The Biggest Brawls in Sports History

Zack PumerantzAnalyst III

The Biggest Brawls in Sports History

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    The rules and social guidelines that drive the routine masses on a daily basis don't apply to the world of sports. Chewing ears and chucking helmets might be frowned upon on the streets of normalcy, but they are only teasing appetizers to a meal of pure athletic madness that arises during heated moments.

    Utterances of "those classless degenerates" flood arenas with every scuffle. But with passionate and ruthless competitors constantly clawing for that extra inch, adrenaline-filled melees can only be expected.

    Sometimes, however, a two-headed bout becomes a stadium-filled fiasco. Blood and shattered clavicles aren't the only remains, though, as ferocious rounds of applause coat the brutal atmosphere. Fans can't get enough.

    Let's see which brawls conquered the record books. The biggest fights in sports history.

    Beware of airborne teeth.

20. Xavier Musketeers vs. Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Dubbed the Crosstown Shootout, the two-mile rivalry between Xavier and Cincinnati has always been among the fiercest in college basketball. Statistically, it's the closest.

    Cincy's Octavius Ellis and Xavier's Mark Lyons engaging in a nonchalant barking was the first sign of trouble. But it was only the start.

    Perhaps Musketeer Kenny Frease got the worst of it after his face met with Yancy Gates' Bearcat fist in the midst of the large scuffle. Frease's resemblance of Thomas Hearns' cheeks after the boxer's three-round "War" against Marvin Hagler was legendary. 

    After Xavier's 76-53 "victory"—which the referees finished with 9.4 seconds remaining—four players from each squad were suspended.

19. Buffalo Sabres vs. Ottawa Senators

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    As Ottawa's Ray Emery and Buffalo's Martin Biron strayed from their respective creases, it became clear a goaltending masterpiece was on the horizon. The gloves were tossed, the red lights unplugged—this was war.

    But an exciting start would soon become a feast for Emery, who then had to face the wrath of notorious goon Andrew Peters after pummeling Biron. Emery's smug smile was then tarnished by the 6'4" Peters, but quickly revived by a legendary 22 penalty minutes.

18. Chicago Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds

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    Thank you, Kyle Farnsworth, for carrying out the feelings of Mets fans who continue to despise '94 No. 1 overall failure Paul Wilson. The former hurler already couldn't pitch, but now it's clear Wilson wasn't much of a martial artist, either.

    A brief walk toward his opponent sparked fury in the eyes of Farnsworth, who then beautifully form-tackled Wilson to the dirt. And proceeded to more or less end his life.

    Farnsworth might want to consider a career change.  

17. Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao

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    In Diego Maradona's first match against Athletic Bilbao since Andoni Goikoetxea broke his leg months earlier, the Argentine legend was in no mood for petty nonsense.

    A kicking spree was his only option. Pure, unfiltered ruthlessness.

16. West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Lansing Lugnuts

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    Only TruTV can turn a subtle minor league melee into a high-profile investigation. And for that, we thank them.

    Featuring a 90-mph payback and a whimsical whack from the pitcher, this almost humorous brawl detailed the savagery beneath the respectful game of baseball. Epically detailed.

15. China vs. Brazil

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    What was scheduled as a "friendly" between these two international clubs in 2010 immediately became just the opposite.

    Even with Brazil walking to their locker room and looking to avoid further engagement, the Chinese team was eager to spark a bout. In the end, the fight resulted in "several wounded and at least one Chinese player in a neck brace" (h/t BBC News).

    Basketball at its finest hour.

14. Nottingham Panthers vs. Coventry Blaze

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    Coated with the most rambunctious and exuberant commentating we've heard since Gus Johnson during the '06 Gonzaga nail-biter, this UK Elite League scrum became dinner and a show.

    Hundreds of years from now, archaeologists will uncover sticks and gloves buried deep beneath the frosty British ice. We've officially witnessed history.

13. New York Knicks vs. Denver Nuggets

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    When "keepin' it real" goes wrong...

    Buried beneath this MSG masterpiece were several noteworthy life lessons. The 5'9" Nate Robinson showed us it's the size of the fight in the dog and nothing else.

    Carmelo Anthony proved hit-and-runs are acceptable when the retreat involves a Michael Jackson moonwalk. And finally, basketball taught us that only hockey can properly host in-game fights.

    Seven players suspended without pay for a combined total of 47 games. A small dent in the history books.

12. Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings

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    We were sold at "Vernon and Roy."

    Looking for payback since the moment Avalanche right winger Claude Lemieux checked Red Wings center Kris Draper into the boards during Game 6 of the '96 Western Conference finals, Detroit seemed giddy from the start.

    "And from there, pandemonium." Forty-six penalties totaling 228 minutes were handed out.

    Watching goalies fight is the type of grizzly battle for which we yearn with every faceoff.

11. Dayton Dragons vs. Peoria Chiefs

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    With tempers flaring and a brawl awaiting signal, Chiefs hurler Julio Castillo fired the mythical gun, chucking a fastball into the stands in video-bombing fashion.

    Charged with felonious assault after hitting a 44-year-old fan, Castillo quickly made this routine melee a heinous display of reckless abandonment. Note to self: Laced rubber hurts.

10. Buffalo Sabres vs. New Jersey Devils

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    It wouldn't be the first time we'd see Buffalo's Rob Ray engage in a shirtless boxing match, but the '95 battle between the Sabres and Devils was far more than a new episode of Project Runway.

    Matthew Barnaby, Claude Lemieux and a loud-mouthed, mushroom-haircutted fan was all it took to put this war in the annals of history for good.

9. New York Knicks vs. Miami Heat

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    Oh Jeffrey, how we miss ye in New York.

    The legend of former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy traces back to the first round of the '98 Eastern Conference playoffs, during the waning moments of New York's 90-85 Game 4 victory over the Heat.

    Fans and pundits alike couldn't help but cheer on the measly coach as he clung to life—"life" more eloquently known as Alonzo Mourning's tree-trunk leg. An inspirational moment for the Knickerbocker faithful.

8. Canada vs. U.S.S.R.

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    Iconically named the Punch-up in Piestany, the bruising display that occurred during the final game of the 1987 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships saw both teams get disqualified (Soviets were already out, but the disqualification cost Canada a chance at a medal).

    In an effort to stop the 20-minute melee, officials turned the lights off...naturally to no avail. Featured in the game were future NHL stars Brendan Shanahan, Theoren Fleury, Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Mogilny.

7. Korea vs. The World

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    Either this hopping display is Korea's way of screaming "Goosfraba" during tense moments, or it's the messiest display of baseball brutality we've ever seen.

    These players seem to be unzipping an ideological satchel (thank you, Peter King, for the brilliant terminology) with details of how to avoid fines and suspensions. Hop 'til you drop.

6. Bayi Military Rockets vs. Georgetown Hoyas

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    A goodwill trip to China for the Georgetown Hoyas quickly took a turn for the worse, as the opposing Bayi Military Rockets attempted to physically manhandle their collegiate counterparts.

    With nine minutes, 32 seconds remaining, coach John Thompson III removed his shocked team from the court as water bottles were tossed in their direction.

    Coating the evening with his utter disregard for human life was the notorious Khaki Kid, who was seen disgracefully stomping all those within range.

5. New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Enjoy over 17 minutes of raw brutality. For those keeping score at home, 65 penalties were given, including 15 fighting majors and 21 game misconducts, for a total of 346 minutes.

    But this fight was far simpler than it seemed. This brawl highlighted the pinnacle of Rick DiPietro's downfall. Here's a recap of the moment DiPietro's dream was shattered.

4. Minnesota North Stars vs. Boston Bruins

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    All it took was seven seconds of this '81 battle for Minnesota's Bobby Smith and Boston's Steve Kasper to engage in the art of tossing fisticuffs. With the North Stars, until that point, sitting at 0-27-7 at the Boston Garden, they needed to turn things up a notch (bam).

    Penalties totaled 67, with 341 minutes being assessed and 12 players being ejected...at the end of the first period. By the end of the game, 42 penalties were handed down, totaling 406 minutes. A record-setting night, or as ESPN Classic called it, the "mother of all hockey brawls."

3. Miami Hurricanes vs. FIU Golden Panthers

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    Nine miles couldn't separate these two Florida programs from unleashing the beast in the 2006 City Line Series opener. FIU's Don Strock was "embarrassed." Miami's Larry Coker was "shocked and angered." The sports world was frozen in bewilderment, enamored with such passionate disdain.

    After a night of helmet tossing, crutch swinging and sucker punching, 13 Hurricanes and 18 Golden Panthers were suspended. But the Florida war sent a far more extreme message to football fans around the world. In the words of Kellen Winslow II, "It's a war out there."

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. Ottawa Senators

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    What Biggie meant to say was "Less Money, Mo Problems." Time to start paying these hockey players some significant coin. And with that said, Enter the Sandman.

    This 2004 crash course became 20th-century metal rock personified, as a record 419 penalty minutes were handed out while Metallica strummed musical weapons in the background.

    Props to the commentators, who quickly transitioned from the skating rink to the ring. Let's get ready to rumble.

1. Detroit Pistons vs. Indiana Pacers

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    During the most reckless moment in NBA history—fittingly named "The Malice at the Palace"—hard shoves turned into scrums, and tossed drinks turned into disaster for the irresponsible fans involved. 

    Nine players were eventually suspended without pay for a total of 146 games, while $11 million in salary was lost by the players. Five players were also charged with assault, and several fans were banned from Pistons home games for life.

    This 2004 wreckage left a permanent dent in the professional hardwood.

     

    Follow me for more in reckless abandonment.