Controversial new TV craze of slap fighting is ‘not sport, it’s brain damage’

“Thank God it wasn’t me that got slapped!” said Arnold Schwarzenegger as he sat on stage watching two young women whack each other in the face as hard as they could.

The former Mr Universe was observing slap fighting, a new and controversial televised combat sport in which fighters use an open hand to deliver single blows to the face.

Azael Rodriguez slaps Jesus Gaspar at a Power Slap event in Rio De Janiero, Brazil. The competitors stand rigidly upright with their hands behind their backs, waiting to absorb a brutal slap to the face.Credit:Mike Roach/Sciaffo LLC via AP

Slap fighting has been going on unregulated for years around the world, but was propelled to a new level in January when the Nevada Athletic Commission sanctioned the Las Vegas-based Power Slap League.

For its proponents, the sport is a natural evolution from boxing and mixed martial arts. Its detractors say it is “not sport” and “just brain damage”.

A columnist of The New York Times wrote: “What are we becoming? What’s next, who can survive being run over by a tank? Knife fights on national television?”

Stephen Cloobeck, the former chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, has distanced himself from the decision to sanction it. “I made a mistake. I’m not happy about it,” he said.

Power Slap is promoted by Dana White, president of UFC, involving more than 30 competitors, known as “strikers” including Vern “The Mechanic” Cathey and Mike “Slap Jesus” Smith.

Fights are typically three to five rounds, and the person being struck stands with their hands behind their back bracing for impact. When the blow is delivered some fighters barely move, while others stumble and fall. A few are knocked out. Ultra-slow motion video is then shown of their face rippling and distorting, as onlookers whoop.

A fighter has up to 60 seconds to recover and respond after receiving a blow. The match ends in a decision by judges, knockout, technical knockout or disqualification for an illegal slap.

Nearby are a supervising doctor, three paramedics and three ambulances. The slapping craze appears to have proliferated with online videos of unregulated bouts emanating from eastern Europe starting in 2017.

UFC President Dana White is behind the new Power Slap phenomenon.Credit:AP

One shows a competitor winning despite his mushy face having swollen to grotesque proportions. White has defended the league, saying it is well regulated with medical testing and doctors on hand. “There’s no denying, or no secret, in the fact that getting punched in the head is bad for you. It’s not good,” White said recently. “But you can take a lot of risk out of it when you spend the money and do the proper medical testing.”

He said participants were only receiving a small number of blows compared to the 400 they might receive in a boxing match. He added: “When you’re in a bar and having a few drinks and this thing comes on, let me tell you what, nobody’s not watching it, OK?”

However, the Brain Injury Association of America has asked the Nevada Athletic Commission to consider suspending Power Slap. In a letter it said: “There is no sport here.” Two congressmen have written to Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns TBS, the network the league is broadcast on. They said it “glorifies dangerous and aggressive behaviour at the expense of its participants’ long-term health”.

But Cathey, a striker, defended the craze. “I know what’s coming. I’m tensing up,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff I can do to protect myself.”

The Telegraph, London

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