Yes, some sports have been able to survive through COVID-19. Esports is one of these. College bass fishing tournaments where competitors e-mail a photo of their catch being measured on a bump board (with the largest fish, inch-wise, winning) is another. Then there’s the plethora of virtual events where individuals could take part by running or cycling either at home or outdoors (preferably alone).
But something else that has gone on despite the pandemic, despite all other precautions being taken, is Russian Slap Fighting, the sport where grown men take turns slapping one another across the face until one of them fouls out or passes out. Yes, it's a contact sport. Yes, it's a spectator sport. And yes, it's drawing the crowds (and no, they're not doing the social distance thing).
It’s as strange and testosterone-fueled as it sounds. (Need to see it? Here’s a video link link). And by the way, there are plenty of other videos on YouTube, some narrated in English by a spectacularly profane announcer who uses the handle of Penguinz0. He’s an admirer, not a slapper, but he can still explain what’s going on.
The contestants in a slap fighting contest wear no special equipment – no gloves and no helmets (obviously). To maintain balance after being slapped, competitors hold on to a stand (some sturdier than others) that has been placed between them – although many require assistance to stay on their feet after being struck.
And there are rules, at least in the Russian form of the sport. Only the upper part of the palm can be used to strike only the cheek, without touching the jaw, temple or ear of the opponent – if you hit those, it’s a foul. Evading the slap (including merely flinching to one side) is also a foul. So is using any part of your hand other than the upper part of the palm. If a competitor commits two fouls, he loses the match.
Each man gets five slaps at his opponent. Assuming there are no fouls, a judge decides who fared better, and the winner proceeds to the next round. Occasionally, both contestants split the prize if neither has committed a foul and both have done well.
And yes, medics are on standby – and they are often needed to clean up wounds, revive unconscious patients and make the decision that someone has sustained an injury too severe to allow them to continue (no matter what the contestant might think).
“Anyone who is willing to take part can do so, but the person must understand that it is not fun, it is fun on the one hand, but it carries a high risk to life, risk of getting injured,” explained competition owner, Denis Kiyutsin, in an interview with a news program. “We explain it to everybody, we get everybody together, to explain the rules, what can and cannot be done, like a short briefing, there is at least one judge who is watching that the rules are followed, because people sometimes are cheating, deliberately breaking some rules, but this can lead to serious traumas with their opponent. Every person, by all means, should be aware that it is dangerous that there is risk to life, so every person signs an acknowledgment that he is aware of this,”
Oh, and by the way, this also takes place in the U.S.; one popular YouTube video shows a competition held in Branson, Missouri, where two individuals, known as Hillbilly Hippie (from Mountain Home, Arkansas) and Crazy Hawaiian (who hails from the islands of his namesake), went head to head for nearly 15 minutes before Hillbilly became too concussed to continue. If you want to see a video, it's here.
Slapping contests can be standalone events; in Russia, they began as an add-on to the weekend-long Siberian Power Show—which included bodybuilding, powerlifting, dance offs and a dumpling eating contest.
“There have always been interesting fistfights in Russia. It happened spontaneously and was interesting. We were sitting and thinking how to diversify our (our event), we are looking at how to make sport more interesting, we have sports zones, and entertainment zones and slap competitions started with a spontaneous idea, why not try?” said Kiyutsin.
The undisputed superstar of Russian slapping is Vasily Pelmen who goes by the remarkable nickname of Dumpling. The mountain of a guy knocking his opponents out with one slap that you at the beginning of this blog? Yeah, that’s Dumpling.
Whether the sport catches on in the U.S. as anything more than a novelty remains to be seen. And it’s unlikely that it’ll ever need special facilities or equipment (other than perhaps punching bags or similar items). The sport’s sponsors tend to be dietary supplements and the commercials (you’ll see one in the first clip) show musclebound weightlifters.
But as mentioned previously, it’s one sport that, in Russia, at least, seems to have a blatant disregard for the pandemic.
“Sports are closed everywhere else,” says Penguinz0, “but in Russia, they’re still slapping each other around. The virus is probably afraid of slap fighting.”