The Insane Combat Sports You’ve Never Heard of

by E. Reid Ross

Do you think boxers are cowards for using those sissified padded gloves? Do mixed martial arts impress you about as much as a mixed salad? A mixed salad with imitation bacon? Well cheer up, carnage enthusiast, because there are some combat sports out there that are perfectly capable of satisfying the bloodlust of a mayhem seeker like yourself. Here are a few options to tide you over through your house arrest for that cockfighting conviction, and which should in no way violate the terms of your parole.

Nigerian Dambe

Well something has to be done to boost those sagging pay-per-view numbers.

Well something has to be done to boost those sagging pay-per-view numbers.

Most modern fighting competitions require that the participants wear some sort of hand covering to act as a protective cushion in an attempt to reduce undue knuckle shattering and facial mangling. Boxers in Northern Nigeria wear gloves too, but the safety aspect in their version is about as effective as a nail bat.

That’s not an exaggeration. Before facing off in the pit, practitioners of the martial art of Dambe may wrap one leg up in a metal chain. The next step is to cover one hand up with a cloth and coil it over with tightly knotted rope, creating an effective bludgeoning tool referred to in the sport as the “spear” (seen here.) The other hand, called the “shield,” is simply the fighter’s open palm which serves as his only defense against incoming blows from the improvised rope-mallet. To enhance the destructive potential of the “spear” hand, Dambe fighters have been known to dip the rope in resin and broken glass. Others might have a “mazagi,” which is essentially a sharpened spoon, affixed to and protruding from the knuckles.

In order to become proficient in this type of fighting in the U.S., you first need to obtain a felony conviction.

In order to become proficient in this type of fighting in the U.S., you first need to obtain a felony conviction.

Here’s what they look like when fully kitted out in the complete murder kaboodle. When you top that off with a healthy dose of (perfectly legal) kicking and head-butting, it should come as no surprise that these guys tend to get killed on a pretty regular basis. Just ask “Horror,” a Dambe champion who can attest to the brutality of the sport. But although he admits to the occasional crippling injury and loss of life, he claims that “in spite of the danger associated with it, I still cherish it over and above any other job one can give me to do.” It’s nice to see that Mr. “Horror” seems to enjoy his work and is putting a pleasant spin on things, but with a name like that it’s not like he’s going to have a lot of options in the customer service field either.

Hello, sir. You say you're having problems with your new smartphone? Have you tried stabbing it in the neck with a rusty spoon? Ha ha!

Hello, sir. You say you’re having problems with your new smartphone? Have you tried stabbing it in the neck with a rusty spoon? Ha ha!

Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling

Wrestling, true wrestling, is probably the world’s oldest sport. And away from the glare of modern professional wrestling’s retarded spectacle of roid rage and spandex there are still places where the sport continues on in its purest form. Places where the sport is played the way it was meant to be, where swarthy men covered in oil and wearing only tight leather pants messily grapple one another on a field of honor, competing for glory and the admiration of their sweaty, glistening brothers in arms.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Billing itself as “the most macho of all sports,” perhaps in the Village People sense, Kirkpinar oil wrestling is a Turkish tradition that’s recognized by Guinness for being the longest running of all sports competitions. It’s pretty self-explanatory; two dudes basically grease each other up and rassle. It’s the details that we feel are worth mentioning here. Let’s start with the leather pants.

Called a “kispet,” the tight, capri-length competition trousers are made from water buffalo hide and sometimes cow leather. In order to make it difficult for opponents to get a solid grip on the kispet during a match, oil is poured liberally both inside and out.

The fact that it soothes razor rash is just a bonus.

The fact that it soothes razor rash is just a bonus.

Because of the slipperiness that’s inherent in copiously lubricated leather pants, it is a legitimate strategy for wrestlers try to “stick their hands inside each other’s kispet to gain leverage.” Another way the kispet can come into play during a match is if it happens to be pulled down or ripped revealingly in a move called a “paca kazik.” It’s perfectly legal, and apparently encouraged since it results in an automatic victory for the athlete with the skill to yank it off. So to speak.

After a successful "paca kazik", common courtesy demands a happy ending.

After a successful “paca kazik,” common courtesy demands a happy ending.

Held in the city of Edirne, the annual Kirkpinar festival boasts multiple competitive categories to allow wrestlers of all ages to compete, from supple young boys to grizzled but wiry veterans, all vying for the $100,000 championship prize and fashionable gold champions belt. The event even has its own anthem, with lyrics to stir the soul such as,

Oh my, I feel like I’ll die of my excitement…the sweat-stained grass smells of oil.

If all this information has you giddy with anticipation for next year’s event, but you can’t pony up the scratch for a flight to Turkey, we have good news. There’s a book of oil paintings available as well as this handsome commemorative calendar (to possibly replace that one on your refrigerator with the firemen) so that aficionados everywhere can appreciate the grunting exploits of all the glazed and brawny athletes year-round. Or if you’re completely broke you can just ogle at a YouTube video.


Leth Wei

If punching doesn't kill you the blood-borne diseases will.

If punching doesn’t kill you the blood-borne diseases will.

When you’re looking to get the most unspeakable brutality for your entertainment dollar, you don’t go to Switzerland or The Bahamas. You go straight to a despotic, tinpot third-world regime. You go where widespread oppression and poverty have given the populace a solid appreciation for the kind of sports where coming in 2nd and “death by massive head trauma” are often one and the same.

Here's that picture again, but as a revolutionary icon.

Here’s that picture again, but as an appropriately revolutionary icon.

Myanmar fits the bill for that. Even before the country formerly known as Burma became famous for military juntas and human rights whackamole became their national pastime, it was still a pretty tough place to be. Nowhere is that more evident than in the martial art that originated there, leth wei. Originally practiced by Burmese soldiers as far back as the 12th century, its existence has only been revealed to the outside world in the last few years. It’s basically your standard bare-knuckled anything-goes, fight-for-your-life scenario made popular in video games and Jean Claude Van Damme movies, only with more biting and eye gouging and less Van Damme.

Leth wei is all about offense, and a fight’s outcome usually comes down to whoever can withstand the most abuse. Since the winner can only be literally the last man standing, “boxers were specifically trained to endure pain and to keep attacking even after being repeatedly knocked down and revived.” This can be a challenge when you consider that just about every “dirty” tactic, including headbutting, is well within the rules.

In the old days leth wei fighters tended to get killed with disturbing frequency, but nowadays the sport is taking steps to achieve more widespread acceptance and held its first international championship in 2000.

But just because they’re trying to go legit doesn’t mean they’re going soft, and you shouldn’t expect to see any “leth wei tummy toning” classes at your local gym anytime soon. Just ask the three American fighters who decided to travel to Myanmar to test their mettle against the Burmese. All were promptly knocked the #%*@ out in the first round.

Did you know that Jean Claude Van Damme's middle name is Camille, and that in 1996 he was spending $10,000 a week on cocaine? The more you know!

Did you know that Jean Claude Van Damme’s middle name is Camille, and that in 1996 he was spending $10,000 a week on cocaine? The more you know!

Alpine Finger Wrestling

Seeing a bunch of German dudes sitting around a table can be disconcerting for many people, especially older veterans. But they don’t necessarily have to be plotting another attempt at world domination. And if they all happen to be wearing lederhosen probably the worst thing that could happen is a sudden outbreak of drunken yodeling. The “shorts with overalls and for some reason a feathered cap” look is a bold fashion statement to be sure, but not likely to intimidate anyone but those with an irrational fear of Oktoberfest.

Making kilts seem less stupid since 1937.

Making kilts seem less stupid since 1937.

However, it just so happens that the traditional leisurewear of the Hun is also the uniform at one of the most grueling sporting competitions in Northern Europe, the Alpine Finger Wrestling Championship. For the last 35 years Teutonic tough guys from around the region have gathered to compete in a display of extreme Bavarian badassery to prove just who wields the mightiest überfinger . It’s a test of endurance and pain; an event so testosterone riddled that that fräuleins are barred from attendance.

“Finger wrestling? Seriously? How grueling could that possibly be?” you may be asking asking aloud in a reedy, Truman Capote-like voice. Well, this version is a little more intense than the children’s game, and these guys actually take it quite seriously. Competitors actually have to train for months to build up their finger strength and pain tolerance if they hope to stand a chance at the annual “fingerhakeln.” Training techniques vary, as “some like to squeeze tennis balls, some prefer to hold their body weight on a single (presumably middle) finger, and others opt for one-finger press-ups.”

The competition itself is simple, entailing basically two large, sausage-fed men sitting across from one another at a wooden table, looping one finger in a leather strap and pulling with all their Nordic might.

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The sport began back in the 17th century as a way of settling disputes, but has since evolved into a legitimate sport complete with all the myriad rules and technical guidelines at which Germans excel at following. Providing some order to the yearly finger blitzkrieging is probably a good thing, because the sport does have a history of maiming the participants. An account from way back in 1878 reported that as a result of wanton and unsanctioned finger wrestling in the town of Tyrol, “one very frequently sees men with fingers bent nearly double on the right hand.”

A Kettle of Vultures
What you can't see is she's standing atop a pile of vanquished foes.

What you can’t see is she’s standing atop a pile of vanquished foes.

E. Reid Ross loves the ladies, and by “ladies” we mean “microwaveable burritos purchased in bulk.” Feel free to friend him on Facebook and check out his supple body of work over on He and a few pals also blaspheme old comics at

All will be made clear. It can't be explained, but it will be made clear.

All will be made clear. It can’t be explained, but it will be made clear.

Prime Minister of Badass Comedy Ross previously found you some Teen Girls Way Tougher than You and then made you feel better by at least not having to deal with The Most Common Embarrassing Medical Emergencies.

More from E. Reid Ross

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