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888poker: Does Trash Talking Pay Off?

By: Chad Holloway

Athletes and gamers are always looking for an edge. Trash talking to get inside an opponent’s head is one way to get a leg up, and over the years some big personalities have become masters of it. Here’s a look at ten of the most famous trash talkers in all of sports (for the sake of this article we’re considering poker a sport). In no particular order…

Steve Smith (NFL)

Titles/Career Highlights: Steve Smith spent 16 years playing in the NFL before retiring after the 2016 season. A five-time Pro Bowler and the 2005 Comeback Player of the Year, Smith ranks seventh on the NFL’s all-time list in all-purpose yards (19,180) and receiving yards (14,731). Chances are he’ll be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in five years

Famous Quote: "I don't know. You go and ask him, 'cause he didn't finish the game. Ice up, son. Ice up."

Setup: In November 2013, after the Carolina Panthers defeated the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. During the game, Smith and cornerback Aqib Talib had a back-and-forth throughout the game. In a postgame interview, Smith had the last word by telling his opponent to “Ice up, son.”

Did It Pay Off? The trash talk paid off in that it not only gave Smith a reputation as being one of the best trash talkers in the game, but the “ice up, son” catchphrase as turned into a t-shirt.

Chris Pronger (NHL)

Titles/Career Highlights: The second overall pick in the 1992 NHL Draft, Pronger played for multiple teams up until 2011 when he was sidelined by concussions. He won the Stanley Cup in 2007 as part of the Anaheim Ducks, and also won Olympic gold medals in 2002 and 2010. Earlier this year, he was named one of the “100 Greatest NHL Players” in history.

Famous Quote: “I don't want to get into a 'he said, she said' with the refs…I'm the he.”

Setup: Throughout his time in the NHL, Pronger develop a reputation as a jerk and poor sportsman. He was often unprofessional – he’d sometimes steal the puck after games – and wasn’t afraid to let players, refs, and the media know what was on his mind.

Did It Pay Off? No. There’s no denying he was one of the best defensemen, but his trash talking and antics did little in ingratiate him to the league, refs, media, and fans.

Phil Hellmuth (Poker)

Titles/Career Highlights: Poker’s all-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner with 14. Won the 1989 WSOP Main Event and 2012 WSOP Europe Main Event. Has more than $21 million in lifetime earnings and currently ranks seventh on poker’s all-time money list.

Famous Quote: “This fricking donkey stuffs $15,000 in with king-jack. I mean ... the guy can't even spell poker.”

Setup: In the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Jim Pittman raised to 12,000 with K♥J♥ and Hellmuth reraised to 32,000 with the A♦K♠. Pittman responded by moving all in and Hellmuth called. Pittman ended up rivering a jack and setting off the “Poker Brat.”

Did It Pay Off? Not immediately as he busted a short time later. However, over the ensuing decade Hellmuth often used his brash insults to get players to put their money in bad.

Scottie Pippen (NBA)

Titles/Career Highlights: One of the best small forwards of all time, Pippen was a seven-time NBA All-Star and named MVP in the 1994 All-Star Game. He helped transform the Chicago Bulls alongside Michael Jordan on the way to winning six titles. His No. 33 has been retired by both Central Arkansas and the Bulls.

Famous Quote: “Just remember, the mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays, Karl.”

Setup: In Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, there was 9.2 seconds left when Karl “The Mailman” Malone, who had won league MVP that year, was fouled. Pippen uttered his famous words in an attempt to get inside his opponent’s head.

Did It Pay Off? You bet it did as Malone not only missed both free throws, but Michael Jordan rebounded and went on to nail the game-winning shot. The Bulls went on to win their fifth championship title.

Mike Tyson (Boxing)

Titles/Career Highlights: In his heyday, Tyson held the undisputed world heavyweight championship and dominated boxing. Over his 20-year career he fought 58 times and went 50-6-2 with 44 wins by KO. He is both an International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame inductee.

Famous Quote: “I want to eat his children.”

Setup: Tyson had just knocked out Lou Savarese in 38 seconds. He proceeded to spout about his own greatness beginning with things like “no one can stop me” and “I’m the best ever,” but morphed into things like “I want your heart” and “I want to eat his children.”

Did It Pay Off? Yes. His skills and brand saw his income exceed $400 million, so it did pay off for a while. Like so many athletes, he squandered his fortune and in 2015 was purportedly worth just $1 million.

Marco Materazzi (Soccer)

Titles/Career Highlights: Materazzi was named 2007 Serie A Defender of the Year, won the 2006 FIFA World Cup with Italy, and has four Coppa Italia titles.

Famous Quote: “I’d rather have your sister.”

Setup: Italy and France were tied 1-1 in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final when Materazzi grabbed the shirt of Zinedane Zidane on more than one occasion. Eventually the Frenchman told Materazzi he would need to wait until after the game to get his shirt. Materazzi shot back with the sister quip.

Did It Pay Off? Yes. Zidane head-butted Materazzi in the chest and received a red flag, which forced him to watch from the sidelines as France lost on penalties.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. (Boxing)

Titles/Career Highlights: Mayweather competed from 1996 to 2015 and is considered one of the best boxers of all time. He won fifteen world titles and went 49-0 with 26 wins by KO.

Famous Quote: “He ain’t good enough to be my sparring partner.”

Setup: In December 2007, Mayweather put his WBC & The Ring welterweight titles on the line against Ricky Hatton.

Did It Pay Off? Yes. Mayweather backed it up by defeating Hatton by triple knockout (TKO) in the 10th round.

John McEnroe (Tennis)

Titles/Career Highlights: A former No. 1 professional tennis player, McEnroe is considered one of the best tennis players of all time. Known for his temper and sharp tongue, McEnroe won seven Grand Sam singles titles, nine Grand Slam men’s doubles titles, and a Grand Slam mixed doubles title.

Famous Quote: "I've got more talent in my pinkie than Lendl has in his whole body."

Setup: McEnroe had a famed rivalry with Ivan Lendl, and in a 1987 interview with Esquire uttered one of the game’s most memorable lines.

Did It Pay Off? No. Between 1980 and 1992 Lendl won the head-to-head 21-15.

Pedro Martinez (MLB)

Titles/Career Highlights: In his 18-year pitching career, Martinez posted the second-highest winning percentage in modern baseball history. The 2015 Baseball Hall of Famer also played in eight All-Star games and on three Cy Young awards.

Famous Quote: “Who are you Karim García to try to test Pedro Martínez?”

Setup: In the 2003, American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, Martinez plunked the Yankees’ Karim Garcia, which prompted a bench-clearing altercation. After the game, ESPN’s Peter Gammons interviewed Martinez, who was quick to disrespect Garcia.

Did It Pay Off? No. The Yankees won the series four games to three and kept Martinez and the Red Sox out of the World Series. However, Martinez would become a World Series champion the very next year.

Will Kassouf (Poker)

Titles/Career Highlights: Kassouf finished 17th in the 2016 WSOP Main Event to get on poker’s radar, and followed that up by winning a High Roller event in Prague for $555,619. He has nearly $1.3 million in lifetime earnings.

Famous Quote: “Nine high like a boss”

Setup: After bluffing out Stacy Matuson out of a big hand during the 2016 WSOP Main Event, Kassof revealed his weak holdings, and with ESPN cameras rolling, became synonymous with nine high.

Did It Pay Off? Yes. Kassouf’s controversial “speech play” shook up the poker world and made him the biggest breakout star of the year. He also went on to lose a “Grudge Match” against Matuson at the 888poker Rozvadov Festival.

Connor McGregor (MMA)

Titles/Career Highlights: The brash and boisterous Irishman has a mixed martial arts record of 21-3. He is the reigning UFC Lightweight Champ and former UFC Featherweight Champion. He is also the first fighter in UFC history to hold two different division titles simultaneously.

Famous Quote: “I don’t just knock them out, I pick the round.”

Setup: The quote was actually uttered after his match against Dustin Poirier at UFC 178 in Las Vegas. Before the match, McGregor called his shot and said he’d defeat his opponent in the first round.

Did It Pay Off? Yes. Within two minutes, McGregor caught Poirer behind the ear with a left-hand blow and the fight was stopped soon thereafter.

Muhammad Ali (Boxing)

Titles/Career Highlights: Regard as one of the most influential sports figures of the 20th century, the heavyweight fought 61 times and went 56-5 with 37 wins by KO. He is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, is one of only three boxers to win Sports Illustrated’s ”Sportsman of the Year,” and was previously tied with Babe Ruth for the most recognized athlete in the world. The list goes on and one.

Famous Quote: "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee...his hands can't hit what his eyes can't see."

Setup: At age 22, Ali was set to take on World Champ Sonny Liston in Miami. Some feared Liston would literally kill the smaller Ali in the ring.

Did It Pay Off? It did as Ali shocked the world by besting the larger Liston in seven rounds – he won by technical knockout -- to win his first heavyweight title. The rest, as they say, is history.

To be a successful trash talker, you not only have to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. Remember the wise words of Plato: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”