Take a minute and go find a video of Rose Namajunas playing piano. While you watch and listen, try to imagine her name being Thug. Before we draw the inevitable conclusion that nicknames are weird, we need to establish that all names are weird. Words are weird in fact. Aside from the existential crisis in learning that terrible and terrific actually can mean the same thing because language is nuts, there is something to names and subsequently nicknames that seems to ask for inspection.
Fighting lends itself to a good nickname just by its nature. It can add so much to see a person – nay, a character – like Diego Sanchez (below) standing in a cage to hear Bruce Buffer herald his ominous moniker Diego "The NIGHTMARE" Sanchez! Shivers! All of our mythical heroes have names like that. It is at root a fundamental sort of branding. But even deeper than that root is the visceral nature of connecting a nickname to the identity of its holder.
There is plenty of fan fodder in learning the origins of nicknames. Beware though. Very often that origin story like some third-rate offshoot CW Network DC comic TV show character is going to let you down once you dig into it. Stick with Batman and leave Max Roboto to the diehard collectors. It is a rare thing where there is a payoff in knowing where a nickname comes from. And this includes the good ones. It is best to just go with the mystique an intrigue and enjoy the ride.
There is probably some merit to a good nickname being a good thing. There has yet to be a fighter that argues with the idea that fighting is to some degree or other a mental sport. To our UK folks, that is in the clinical sense of mental and not a synonym for crazy – though MMA is mental in that sense too. The psychology of sport is a real thing and names, history, identity, persona, etc. play a part in that psychology to be sure. The degree to which it plays a part will vary fighter to fighter and even fan to fan. There is also the strange phenomenon when a moniker can mean a lot or hardly anything. Not too many people spend time wondering what the significance of "The Natural" means in relation to Randy Couture; but no time is even necessary to ratify the names of fighters like Chris "the Crippler" Leben, Chuck "the Ice Man" Liddell (below), Paul "Semtex" Daley, and even "Smilin'" Sam Alvey. Those names fit and paint a proverbial picture.
How can it be that some nicknames almost reflexively induce an eye roll and others illicit a grunt of credibility? How is it that Thug Rose made sense even before Daniel Cormier got stuck in an EDM dance beat loop of it in her defanging of Joanna Jędrzejczyk? How is it that no one ever calls Michael Bisping 'the Count' and conversely almost no one calls 'Rampage' Quinton? There are obtuse angles to look at too e.g. somehow Rush got ignored (strange it happened to a Canadian – Tom Sawyer, anyone!?) in favor of initials. Or how about when the moniker changes color such as in Mayhem or Notorious? That is not a dig, those have gone there and back and have had redemptive tones in there as well as controversy. What's in a name? Sometimes a lot. Sometimes a little.