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Face-slap turns heads. But is it really sports?

Cornhole tossing and pickleball Both have become organized, professional sports in recent years. But another emerging competition is trying to engage in activities that ask participants to demonstrate a different kind of skill: the ability to slap someone silly.

A one-on-one slapping contest where opponents hit each other in the face until someone submits or is knocked out. Although competitors have held unregulated matches in small vans for years, the contests received a major stamp of approval when the Nevada Athletic Commission approved it as a sport in October.

The slap fight became more public earlier this year when Warner Bros. Discovery cable station TBS began televising the match on a show called “Power Slap.” Nevada athletic officials also approved UFC President Dana White as the lead promoter of the Power Slap League, which launched in January.

“There was something I loved about it and I loved the challenge of it,” White told The Associated Press this week. “I like to take something and turn it into a big brand.”

Growing fanbase

Slap fights last three to five rounds. The league consists of over 30 competitors, also known as “strikers”. A striker has 60 seconds to recover from a hit and scores points based on how many hits they take. Winners collect $2,000 to $10,000 per match.

Among the league’s biggest stars are Missouri’s Darius “The Destroyer” Mata-Varona; Christopher “Ko Chris” Thomas of North Dakota; Vernon “The Mechanic” Cathy of Kansas; and Mike California Smith “Slap Jesus”. White described the strikers as regular guys and family men and loved to compete in sports.


Ryan Phillips slaps Rob Perez at a Power Slap event on March 31, 2022 in Las Vegas.

Chris Unger/Juffa via AP

Slap fighting has a growing fanbase on social media, especially in Europe where videos of matches have garnered millions of views on YouTube and Instagram. The TBS show averaged about 275,000 viewers over its first four episodes, with some contestants showing signs of injury.

In fact, the brutal nature of the sport prompted the Nevada Athletic Commission last month to introduce stricter rules on slapping. Competitors must strike with open hands and cannot strike the opponent below the chin, the commissioners ruled. A competitor will be disqualified if a slap violates the rules, while the slap is also subject to video review by an official.

Power Slap president Frank Lamicella told commissioners last month that there have been “no major injuries” in the 25 sanctioned matches held to date. White said league officials keep safety in mind during match preparations.

“We’re making sure we have two healthy athletes who are going to compete Saturday night,” White told the AP. “We have proper medical care there during the fight and they (competitors) get proper medical care after the fight.”

“no sport”

Such assurances did not reassure the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), which in February asked the Nevada Athletic Commission to consider suspending slap fights.

“By the very nature of the rules of this event, which stipulate that participants are not allowed to defend incoming punches, you are allowing a situation where participants are repeatedly punched for entertainment. There is no game,” the group said in a letter.

The BIAA added, “Regardless of the method used to prevent concussions after the fact, many in the medical community have questioned how this sport was approved by your commission”.

Stephen Clobeck, who chaired the Nevada commission when it approved slapping last fall, told the AP he regrets approving the sport. “I made a mistake,” he said. “I’m not happy about it.”

Arnold Sports Festival - Slap Fighting Championship

Koa “Da Crazy Hawaiian” Viernes slaps David “Jales” Zalewski in a super heavyweight bout at the Arnold Sports Festival at the Columbus Convention Center on March 05, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio.

/ Getty Images

Such concerns have also drawn scrutiny from lawmakers. Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said in a Feb. 15 letter to Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, and Don Bacon, a Republican from Nebraska, that TBS’ power slap “glorifies dangerous and offensive behavior at the expense of the long-term health of its participants.”

Pascrell Jr. and Bacon, co-chairs of a House task force that seeks to raise awareness about traumatic brain injuries, also called the program “crass” and condemned the violence shown in videos of the collision.

“We saw footage of a man being punched in the face exhibiting the unmistakable ‘fencing posture,’ a telltale sign of brain injury, yet this was not communicated to viewers; the violence was posted only for titillation,” they wrote.

A representative for Warner Bros. Discovery did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

White also acknowledges that slapping competitors get hurt, but said the risks can be mitigated with proper medical care.

“Being punched in the head is bad for you, there’s no denying it or hiding it,” he said. “But you can take a lot of risk out of it when you spend the money and get the proper medical tests.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Christopher J. Brooks

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