Let’s just get this out of the way: Violence is never the answer…but sometimes it is damn good entertainment. That’s why we pay $100 to watch human tanks tear each other apart in the octagon. That’s why we quietly root for “The Big One“ at Talladega. That’s why we remember every haymaker in the bench-clearing brawl, but not the final score that followed it. It’s not pretty and we’re not proud of it, but in a modern sports world where trophies are handed out for showing up, celebrating is unsportsmanlike conduct, and Instagram followers are as important as stat lines, the “brawl” is an ugly, but necessary, throwback—a reminder that the games we play today were battles yesterday. So tear off the gloves, charge the mound, and throw yourself on top of the pile. The 10 craziest sports brawls are calling, and they want to bring you down to their level.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
When: April 13th, 1998
The Fight Card: Jeff Van Gundy vs. One Size 18 Nike
While most of the fights on this list are their own Shakespearean dramas—tangled nests of characters and plotlines from which it is impossible to distinguish antagonist from protagonist and loser from victor—this one leaves us with a clear-cut hero: Jeff Van Gundy, desperate and deranged, clinging to Alonzo Mourning’s left leg like a life boat as the 6’ 10” center traded fists with Larry Johnson in the '98 playoffs. Despite his unusual approach, however, Van Gundy did elicit his desired effect, with players from both teams too stupefied by the sight of a grown man mopping the MSG floor with his besuited body to remember what they were fighting over in the first place.
9. Zimmer Down
When: October 11th, 2003
Where: Fenway Park, Boston, MA
The Fight Card: A 72-Year-Old Man vs. Gravity
If there are two teams who cherish their hatred of each other more than the Red Sox and Yankees, good luck finding them. And while there have been some truly unforgettable scrums over the years, none can match Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, when a 72-year-old manager bull-rushed the best pitcher of his era (some might say ANY era) in a benches-clearing brawl for the pre-Youtube ages. The optics of this one for Pedro—who tossed Don Zimmer aside like a sack of mashed potatoes—were not good to say the least, but come on. Zimmer was already going down. You know it. I know it. Even Don, may he rest in peace, knows it. As Pedro wrote in his 2015 autobiography, “all I did was help him fall faster,” and even the most die-hard Yank crank has to begrudgingly agree.
8. No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem
Where: Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY
When: May 5th, 1993
The Fight Card: Bare Nipples vs. Ice
Hockey has produced plenty of memorable images over the years. Bobby Orr’s superman goal. The “Miracle on Ice” euphoria. A shirtless mad man from Buffalo pounding the crap out of Claude Lemieux at his place of work. Said mad man? Rob Ray, a 6-foot scrapper who averaged 158 penalty minutes a season, forced the NHL to require that players keep their clothes on while fighting, and was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and humanitarianism in 1999. Go figure.
7. Don’t Be Like Mike
When: January 22nd, 2002
Where: Hudson Theatre, New York, NY
The Fight Card: Mike Tyson vs. Himself
Five years after snacking on Holyfield, Big Mike was at it again, squaring up to heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis during the press conference for their $17.5-million-dollar title fight in New York. Tyson alleged the face-off was agreed upon by both camps and that Lennox’s bodyguard simply panicked, but that doesn’t change what happened next: A bare-knuckle free-for-all in which WBC president José Sulaimán was knocked out (later suing for $56 million), Lennox got bit (guess who!), and Tyson emerged spewing vile threats at the press pit (“I’ll f—k you ‘till you love me,” he pledged to journalist Mark Malinowski). Needless to say, the cuddly, Broadway star Tyson we all know and tolerate today was nowhere to be found in 2002.
6. Great Odor’s Raven
When: May 15th, 2016
Where: Globe Life Park, Arlington, TX
The Fight Card: Odor’s Right vs. Bautista’s Chin
Everything is bigger in Texas…even the right hooks. Just ask Rougned Odor, who ended a nine-month Jays/Rangers standoff—from THAT bat flip to a late slide into second—with an emphatic Adam West-approved “POW!”. For whatever reason, people don’t seem like Bautista too much, but we have to give credit where credit is due: This was a sky-cracking, earth-scorching thunderbolt from the fist of Zeus himself, and Bautista took it standing up. We are deducting points because he missed the opportunity to shout “ADRIANNNN!” in his post-game press conference, but nobody can say the man can’t take a punch.
Where: The Orange Bowl, Miami, FL
When: October 14th, 2006
The Fight Card: Panthers vs. Hurricanes
They say keep your friends close and your enemies closer. They also say familiarity breeds contempt. We don’t know about you, but that seems like a bad combination to us, and Miami and FIU—located just 9 miles apart in the super-athlete petri dish that is South Florida—proved exactly that back in 2006. After a Miami extra point in the third quarter, FIU cornerback Marshall McDuffie Jr. tried replicating it with Miami holder Matt Perelli’s head, sparking off one of the most vicious brawls in football history, with players from both sides throwing haymakers, curb-stomping downed foes, and using their helmets as weapons. The next day 31 players were suspended, three months after that Larry Coker lost his job, and 11 years later The U’s football program is still struggling to recover.
4. Days of Thunder
Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona, FL
When: February 18th, 1979
The Fight Card: Good Ol’ Boy vs. Good Ol’ Boy
Remember that scene in Days of Thunder where Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns decide to race a pair of rental cars to a fancy lunch meeting, turning them into sheet-metal pinballs while blasting across a pristine Florida beach in some sort of high-octane phallic measuring contest? Well, in 1979 Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough did it for real, wrecking each other on the last lap of The Great American race because, as they later said, if they weren’t going to win, like hell they were going to let the other one do it. It wasn’t done there, however, with Donnie’s brother Bobby pulling up soon after for some carnage of his own, going a few rounds with Yarborough as NASCAR’s first flag-to-flag TV audience watched on gobstobbed. If you ever find yourself wondering how people find watching Preparation H-sponsored Camrys turn left 800 times exciting, this is your answer.
3. The Karate Kid
When: January 25th, 1995
Where: Selhurst Park, London, UK
The Fight Card: Eric Cantona vs. The Red Mist
In January 1995, Eric Cantona was at the top of English soccer. Hailed as “King Eric” by Manchester United’s rabid legion of fans, the French forward led his team to two successive Premier League titles and was chasing a third when the wheels came shockingly and spectacularly off. First came the straight red card, a petulant kick at Crystal Palace defender Richard Shaw. Then, as Cantona—clad in a Sith-like swath of black—began his long walk to the showers, he snapped, sending a full-speed kung-fu kick into the chest of Palace supporter Mathew Simmons, who had allegedly ran down 11 rows just to call Cantona’s mother a “French whore”. The fallout was as swift and severe as the act itself, with Cantona receiving an eight-month suspension and a two-week prison sentence (which was later appealed). Cantona would return to Manchester the following October and lead the Red Devils to another pair of titles, but his accomplishments on the pitch would forever be overshadowed by what happened just off of it.
2. Malice at the Ice Palace
When: December 23rd, 1979
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
The Fight Card: John Kaptain vs. His Own Shoe
Plenty of bad blood has pumped back and forth between Boston and New York in the decades since, but this frosty riot remains one for the MSG rafters. Like the footage itself, the story is a little fuzzy, but it goes something like this: In the middle of a post-game brawl—a staple of the 1970s NHL experience—John Kaptain, an unusually bold business man from Jersey, leaned over the glass and smacked Bruins enforcer Stan Johnathan in the face with a rolled-up program, stealing his stick in the process. To defend his teammate’s honor, Mike Milbury—now plying his trade as NBCSN’s resident “tough guy” hockey goon—leapt over the glass, removed Kaptain’s shoe, and proceeded to beat him with it. By the time arena security had regained control, all but one Bruins player had climbed into the stands. That holdout? Goalie Gerry Cheevers. “I was already on my second beer,” he says.
1. Malice at the Actual Palace
When: November 19th, 2004
Where: The Palace at Auburn Hills, Detroit, MI
The Fight Card: Ron Artest vs. The World
The Palace of Auburn Hills had certainly seen its share of drunken debauchery and hard-nosed basketball by the time November 19th, 2004 rolled around, but let’s get one thing straight: The Malice at the Palace was not about basketball. Sure it started on the court, as heated division dust-ups usually do, but when the Artist Formerly Known As Artest got pelted with a $10 fountain coke, clambering into the stands to respond with his fists, it became, quite literally, a crime scene. In the end, 10 people were formally charged with assault, resulting in $11 million dollars worth of player suspensions, countless hours of community service, and a host of new NBA security regulations. Over a decade later, it’s hard not to look back on this night with slack-jawed amusement, but at the time it was a sobering (but not very sober) glimpse at the dark side of fandom.