguson had a number of attributes which made him probably the greatest soccer manager in the history of the game, and mind games were undoubtedly one of them. He got into the heads of Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez, Roberto Mancini and more, but the greatest example of Ferguson's mind games was surely the spat between him and then Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan.
Newcastle had led the table for almost the entire season, having a 12-point advantage in March. After comments by Ferguson, Keegan resorted to a rant, passionately exclaiming, "he's got to go to Middlesbrough and get something, and... and I tell you honestly, I will love it if we beat them, love it!" Ferguson did get something from it, and Manchester United won the league.
8 Winston Montero
Coming off the back of a bronze at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio, light flyweight boxer Winston Montero seemed curiously confident heading into the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Zou Shiming was heavily favored, yet Montero went on record as saying he would defeat Shiming. He didn't. In fact, he never had the chance. The Dominican was defeated in his second bout, while Shiming reached the final and won gold as expected.
7 Reggie Miller
Everybody knows about the trash talk between Reggie Miller and Spike Lee, and that is trash talk which Miller has largely backed up. However, earlier in his career, Miller learned that there was one man to whom his trash talking would not have the desired effect, and that man was Michael Jordan. In Miller's rookie year, the Pacers faced the Chicago Bulls in an exhibition game. When halftime came and Miller had 10 points to Jordan's 4, he began berating Jordan.
By the end of the game, Jordan had 44 points to Miller's 12. Jordan said to Miller, "be careful that you never talk to Black Jesus like that." Miller's trash talking would continue throughout his career, but never again to Michael Jordan.
6 David Haye
David Haye is a very good boxer who has been both the undisputed cruiserwight world champion and the WBA heavyweight champion. He has defeated six world champions over a career in which he has won 26 fights and lost 2, but it was one of these defeats which saw the Hayemaker take a serious blow to his reputation and credibility. Having talked up his fight with Wladimir Klitschko beyond belief, saying that he would knock the Ukrainian out and wearing a t-shirt sporting him and his brother decapitated heads, Haye proceeded to put in a poor show. He was defeated by unanimous decision and blamed his tame performance on an injured toe.
5 Alain Bernard
Who's ever heard of trash talking in swimming? Well, it happens. Or rather, it did happen, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The exceptionally talented swimmer Alain Bernard was determined to put an end to the American dominance in the water, and was feeling confident with a strong team around him. "We're going to smash the American team, that's what we're here for," Bernard boldly claimed. While Bernard won a gold in his 100m freestyle relay, the French took silver, 0.8 seconds behind the Americans. Bernard's coach described him as "wounded" following the defeat.
4 Lyoto Machida
Having become UFC Light Heavyweight world champion in May 2009, Lyoto Machida successfully defender his title once, against Mauricio Rua later that year. When a rematch against Rua was scheduled, Machida was very confident. "No one can defend my style. I will keep this belt for a very long time. Whoever, whatever, whenever, I'm here." He was knocked out by Rua in the first round, losing his title at his second defense having held it for less than a year.
3 Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson was undefeated for five years in 2002, having not lost a bout since his 1997 defeat to Evander Holyfied. However, 4 wins and 2 no contests against less than formidable opposition didn't prove that the true Tyson was back. To do that, he would have to beat a genuinely world class opponent, and he got that chance in 2002, a fight against Lennox Lewis for five heavyweight titles.
Tyson was confident, and the trash talk stepped over the line of decency more than once. "Lennox Lewis, I'm coming for you man. My style is impetuous. My defense is impregnable, and I'm just ferocious. I want your heart. I want to eat his children. Praise be to Allah!" Those were the words of Tyson in the pre-fight build up. Lewis knocked out Tyson in the eighth round, effectively ending his career as a top class boxer.
2 Bobby Riggs
Bobby Riggs talked a big game in the build up to his second 'Battle of the Sexes' tennis match against Billy Jean King. Riggs had already defeated the top female player in the world at the time, Margaret Court, 6-2, 6-1, and was heavily favored to breeze past King with equal ease. Riggs had repeatedly said that even at the age of 55 no women's player was worthy of sharing the same court as a top male tennis player, and many had accused him of chauvinism.
King won the tie 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. It has since been claimed that Riggs may have thrown the match due to debts owed to the mafia, but since we will never know, Riggs' defeat to King must go down as an embarrassing backfire on his relentless trash talk.
1 Chael Sonnen
Most of the athletes on this list learned their lesson after being humiliated by making claims or criticisms which came back to bite them, but Chael Sonnen appears incapable of realizing that he's making a fool of himself. His most famous trash talk was in the build up to his fight with Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight Championship. Sonnen tediously tried to hype the fight with constant jibes towards Silva, culminating with quotes such as "You’re training really hard.’ Well, guess what dummy? I’ve been training really hard since I was nine years old and I still have time to bring interest to people wanting to see me whip your ass on August 7."
Sonnen was defeated by submission in the fifth round. He lost to Silva again in 2012 by TKO in the second round. More recently, Sonnen turned his hand to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, where he claimed he was the best fighter in the world and the new face of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, before having fought anyone. In his first fight, against the actual face of the sport, Andre Galvao, Sonnen lost by submission once more.