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Top 10 Greatest Sports Nicknames

VO: Rebecca Brayton
What’s in a name? Everything. Sports nicknames are the stuff of legend: sometimes they speak to an athlete’s skills, sometimes a funny event, sometimes simply their dominance on the playing surface. But there’s no denying that some are more epic than others – the kind that stick in your mind even though you might have no recollection of the athlete him or herself. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 greatest sports nicknames. For this list, we've chosen the one athlete per sport who we think has the most iconic, memorable, or funny nickname.

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Top 10 Greatest Sports Nicknames

What’s in a name? Everything. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 greatest sports nickname.

For this list, we’ve chosen the one athlete per sport who we think has the most iconic, memorable, or funny nickname.

#10: UFC – Anderson Silva
“The Spider”

Labeled history’s best UFC fighter by the organization’s president Dana White, Anderson “The Spider” Silva holds several records. This mixed martial arts superhero was labeled “Brazil’s Spider-Man” by an announcer who noticed him wearing a t-shirt featuring the comic-book webslinger. It’s a fitting moniker not only because Spider-Man is one of Silva’s idols, but also because like a spider he baits opponents and preys on them when they’re weakest.

#9: Boxing – Mike Tyson
“Iron Mike”

The Golden Boy, Smokin’ Joe, Hurricane Carter, Bonecrusher, The Greatest – the boxing world has no shortage of great tags. But there’s no more appropriate name for “The Baddest Man on the Planet” than “Iron Mike:” tough-as-nails and hard as iron, Tyson was terrifying at his prime. His nickname was so simple, yet so perfect: in the ring, he was vicious and frightening, and iron-like as they come.

#8: Cricket – Donald Bradman
“The Don”

One of history’s greatest batsmen, Braddles is often credited with one of the most impressive stats in any sport, with an incredible Test batting average of 99.94. Eventually, the Boy from Bowral grew up into a mature and skillful veteran, dropping the blitzing style of his early career and becoming the sport’s elder statesman known as “The Don.”

#7: Hockey – Maurice Richard
“The Rocket”

Gretzky was The Great One, Lemieux was Super Mario; but Rocket Richard was his era’s most electric player, becoming the first NHLer to score 50 goals in one season. His speed got him his immortal nickname: originally labeled the Comet, in 1942 teammate Ray Getliffe remarked to reporters that Richard was fast as a rocket. The name stuck, and was later adapted for his smaller brother, Henri “The Pocket-Rocket.”

#6: Swimming – Ian Thorpe
“The Thorpedo”

Swimming isn’t known for its nicknames, but there are some standouts: German Michael Gross is The Albatross, American Michael Phelps is The Baltimore Bullet, and his teammate Ryan Lochte is The Lochtenator. But Thorpedo is our pick: he was the youngest Australian to represent his country, and before long he was also the proud owner of five Olympic medals. His shocking missile-like speed means he’ll always be the Thorpedo.

#5: Golf – Greg Norman
“The Great White Shark”

Tiger may be the most ubiquitous golf nickname around; but The Great White Shark is decidedly the most badass. Hailing from Australia, Norman first gained fame at the ’81 Masters, where he also earned his famous nickname. His white-blond hair, aggressive approach and background diving with sharks is what inspired this pet name, and it soon came to signify his predatory nature on the links.

#4: Football – Franz Beckenbauer
“Der Kaiser”

One of Germany’s greatest footballers, Beckenbauer had magnetism, authority and refined approach. Meaning “The Emperor,” his nickname supposedly originated after the star posed for photos near the statue of a former Austrian emperor. However, another story says that Beckenbauer once humiliated Reinhard Libuda – a.k.a. the King of Westphalia – on the pitch, so the media needed a nickname for someone who was above a king. “Der Kaiser” was born.

#3: American Football – William Perry
“The Refrigerator”

The NFL is packed with great monikers, and you don’t have to look further than Perry’s own Chicago Bears teammates for another one: Walter “Sweetness” Payton earned his nickname with speed, skill and class. But we love “The Fridge:” while Perry was an exceptional athlete, what made him memorable was his size. Big even for the NFL, he’s got the biggest Super Bowl ring ever made at a size-25.

#2: Basketball – Earvin Johnson

Sure, “Air” Jordan was ultra-successful branding; but Earvin Johnson didn’t even need his real first name. His talent earned him the moniker “Magic” as a 15-year-old high-school sophomore, despite the fact that his Christian mother thought the nickname was blasphemous. “Magic” eventually grew up to become the greatest point-guard the NBA ever saw, with a label that was reverential, ingenious and evocative all at the same time.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

- “The Splendid Splinter” - Ted Williams
- “Pistol” Pete Maravich
- “Broadway” Joe Namath
- “The Big Unit” - Randy Johnson
- “The Bus” - Jerome Bettis
- “The Yankee Clipper” - Joe DiMaggio
- “The Mailman” - Karl Malone
- “Dr. J” - Julius Erving
- “The Minister of Defense” - Reggie White
- Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion
- “Prime Time” - Deion Sanders
- “The Russian Rocket” - Alexander Popov
- “Wilt the Stilt” - Wilt Chamberlain
- Adam “Pac Man” Jones

#1: Baseball – Joe Jackson
“Shoeless Joe”

Babe Ruth, Yogi Berra, Mr. October and Charlie Hustle round out the list of great MLB nicknames; but without “Shoeless,” Joe Jackson’s name would be ordinary. He received his nickname as a teen, when his cleats gave him such bad blisters he played barefoot. Hecklers called him a “shoeless son of a gun,” and he never shook the name, even after he was banned from baseball following 1919’s Black Sox Scandal.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite sports nickname? For more entertaining top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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