Most brutal sporting events that still take place

If you're looking for an excuse to safely vent your violent urges, have you considered sports? Widely considered to be one of the safer forms of violence, sports are great for channeling all of mankind's destructive urges into glorious displays of ball-handling, ball-hitting, and several other ball-centric verbs. These days, with concussion awareness and cutting-edge safety gear, the connection between sports and raw, bloody human suffering has never been more tenuous. Thankfully, many still keep alive the ancient, violent sports that remain the stalwart wolves guarding over the anxious chihuahuas of Quiddich and other modern, less life-or-death diversions.

Calcio Fiorentino

For most people participating in a sporting event, the rewards are usually some variation of fame, fortune, or both. And the greater the risks, the greater the rewards … unless you are playing the ancient Florentine game of Calcio Storico. In many ways, it's just another ball game: two teams trying to get the ball into the opponent's goal. However, unlike most ball games, the players in Calcio Storico literally fight each other in the process.

The game involves two teams of 27 players who have 50 minutes to score the most points. There are no breaks or interruptions, even if someone needs to get stretchered off — and there are definitely no substitutions. Injuries are the norm: in one game in 2013, 20 percent of the players required a visit to the hospital afterwards. The only prohibited moves are hitting someone on the ground, sucker punches, and the use of weapons. But pretty much everything else goes: kicking, gouging, head-butting, telling "Yo Momma" jokes — it gets real.

The event is held once a year and there are only four teams, one each for the four quarters of Florence. The victors don't even get paid, there's no trophy, and they probably won't find fame outside their neighborhood, but they do get their dinner paid for by the organizers (if they aren't in hospital). It must be one heck of a good dinner if it's worth enduring a 50 minute cage fight … or maybe the concussion just makes it seem that way.

Bear baiting

Sometimes sporting events aren't really sports. Sometimes they're just a bunch of people standing around cheering while something violent happens to someone. And that's fine, as long as everyone involved is a willing participant, but that's not always the case. One such "sport" is called bear baiting, and it involves a large captive bear being attacked by dogs. Unsurprisingly, this horrific activity was banned in most places in the 19th century.

However, as you may have guessed, that's not the end of the story, because according to a Huffington Post article from 2010, bear baiting was alive and well and happening regularly in South Carolina. The practice is actually still legal in that state, if you can believe that, and was further enabled by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, who issued permits for the legal possession of wild bears. These modern events involved a captive bear being cornered by successive teams of dogs. The events lasted for several hours, involved hundreds of dogs, and the bears, naturally, were frequently bitten and injured. The team that kept the bear in one place the longest won a cash prize.

However, as of 2013, the DNR announced that they would no longer issue permits for keeping wild bears and have made more than 50 arrests. They also confiscated six bears that were being used for the events and moved them to a sanctuary in Colorado. But there are more bears still captive in the state, and despite continuing efforts by the DNR, in all likelihood, the events continue to this day.


It's hard to find a western equivalent for Buzkashi, the national sport of Afghanistan. Polo is probably closest, but it involves teams, balls, and mallets, none of which exist in Buzkashi. What does exist, apart from a bunch of guys on horses, is a headless goat, or maybe a calf for a big event. The rules, as described by NPR, seem fairly straight forward: battle your competitors to pick up the goat, carry it to the other end of the field and back without having it stolen by another player, then drop it in the scoring circle to win a prize. Repeat.

Everyone competes for themselves (although cooperation isn't unknown), and although the on-field action is pretty rough, the events are carefully organised and the players are highly-paid professionals riding specially bred and trained horses. In fact, if the ball wasn't a recently slaughtered animal, you would probably have seen it on ESPN already. The dead animal is not the only brutal aspect to this activity, however, since riders often wear reinforced boots and padded clothing to protect them against strikes from other riders' whips and potentially bone-breaking collisions. The Afghan Olympic Federation created a set of official rules, and some officials even dream of Olympic acceptance, but the rules are mostly ignored outside Kabul, where pretty much anything goes, so don't expect see a dead goat at the Olympics anytime soon.

Nguni stick fighting

There are many sports that can trace their origins back to the battlefield, but they have mainly evolved to bear only a very slight resemblance to the original activity. Not so in the case of Nguni stick fighting, which appears strikingly similar, and just as brutal, as outright warfare.

Originally practiced by Zulu warriors in the 17th century, the contest involves two fighters each armed with three sticks: one for attack, and two for defense. Usually in a large open space (to avoid injury to spectators), the combatants attempt to strike their opponent while simultaneously trying to prevent the opponent from doing the same to them. It is not uncommon for participants to be permanently scarred, with head scars being particularly prized and venerated, because clearly nothing says success like taking repeated blows to the head.

Stick fighting plays an important role in Zulu culture and is practiced at important events like weddings and other public ceremonies, allowing the young men (and only men) who participate to make a name for themselves. It probably makes for a pretty good spectacle at a wedding, having two people duelling with traditional weapons. The nearest western wedding equivalent is the dance-off, and that just doesn't have the same appeal.

Goose Pulling

Goose Pulling is a traditional Christmas festival still practiced in many parts of Europe. Participants sit astride a horse and gallop towards an elevated crossbar as fast as they can go. The goal is to grasp the greased neck of a goose tied by its legs to the crossbar, and, with bare hands, tear its head clean off.

This festival has its roots in 16th century bloodsports, such as fox-tossing and throwing-at-cocks, which we swear are real things and not something dreamed up by a dirty-minded ten-year-old on Reddit. Much has been changed about the festival in order to appease modern sentiments about animal cruelty. The goose is now humanely killed before being tied by its legs, upside-down, to a pole 12 feet off the ground. Furthermore, the drunken revelers are much more likely to both wear saddles and not die of the plague.

Other than that, there's not much to the sport that can be changed without making the name hilariously inaccurate. Motorcycles could be used in place of horses. The goose could be tied to a flaming hoop, which would have the added benefit of cooking the goose while it hangs in place. Hey Europe, call us — we've got some ideas.

Haitian Machete Fencing

Haitian Machete Fencing, also known as Tire Machèt ("Pulling Machetes"), is a combination of traditional African stick-fighting with European fencing techniques, brought to the island by freed black soldiers trained in Napoleon's army. As the name implies, the flaccid foils of fencing are replaced by limb-lopping machetes.

Haitian farmers, who already spent the lion's share of their lives with a machete in hand, were quick to incorporate useful elements of saber fencing into traditional self-defense techniques. This proved useful, as the Haitian Revolution rapidly found freedom fighters outgunned by colonial powers. In hand-to-hand combat, the white colonial powers found themselves unable to counter the fluid blend of stick-fighting and traditional dances that influence many roots-African self-defense techniques, like MMA darling Capoiera.

During the 100-year isolation that followed Haiti's successful war for independence, Haitian families continued to hone Tire Machèt as both a martial art and an intrinsic element of not only their history, but their freedom. Following a wildly popular 2014 documentary, Papa Machete, Tire Machèt has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon, with training sessions available taught by master martial artists who practiced with the grandmaster, "Professor" Alfred Avril.

While not as well-known in the fighting community as Kalenda or Capoiera, thanks to Papa Machete, expect musclenerds across the internet to start obsessing about it like it's the next Crossfit.


Tinku is a festival celebrated by the Aymara people of Bolivia, where massive crowds square off for one-on-one fights. Most of the fights serve to settle disputes and resolve community conflict. Fighting is always a choice, but refusing to fight someone is seen as a concession. Friends and family members will fight to regain honor for those beaten earlier in the celebration, to win love, or to just revel in the raw adrenaline glory of bare-knuckle retribution.

Blood shed in the arena is said to guarantee a good harvest, and the rare, accidental fatalities are considered a gift to a world that has given so much. Fighters guard themselves with thick leather hats, and many fighters carry heavy stones with which to weight their blows, though weapons are discouraged. It is said that in some cities, men wrap glass into bandages tied around their hands to slice their opponents.

Tinku ends when the fights escalate to the point of police intervention — Tinku doesn't end, it just expands in scale. The only reason this isn't exactly the Great Outdoor Fight from Achewood is because even Chris Onstad could not imagine a world where women clad in bowler hats would break each other's noses in celebration.


Chumbivilcas, a remote region of Peru, high in the Andes, has one of the most unique Christmas rituals on the planet. Every year, celebrants gather on Christmas Day, wearing hand-knit masks that make you look like a vaporwave Guy Fawkes, get drunk, and punch each other senseless. In many parts of the world, this is considered a standard weekend, but Takanakuy has cultural roots that stretch beyond the rise of the Inca empire, making this a major touchstone for a considerable population. Fighters spend the off season exercising and perfecting their costumes, teaching themselves not just how to fight, but how to fight with style.

Central to the cultural significance of Takanakuy are the personas fighters adopt before the ceremony, inspired by archetypes from Peruvian history, such as slave owners, cowboys, and locusts. This gives fights a great social gravity, making them not merely a conflict between two fighters, but two immutable forces of the universe. History writ large, placed in the center of town for all to see. The rich flaunt their wealth through the ostentatious dress of a slave owner, making their defeat at the hands of a cockroach all the more poetic.

Takanakuy also serves as a makeshift judicial system, where conflicts are settled with bare-knuckle brawls, and the only judgement served is sweet, bloody victory. Equal parts Juggalo wrestling, thunderdome, and Carnival, the fights of Takanakuy help secure a fighter's reputation in their community, settle disputes, and reinforce social bonds. Fighters rarely compete for money, though that does not stop onlookers from placing bets on known favorites. The respect of the crowd and sense of community are the prize pots awarded to all combatants.


Practiced only in the West Sumba region of Indonesia, Pasola is an equestrian sport played by two teams of 25 people throwing spears at each other. There are no points, and the game ends when everyone is too wounded to continue or when the audience riots. This is part of an incredibly serious religious festival that lasts upwards of a week. The blood spilled in Pasola is said to feed the nyale sea worm, whose presence is indicative of a good rice harvest. The first year police attempted to stop the festival, the worms didn't come, and the harvest failed. Area authorities have since adopted a "soft touch" approach, since "cloud of tear gas and rubber bullets" failed to instill the kind of law-and-order they were looking for.

Efforts to rebrand pasola as a tourist-friendly endeavor appear to have taken hold, given the glut of amateur YouTube videos of the only sport which can accurately be described as "masochistic equestrian ballet." There's still plenty of stabbing, bludgeoning, and trampling to be had for those fearless adventurers curious for a taste of death, so if the concussion-filled spectacle of the Super Bowl just isn't slaking your bloodlust like it used to, consider Pasola. It's a cultural experience unlike any other.