Psychological warfare is as much a part of boxing and can do as much damage as any punch, unless you handle it right. Part of that warfare is verbal and there are many reasons an athlete may trash talk.  If you understand those reasons, you can then use the logic behind it to defuse the situation and not let it get under your skin.  By understanding the purpose behind it and what motivates your opponent to “talk smack”, you can then separate the emotion from the situation.  You can gain awareness that, although your adversary’s verbal attacks may be disrespectful, even personal; they may not have the intent behind them that you think.  Fighters run their mouths for a variety of reasons, but not always the ones you may think.

Some athletes use trash talking to release tension...their own.  They may be nervous, insecure or just uncomfortable with the tense calm that lingers between two combatants.  Verbal outbursts cut through the silence and make people focus on their words and not how they are reacting.  If your opponent is nervous, it may show in the way of body language or through an evident lack of self-confidence.  If he acts out and talks loud, he is masking his insecurities.  The attention is still on him, but it becomes about what he is saying and not what he is doing, how he appears to others.  If he talks loud and brash enough it will overshadow any signs he may be showing that he is scared or unsure of himself. Regardless of how he reacts or appears, he can always point to his words.  In most cases, he figures that if he talks loud enough you and no one else will hear his knees knocking together. His insults may be directed at you, but it’s important to remember that he may be using his words to hide behind.

Trash talking gets attention.  The quiet unassuming champion too often goes unnoticed.  It’s the one who talks the loudest, the proudest and hurls a string of insults at his opponent that gets the press.  Good or bad press doesn’t matter, because any attention is better than none. Being a little over-the-top is entertaining to most people and in a world of overly-dramatic reality TV, fast-talking commercial pitchmen and special effects in excess, bigger is better.  Earlier in his career, even with Olympic credentials and the praise of the entire boxing world, “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather couldn’t fill an arena, even when he fought in his hometown and the Michigan area.  He was an outstanding, acclaimed fighter, but void of controversy.  Fast forward a few years later, where Floyd has transformed himself into “Money” Mayweather, a brash, outspoken, street-smart thug and he has now become one of the highest-grossing fighters in the game today.  Floyd Mayweather is the first man to fight three times on pay-per-view and break 1 million buys (domestically) each time and is likely in line to create what could be the largest grossing boxing match in history. Think that is by accident? Or is it a well-calculated plan to put butts in seats and dollars in his pocket?  In any case, as hurtful or harmful as his words may seem to a string of opponents (who also happen to be standing in line to be one of the chosen few to ride the Mayweather money train), it’s probably not personally-motivated.  It’s business. So, as it applies to you, if your opponent is in-your-face and drumming up attention, even if there’s no money involved, maybe he just wants the limelight.  Some people need an audience and if he’s drawing a crowd, it is an opportunity for you to shine.  George Foreman said it best, “Let the other guy have whatever he wants before the fight. Once the bell rings he's gonna be disappointed anyway.”  Simply put, what matters most is what happens in the ring.

He’s getting motivated to fight.  Some guys need to hate their opponents so they try to engage them and draw them into a verbal sparring session.  Some guys just require additional banter and buzz to get jazzed enough to fight.  It’s kind of hard to believe that the very idea that a fight is about to happen doesn’t provide enough motivation to get hyped-up, but some guys just require that added adrenaline rush. For some fighters, this becomes part of their warm-up, their pre-fight routine. It helps get their head in the fight.  It gets their blood flowing and helps prepare them for battle. These guys need something to direct their anger towards.  In most cases, the fact that it’s you standing in front of them is secondary.  It’s not really about you.  You just happen to be the opponent, so you’re the natural choice of targets.

His words are meant to make you emotional.  This is when it gets personal and is meant to do you harm, mental and bodily.  Your opponent wants you to take it personal, lose your head and do something stupid. Remember, fools rush in. If you start letting your emotions rule your actions, then you’re not thinking clearly.  Stick to your game plan. Ignore his words and stay focused on his actions.  That’s all that really matters.  He may try everything before and even during a match to make you lose your concentration and take you out of your game.  He may question your manhood, insult your mother or disrespect your skills, but it’s all in an effort to take your mind off the task at hand.  The best way to make him eat his words is let them have no affect on you.  If he senses that he is not getting through, then his mind will be fumbling for a new approach, different words or something that will have a noticeable impact on you.  If he’s preoccupied with what he should be saying and not doing, then that benefits you.

The less you give your opponent to work with, in terms of reaction and response, the harder it will be for him to get anything out of it.  If he’s using trash talking to get himself up for the fight and you give him no response, it’s going to make it hard for him to find reason to hate you.  The best thing you can do to counteract an opponent who likes to talk trash is to not engage.  Choose to not participate. The less you give him to work with, the better.  Let him win the war of words. After all, you know what they say about talk…it’s cheap.

When all is said and done, like it or not, agree with it or not, subscribe to it or not, trash-talking is a part of boxing. The sooner you learn how to deal with it and what it really means, the better you can use it to your advantage, no matter what side of it you’re on.

Doug Ward is the President and Trainer for the Underground Boxing Company.