What To Know About The Controversial New Combat Sport Trying To Grow As Medical Experts Disapprove


The Florida Athletic Commission has stalled a request to open a slap fighting league pending advice from medical experts, combat sport website Bloody Elbow reported Tuesday, as outrage and concern surrounding the recently televised sport grows.

Key Facts

Lex McMahon and Jeff Aronson, who run the mixed-martial arts organization Titan Fighting Championship, wrote a letter to the Commission in November asking it to oversee a new slap fighting league called SLAP CLUB, but the Commission has released no information regarding the likelihood or timeline of the club’s approval.

UFC President Dana White’s Power Slap reportedly became the first regulated American slap fighting league when the Nevada State Athletics Commission agreed to oversee the organization in October.

Power Slap: Road to the Title, which aired on TBS in January, followed 30 Power Slap contestants over eight episodes as they competed to be in the league’s first title fight—and has raised the sport’s profile as well as drawn criticism.

Slap fighting is often criticized for being unsafe and has caused at least one death—Polish slap fighter Artur Walczack suffered a brain bleed during a match and died of multiple organ failure in November 2021.

White calls slap fighting critics “morons” and claims the event is safer than boxing, the New York Times reports, arguing boxers take hundreds of hits per match, while slap fighters usually take between three to five.

Power Slap co-owner and UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell says regulations make slap fighting safer—Power Slap requires opponents to wear ear plugs and mouthguards, provides people to catch opponents if they’ve been knocked out, and penalizes conduct like hitting the eyes or mouth and divides competitors into MMA weight-classes.

Key Background

Slap fighting reportedly began in Russia and typically involves two opponents slapping each other across the face with an open palm—usually until one is unable to continue.

Slap fighting gained popularity during the pandemic when videos of the event, including competitions like the Male Slapping Championships, started wracking up millions of views. American slap-fighting leagues have been around since at least 2017, the same year the Washington Post reports White was inspired to televise the event. In a Power Slap match, opponents are scored based on the amount of damage they inflict and how well they absorb slaps. Each match is broken into up to ten rounds, with competitors delivering and receiving one slap per round. If the person getting slapped—the defender—can’t recover from the hit within sixty seconds, they lose the match. Defenders also get penalized for flinching, which includes ducking their head, raising their shoulder or turning their body to protect their face. The person slapping—the striker—must have both feet on the ground before slapping the defender with the heel of their hand, palm and fingers hitting at the same time. They are allowed to “wind-up,” or practice the trajectory of their swing, up to two times as long as they tell the referee and the defender how practice swings they plan to take. Strikers are penalized for lifting their feet, slapping or winding-up inappropriately and hitting the defender’s eyes, ears, mouth and temple.

Surprising Fact

Arnold Schwarzzaneger and internet personality Logan Paul hosted the Slap Fighting Championship, an unregulated slap fighting league, at the Arnold Classic Sports Festival in March 2022. Headliner Dawid “Zales” Zalewski, who knocked out his opponent Koa “Da Crazy Hawaiian” Viernes, is the competitor who caused Walczack’s fatal complications in 2021.

Big Number

413,000. That’s the number of viewers Power Slap: Road to the Title pulled for its week two episode debut—and the most it’s gotten all season. The show has averaged 309,000 viewers per episode, despite following the massively popular show AEW Wrestling, which has attracted an average of 922,000 viewers per episode for the past seven weeks.

Chief Critics

Neuroscientists say slap fighting isn’t safe for competitors, even in a regulated league. Nitin Agarwal, a neuroscientist who studies traumatic brain injuries at Washington University’s School of Medicine, told the Washington Post, “These people pass out from one blow. In reality…they suffered a traumatic brain injury.” Geoffrey Manley, vice chairman of neurological surgery at the University of California San Francisco, told the Times that getting hit on the cheek and the side of the head causes the brain to twist in the skull, which can damage nerves. Enduring several of these hits will increase a person’s risk for dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Manley says. Others, including New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, criticize turning the brutal spectacle into entertainment.

What To Watch For

Whether the sport will grow in the face of stiff criticism from medical experts. The final episode of Power Slap airs Wednesday. Power Slap is hosting its first live slap fight at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas this Saturday, and will feature 13 matches and award heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight and welterweight titles.

Further Reading

Televised Face Slapping? What Are We Becoming? (NYT)

Titan FC execs looking to start slap fighting promotion, Florida Commission hold off approval (Bloody Elbow)

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywashburn/2023/03/08/slap-fighting-what-to-know-about-the-controversial-new-combat-sport-trying-to-grow-as-medical-experts-disapprove/