On 22 November 2021, former strongman Artur “Waluś” Walczak competed in a slap fighting gala in Poland. The 46-year-old took a slap to the face, fell to the ground, was hospitalised, and by 26 November, was officially declared dead. At the time, Polish News reported that Walczak’s cause of death was multi-organ failure resulting from irreversible damage to the central nervous system.
Now, in 2022, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has announced its newest venture: The Power Slap League—a controversial move that makes us question if no insightful lessons have been learnt since last year’s events.
For those of you who may not be aware, slap fighting is quite self-explanatory—two competitors face one another and, you guessed it, slap each other in the face repeatedly. Neither contender can block or defend themselves from an incoming slap, they must simply turn their face and accept the thundering blow that awaits them.
Dana White, President of the UFC and highly controversial figure, has officially received the green light on his new venture, hoping to host the most popular slap fighting league of all time. According to The Guardian, White has become synonymous with the UFC brand since he joined the organisation in 2001. However, his unruly nature has led to numerous public disputes with famed UFC fighters and the media.
Moreover, his steadfast relationship with former US President Donald Trump has alienated the UFC from mainstream popularity, thereby damaging the organisation’s reputation. Nevertheless, White has big plans for the future of the UFC, in particular, curating a brand new league that catapults slap fighting to a new—even more face-rippling—level.
According to ESPN, the Power Slap League will be a licensed athletic competition in Nevada and overseen by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). And, if you were at all interested in a sneak peek, the UFC has released its first promotional video. Let me tell you, this is not a sport for the faint of heart.
The sheer magnitude of force is so visceral that I found myself applying an ice-pack to my own face. The comments section—after making 100 or so jokes about how Will Smith should be the new opening act—did ultimately come to a consensus on the incredible risks that still remain within this sport.
One user wrote: “Ah yes. The sport where the literal objective is to give someone a concussion before they can give you one by giving them unprotected blows to the face. Definitely a great look for the UFC to make this despite the growing awareness of brain injuries.”
Indeed, one of the most prominent dangers of this sport is the possibility of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain condition that is closely associated with receiving multiple blows to the head. Medical professionals have long warned athletes about the impact contact sports can have on your health.
With the creation of this new league, it should also be noted that competitive slapping is in no way a ‘new’ sport. The face slapping format has been around for over a decade, however, it’s recently gained greater traction due to platforms such as TikTok and YouTube circulating clips and compilations from the most brutal matches. Previously, the Slap Fighting Championship was the most well-known format and many have suggested that it brought slap fighting from the fringe into the mainstream.
In fact, while some netizens may claim to find the sport “dumb” or “ridiculous,” they continue to consume hours of slap fighting content. On TikTok alone, the search term ‘slap fight’ has over 769 million views, with many of the top videos also amassing millions of likes.
While pitching its plans, UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell presented the NSAC with a detailed summary of the regulations to be put in place during the Power Slap League. For example: “The League wants to eliminate some of the more archaic aspects of the sport that exist on the lower levels, like two opponents with vastly different weights and matches that last many rounds.”
“The rules will address fouls, permitted areas to slap, and safety requirements like mouthguards and earplugs,” he continued.
It’s true that enforced regulations have been greatly lacking from previous slap fighting championships. However, one must still wonder: will the UFC prioritise safety over ratings? The organisation is revered for its broadcasting of the top Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters in the world, hosting global events that draw hoards of blood-thirsty crowds.
Nevertheless, it has also become infamous for its unabashed acceptance of illegal moves, corrupt judging, and flouting of regulations, all in the name of ‘good TV’. In 2013, FOX Sports published an extensive feature detailing 20 of UFC’s most controversial debacles—the most prominent factor to be noted here is a clear history of jeopardising the safety of its fighters.
With slap fighting continuing to grow in popularity despite existing criticisms, it’s hard to imagine an organisation such as the UFC letting an opportunity like this pass it by.