Ranking the Best Athlete Fist Fights

Amber LeeSports Lists Lead WriterNovember 1, 2013

Ranking the Best Athlete Fist Fights

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Sports are one of the last refuges where physical altercations rarely get punished outside the league and if not acceptable under circumstances...are at least marginally tolerated on occasion. It's why NFL coaches seem to condone a few dust-ups in training camp; as long as no one gets more than a few bruises.

    If you walked up to one of your coworkers and socked him in the face after he left a jam in the copier, your boss isn't going to pat you on the butt and say, "Walk it off!" Everyone is going to be freaked out, and you'll probably leave the office in handcuffs. 

    What makes a fight great in sports can't be pinned down to one specific set of circumstances or criteria—it's subjective. Sometimes a really violent brawl is elevated into the sports pantheon of great fights, but sometimes an awesome fight is special for reasons that have nothing to do with how many punches are landed.

    Most people don't want to see a fight seriously injure someone or extend outside the comfort zone where the spectator suddenly becomes an unwilling participant.

    Whether it's an epic mano-y-mano, old school fist-fight or a hilarious naive interpretation of what a proper butt-kicking entails—some of the greatest fist-fights in sports got the designation by standing out in their own unique way.

15. Youkilis and the Matador

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    What Happened:

    In a 2009 game between the Tigers and Red Sox, 20 year-old pitcher Ryan Porcello sends a fastball low into the sirloin area of one Kevin Youkilis—and Youk' ain't happy about it.

    Like a brisket shot out of a cannon, he charges the mound. And I'm guessing that when he was about 10 feet away, all parties involved, as well as anyone watching, expected to see Porcello get blown off the mound. 

    Instead, like a matador leveraging a bull's pure rage and power against itself, he sends Youkilis face-first into the dirt.

    Who Won:

    In a pure upset, Porcello defies physics and does to Youk' what anyone watching expected Youk' to do to him. 

14. It's in the Job Description

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    What Happened:

    When you take a moment to think about the concept of a pro sports team having a guy on contract for essentially a single purpose—fighting your counterpart on the opposing team—it's kind of nuts.

    And while the NHL is putting distance between that era and today's league, it doesn't diminish those great fights of the past...even if most enforcers were just a nuisance and wasted roster spot.

    In this 2008 heavyweight battle between one of the NHL's most physically imposing players—Shawn Thornton—and the fleeting, ex-NHL player Riley Cote, is basically 'boxing on ice'.

    Who Won:

    Thornton eked out the victory, but they both seem pretty pleased with themselves. If you're a hockey player and you drop the gloves with another dude...and he immediately gets into the stance these two assume...just run. You're going to get worked over.

13. A Surprising Round Roy-Bin

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    What Happened:

    Goalies rarely drop the gloves, so when it does happen, it's usually something special—most often, being an amusing jersey tug-of-war between two inexperienced fighters, but sometimes the result is epic.

    Case in point: then-Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy, who engaged his Red Wings counterpoint, Mike Vernon, as their teammates squared off in little pockets of mayhem across the ice.

    The two went at it to an admirable degree; considering the equipment and position. 

    Who Won:

    If this were a boxing match, no one would be shocked if it wasn't a unanimous decision in favor of Vernon; but by the time each player was getting hugged by an exhausted official, Roy was bloodied and Vernon had gained the advantage. 

12. The Rest Is History

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    What Happened:

    During the final lap of 1979 Daytona 500, Bobby Allison's brother Donnie is wrecked by rival Cale Yarborough, who then in turn blames Bobby for sending his own brother into the wall. 

    After exchanging pleasantries, Yarborough shot out of his vehicle and started using his helmet like a night stick on Bobby Allison's face.

    Who Won: 

    NASCAR—the brouhaha turned the nation's attention to the sport; sparking new interest and helping set the table for the juggernaut NASCAR has become. Though, with a name like Cale Yarborough, I think he was predestined to become a legendary villain of racing.

11. Andre Johnson Gets Finnegan'd

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    What Happened:

    In a 2010 battle between Houston's former NFL franchise and it's newest, All-Pro Texans receiver Andre Johnson and Titans' corner/agitator Cortland Finnegan got into a bit of a tussle after several chippy plays. 

    Johnson basically treats Finnegan like a human discus; and I bet it sounded like someone opened a giant version of novelty 'snakes' in a can when Finnegan's hair exploded into the atmosphere. Despite being clearly over-matched, Finnegan manages to give Johnson that wretched, sarcastic applause.  

    Who Won:

    The Titans 31-17, therefore, Finnegan. Both players were ejected, but losing an Andre Johnson has far more of an impact than losing a Cortland Finnegan. 

     

10. A Parable of DiPietro's Career

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    What Happened:

    In 2011, then-Penguins backup goalie Brent Johnson had been in exactly one fight during his career, up until this moment—and he came out on the losing end of it. So, when Johnson saw Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro take a cheap shot on former Pens agitator Matt Cooke with just 16 seconds left in the third period, he decided it was time for his second fight.

    The two squared off at center ice, and before the fight ever truly began, Johnson lined up and blasted the tentative DiPietro with a straight left; dropping him to the ice. I wish I could bottle whatever Johnson felt at that moment and take a sip.

    Who Won:

    Johnson by KO—a KO in that moment and basically for DiPietro's career. The punch put the Islander out of commission for a month, but in essence, was the fatal blow of an injury-prone, up-and-down career.

9. Reach Was No Advantage

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    What Happened:

    Former Hornets teammates Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson felt more than a little resentment toward each other. So, when the two finally had an opportunity to square off on the court in a 1998 NBA Playoff match-up of the Heat and Hornets, simmering tensions finally boiled over in the 4th Quarter. 

    What ensued was a prime example of how goofy two giant dudes can look when flailing their arms at each other. However, their lurching fisticuffs were not nearly as incredible as the sight of then-Heat coach Jeff Van Gundy desperately clinging to Mourning's leg like a balding koala bear.

    Who Won:

    Van Gundy. His scrappy fortitude was way more impressive than the shadow-boxing going on above him.

     

8. No Country for Chris Chelios

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    What Happened:

    It's not really even fair to point out that the Flyers' Roy from The Office Ron Hextall was a goalie, because outside the crease he transformed into a more than capable brawler—though it's not like he stopped being a ticking time-bomb while in-net.

    His shark-like attack on former Habs defenseman Chris Chelios in Game 6 of the 1989 Stanley Cup semi-final series is one of Ron Hextall's most Hextallian moments of his career.

    10 days prior, Chelios had gotten away with an elbow on the Flyers Brian Propp, so Hextall took it upon himself to discuss the matter in a respectful, constructive way. 

    Who Won:

    And by respectful and constructive, I mean Hextall came barrelling of the net, took Chelios down and started using him as his own personal stress ball. Game officials had to peel the rabid netminder off him. This happened in the playoffs; and Hextall was suspended for 12 games.

    The answer is: Hextall won. The answer, when one-half of the equation is Ron Hextall, is always 'Ron Hextall'.

7. Bad(minton) to the Bone

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    What Happened:

    Thai badminton player Bodin Issara faced off against his former doubles partner, Maneepong Jongjit, in a match at the Canada Open in August.

    Despite playing as a team in the 2012 Summer Games in London, things must of ended badly, because something sparked a crazy, very one-sided fight between the two.

    Who Won:

    Issara won the fight, Jongjit won the war. Though Jongjit ran wildly around the court with Issara in pursuit—before finally employing the potato bug defense as his ex-partner wailed on him—he was slapped with just a three month suspension, while Issara was given a three-year ban from the sport.

6. Combat Hockey

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    What Happened:

    In 2004, the Senators and Flyers turned what was described as a 'hockey game' into a virtual Battle Royale; racking up an NHL record 419 penalty minutes. The two teams were even nice enough to give the fans an encore, fighting five times in the final two minutes of the third period.

    Seven years later, the two teams got the band back together in a 2011 game and did their Flyers-Senators thing—starting a full-on brawl that never truly ended until the game was over.

    Who Won:

    Don Cherry. The man with a closet of psychotic suits loves a fight and never misses an opportunity to lament the lack of toughness (usually attributed to any player not born in Canada) in today's NHL versus his helmetless fantasy of days past. The Senators-Flyers rivalry is about as close a facsimile to Don Cherry's Combat Hockey as there can be.

5. Well, That Escalated Quickly

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    What Happened:

    Sure, the CFL features teams that purposefully came up with mascot names like the Alouettes and Tiger-Cats—and the field is flanked by giant, funky end zoness—but no sports fan should ever take for granted that it's still a pro league of competitors.

    In fact, if the average CFL alum has just half the piss and vinegar that this pair of then-73-year-old rivals display in this clip...then America needs to start paying more attention.

    Dating back to a single incident in the 1963 Gray Cup, former players Joe Kapp (Lions) and Angelo Mosca (Tiger-Cats) are obviously harboring one whopper of a grudge; because they started wailing on each other...with fists...a cane.   

    Who Won:

    Kapp regulated. But to be fair, he wasn't hobbling around with a cane.

     

4. Staal Besmirches Semin's Honor

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    What Happened:

    In 2009. former Capitals winger Alexander Semin decided he just couldn't take it anymore and snapped during a game against the Rangers. His victim? Marc Staal—who found himself on the business-end of a furious flurry of petulant slaps.

    Who Won:

    Gentlemen in powdered wigs. Semin's loosely-cupped hand attack hearkens back to an era when men wore fine white gloves and settled their differences with 20 paces and an unreliable muzzle-loading pistol.

    But, Semin can take pride in the fact that no one will forget it or ever find it anything less than fascinating.

3. They Should've Had a Run-off

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    What Happened: 

    After running the men's 1500 at the IAAF Track and Field Diamond League meet in Monte Carlo, French runners Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad subtly got in each other's business—which quickly escalated into a flurry of poorly executed blows.

    Track and field athletes aren't really known for being a rowdy, brawling bunch...and it was obvious in this "fight."

    Who Won:

    Neither. I'm not sure who is who in this match-up, but this was more about theatrics than connecting on punches. Though, if someone had to be declared winner, the smaller, balder fellow kicked off the action with a head-butt to the chest; a solid move. A very French move

2. Brought to You by the Wachowskis

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    What Happened:

    During a match last March between Al Arabi and Al Gharafa, forward Nene (yes, just Nene), took offense after receiving a red card and vented his frustration on Al Arabi's Houssine Kharja. I'm not sure if Nene's wrist-to-the-temple was an original move, or a poor attempt to kick-off a break-dance fight with "The Sprinkler," but it looks awesome in slow-motion.

    Not to be outdone, Kharja retaliates by channeling a little Daniel LaRusso with a dash of Neo; unleashing an acrobatic, high-flying kick, which sparks a melee.

    Do all footballers fight...weird? 

    Who Won:

    Slow Motion Video. I'm not sure that a winner can be declared between two guys who fight so...artistically. It should be appreciated as a whole, rather than for one particular moment.



1. Old Man Strength

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    What Happened:

    Considered one of the most legendary fights of MLB lore—and another amazing chapter in Nolan Ryan's long career—the fight between Ryan and the White Sox's Robin Ventura in 1993 is still talked about today.

    It started with a Ryan heater to Ventura's back, which inspired the third baseman (20 years younger than Ryan) to charge the mound. As the benches clear, Ryan promptly puts Ventura into a headlock and starts throwing right hands until their teammates pull the two men apart. Ventura was ejected, while Ryan was back on the mound.

    Who Won:

    Ryan and old, grizzled athletes. Despite the protests of White Sox fans who analyze footage of the fracas like it's the "Zapruder Film," it doesn't matter what could have happened. History has rendered its verdict.