‘Like 13-year-olds invented a sport’: Face-slapping league gets go-ahead in Vegas

October 25, 2022

Cue the Will Smith jokes: The much-maligned president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Dana White, has the green light for a new venture—the Power Slap League, reports The Guardian.

Though much remains uncertain about the new league, slap fighting is pretty much what it sounds like: two people face each other and take turns smacking one another on the side of the head with an open hand.

The Nevada state athletic commission voted last week in Las Vegas—a city known for carefully considered decisions—to oversee the slap-fighting league, supporting a controversial sport that already has seen one competitor die.

Videos this year from one competition, the Slap Fighting Championship held on May 21, show some fairly brutal hand-to-face contact while the recipient simply stands there and takes it. Some blows lead to knockouts. Seated on the sidelines, Arnold Schwarzenegger weighs in: “Thank God it wasn’t me that got slapped.”

Hunter Campbell, the UFC’s chief business officer, said his team had spent a year working with commission officials to develop rules for the league built on those of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). “It made all the sense in the world to go toward regulation before the sport’s commencing, for all the obvious reasons: No. 1, the health and safety of the competitors,” he told ESPN.

Safety rules will include requirements for protective gear, such as mouthguards and earplugs, and regulations on which parts of a face can be slapped. Campbell and officials also called for blood testing, brain scans. and on-site medical staff.

But even MMA enthusiasts appear to have serious reservations, The Guardian reports.

The primary concern: “​​It’s all offense and no defense,” writes Trent Reinsmith at the UFC news site Bloody Elbow. “It’s common to see competitors badly concussed or fall completely unconscious from the blows.” On his Substack The Fighting Life, the journalist Ben Fowlkes describes the sport as “what you’d get if you let 13-year-old boys invent a new sport”.

On Twitter, Luke Thomas, a combat sports analyst for CBS, wrote: “If boxing is to hit and not be hit, slap fighting is kinda the opposite where getting hit is specifically arranged and done without impediment. Nevada’s commission is pretty shameless.” USA Today’s Simon Samano posted: “It might as well be kicking each other in the nuts.”

Slap fighting has existed in various forms for years; it was mocked on Fox Sports as far back as the early 2000s. But it grew in popularity in the early days of the pandemic, with help from viral videos. Last year, a Polish competitor, Artur “Waluś” Walczak, was knocked out several times at an October event and died the following month in the hospital after being put in a medically induced coma, Reinsmith notes.

White, himself, has been the subject of numerous controversies. He has told fighters concerned with UFC pay to “shut up and fight” and backed the organization’s decision to feature the ex-NFL player Greg Hardy, who was convicted of domestic abuse, though the charges were expunged after an appeal. He is an ardent supporter of Donald Trump and spoke at the 2016 Republican national convention.

Campbell said the Power Slap League hopes to have a “major broadcast partner” by year’s end. It has not yet been decided when the slapping will begin.

Research contact: @guardian