Athletes who use trash talk walk a fine line when it comes to confidence in their abilities. The best ones use it to psych out their opponents to get an advantage. Whether it’s hurling barbs during a press conference before a tough match, dissing someone on the court and then hitting a shot in their face, or challenging an opponent only to instantly stuff them, trash talk can be the ultimate weapon for throwing someone off their game.
Here's a look at the best trash talkers in sports history.
McGregor is “Notorious” for his trash talk, never wasting a chance to fling some insults at his opponent. Whether it’s at press conferences, weigh-ins, walking into fights, during fights, or after fights, McGregor always has something to say—sometimes even going over the line. Things got extremely heated during the lead-up to his rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 202, with McGregor hurling insults and bottles as Diaz’s crew, which resulted in a hefty $150,000 fine and some trash talk thrown in the direction of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
McGregor’s trash talk isn’t just for show, though: He often uses it to get into his opponents' heads, and often it works. The outspoken fighter was constantly playing mind games with Jose Aldo leading up to their fight, which ended up as the fastest knockout in UFC history at just 13 seconds by McGregor. The Irish fighter uses his words as weapons, just like his fists.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Money” Mayweather doesn’t shy away from the spotlight, especially when it means coming at boxers like Shane Mosley, Manny Pacquiao, and Oscar De La Hoya. The boxer's bravado is always on display at his press conferences, weigh-ins, and especially in his post-fight results. Mayweather put together a 49-0 record, so when he speaks, he has the dominance to back it up. Mayweather didn’t always direct his heat at boxers either—one of his most memorable trash talk moments came in a heated exchange with HBO boxing commentator Larry Merchant after Mayweather knocked out Victor Ortiz: “HBO needs to fire you," Mayweather spat. "You don't know sh*t about boxing. You ain't sh*t. All of these boxing experts—how can you be a boxing expert if you never had a fight before?"
“KD” has one of the best off-court images of anyone in the NBA—although some might argue it changed a bit with his move to the Golden State Warriors—but on the court, Durant can trash talk with the best of them. Durant dished some in the direction of Dwyane Wade in the 2012 NBA Finals after sinking a shot over the guard and he had no problem getting into it with referees during his time in Oklahoma City.
Draymond Green, new teammate of Durant’s and another major smack talker, gave Durant his due during the 2015 season in a radio interview. “You know who I always thought [was a great trash-talker], but has been under the radar? I think Kevin Durant,” Green said. “Lotta people don’t know that. But if you play against him, you know. KD makes you feel bad about yourself, that you ever talked junk. It’s the funniest thing in the world.” Now that Durant is with the Warriors, he may have some trash talk coming his way, but everyone better be ready—he can spin it right back.
Sherman ranted at the camera after making a game-sealing play on 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree: "Well, I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get! Don't you ever talk about me! Don't you open your mouth about the best, or y'know I'm gonna shut it for you real quick!” Even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson admitted that Sherman might be the best trash talker in sports—and he would know: he was one of the best in the business during his pro wrestling days.
Draymond Green is one of the most athletically gifted players in the NBA at 6’5, 230 pounds. As much as that helps him succeed on the court, his expert trash-talking skills also give him a leg up over the competition. While his below-the-belt antics make him a frequent target for criticism, Green has no problem getting in the face of anyone, whether they're players on the other team or a referee. Even though his powers were impervious to former Spurs star Tim Duncan, Green hasn't found a situation yet where he won't dish some trash talk.
The Warriors star got into it with LeBron James during the NBA Finals, and while that didn’t help Golden State win a championship this time around, he at least momentarily rattled “The King” during the series. Whether it always works or not, Green’s standing as a trash talker is not in question—in a poll of NBA coaches and players, Green came out on top as the best smack artist in basketball.
Smith has always been a fiery player—being 5’9”, 195 pounds in a sport full of brute goliaths will do that—but his trash talk and on-field celebrations take things to another level. The longtime Carolina Panthers wideout has never been shy about expressing his opinion towards other players, especially the defensive backs he goes up against on the gridiron.
Trash talk is second nature in boxing, and Tyson embraced that to the fullest. The former heavyweight champion laid smack on reporters, fellow boxers, promoters, and other athletes throughout his career, including one of his most infamous moments with Showtime commentator Jim Gray. Tyson had just knocked out Lou Savarese in 38 seconds, and instead of answering Gray’s questions, he went on a rant against Lennox Lewis, saying: “Lennox (Lewis) is a conqueror? No. I’m Alexander. He’s no Alexander. I’m the best ever. There’s never been anybody as ruthless. I’m Sonny Liston. I’m Jack Dempsey. There’s no one like me. I’m from their cloth. There’s no one that can match me. My style is impetuous. My defense is impregnable. And I’m just ferocious. I want your heart. I want to eat his children.” Tyson and Lewis eventually squared off in 2002 and the pre-fight press conference, “Iron Mike” couldn't help himself, confronting Lewis and getting into an all-out brawl. Lewis would eventually win the boxing match, but Tyson’s trash talk lives forever.
“Larry Legend” was an all-time great on the court, winning three NBA titles in his career with slick shooting and some of the most vicious trash talk anyone has ever seen. It didn’t matter who he was facing off against—Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Reggie Miller, or even a coach in Doug Collins, Bird directed his smack anywhere and everywhere. “The Hick From French Lick” once tried to psych out Miller on the free throw line, got into it with “Air” Jordan, and even told SuperSonics forward Xavier McDaniel exactly what he was going to do on the next play to make a shot, telling McDaniel that he couldn't stop him. "I'm going to get [the ball] right here and I am going to bury it in your face,” Bird said. And he did just that.
“The People's Champion” is unquestionably the most legendary trash talker of all time. His quotes have gone down as some of the most influential, important, and effective forms of talking smack in the history of sports. Ali as fluid in his speech as he was on his feet, and his brilliant quips seemed to infuriate his opponents as effectively as they wowed the sports media. “The Louisville Lip”—that's what they called him before "The Greatest"—was relentless during the lead-up to his fights against boxers like Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman, saying anything and everything to knock out his opponents before they even stepped into the ring.
While her upset loss to Holly Holm might've taken her badass reptation down a peg, Rousey is still one of the best trash talkers in the UFC—and in the entire sports world. Rousey has used trash talk to knock down the skills of her opponents, talk herself up as a champ, and even call out celebrities. Rousey went straight at Miesha Tate in their pre-fight press conference and went all-out on Bethe Correia, telling her she wasn’t “meant for this life.” Rousey will throw down smack on anyone at any time.