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Which Sport Brawls the Best?

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We Don’t Get Along, So Let’s Get it On. Best Sports Brawls.

April is a wacky time for a sports fan. The NFL post-season is over, you just come off the high of March Madness, then you hit a lull. All you got is the start of the MLB season and the early rounds of the NBA playoffs. But thankfully, two bench-clearing brawls in baseball on one April day (4/11) spiced up our fandom. A Rockies and Padres fight broke out when San Diego’s Luis Perdomo threw behind Colorado’s Nolan Arenado during their Wednesday matinee. Then after a dirty slide by Yankees’ Tyler Austin, a rumble in Fenway broke out during the nightcap when Bosox’ pitcher Joe Kelly threw at Austin. All the bad blood got First & Ten Sports thinking…of these five leagues–NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and futbol, which are their best sports brawls? Let’s take a look at their most memorable fights.

NBA
Malice at The Palace (2004)

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After having a beer thrown at him by a Pistons fan, Ron Artest entered the crowd and sparked a massive brawl between players and fans. The brawls became known as the ‘Malice at The Palace.’ (2004)

The ‘Malice at The Palace’ took place during a regular season game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons in November 2004. This is the ugliest violent incident in the history of the NBA. What makes the Malice the worst is that its multiple fights in one. In roughly twelve minutes, the Pistons and Pacers fought each other. Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson jumped into the stands to fight fans. Players and fans fought on the Palace floor, and Jermaine O’Neal nearly killed a Pistons’ fan with a punch. That all happened on one night. What was the cause–a perfectly thrown beer in a blue plastic cup.

There’s a lot of history behind this brawl–way too much for this space. That’s why you should watch Mike Korzemba’s breakdown of the two years of Pistons/Pacers bad blood that led to this infamous night.

Heat vs. Knicks (1998)
‘Zo versus LJ

We’re a bit biased here as a Knicks fan. But, the rivalry between Miami and New York defined the NBA’s Atlantic Conference during the 90s. The Zo/LJ brawl took place during the Eastern Conference Playoffs in 1998. Heat center Alonzo Mourning and Knicks F Larry Johnson’s feud, dating back to their time on the Charlotte Hornets, exploded. Well, almost since no punches landed. But what stands from the fight is the image of Knicks Head Coach Jeff Van Gundy wrapped around Mourning’s leg. Van Gundy was trying in vain to get in-between these Zo and LJ. What caused this fight? When Larry Johnson signed a 12-year $84 million contract with the Hornets, Alonzo took it personally.

Mourning considered himself the better player. He wanted to re-sign for the richest contract in NBA history and become the league’s first $100 million player. When Hornets ownership gave the big dollars to Johnson instead, it was on. Fast forward to 1998 and a hard foul leads to a full-out brawl.

NFL
Cortland Finnegan (Titans) vs. Andre Johnson (Texans)

In a sport with pads and helmets, it’s difficult to see a high-quality fight. Granted, NFL fights rarely become bare-knuckle bouts of pugilism, but every once in a while we get the NFL’s version of fight night. Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan got under everyone’s skin. His teammates couldn’t stand him and the opposition hated him. But damn, he was a physical defender. Rewind to 2010 and an AFC South battle between Tennessee and the Houston Texans. Finnegan was matched-up with Texans’ stud receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson was the anti-diva WR. No histrionics, no trash talk, just a ton of production.

By the fourth quarter of and a 17-0 Texans lead, Johnson was fed up with Finnegan’s antics. Pushing and shoving was followed by Johnson ripping off the Titans DB’s helmet and beating him down ‘like he stole something.’ It was a rare time when the mild-mannered Johnson snapped and showed that much rage on the field.

MLB
Blue Jays vs. Rangers (2016)

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Texas Rangers’ second baseman Rougned Odor landed one of the cleanest right hands to another player in the MLB. Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista HAD slid aggressively into second in the eighth inning of a baseball game in Arlington, Texas. (RICHARD RODRIGUEZ / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

It was the bat flip heard around the world. In the deciding Game 5 of a hotly contested playoff game between the Blue Jays and the Texans Rangers, Jose Bautista “Joey Bats,” hit a go-ahead three-run homer off reliever Sam Dyson in 2015. Batista stood at the plate admiring his shot and then flip his bat in celebration. It was a big moment, but many of the Rangers players the Bautista flip was way over the top. The Rangers were offended, but what could they do–the series and their season were over.

Baseball players have long memories and during a May series in Texas the next season, Rangers pitcher Matt Bush plunked “Joey Bats” during the seventh inning. Bautista slid hard into second baseman Rougned Odor on an attempted break up of a double play. Odor and Rangers had enough. The amateur boxer landed a hook right on Bautista’s jaw. Either Odor has no punching power or Bautista has the best chin in sports. The punch was precise enough to knock out a bull, but Joey Bats stayed on his feet. Both benches cleared in one of the best baseball fights in recent history.

NHL
Pick One

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Rangers Defenseman Dan Girardi squares off against Flyers’ Scott Hartnell. (2010)

C’mon, fighting is legally part of the game. But surprisingly, hockey fights are at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Either they’re vicious cockfights with blood or they look like an orchestrated square dances on skates. The awesomeness of a hockey fight really comes down to the in-game scenario and the fighters involved.

Futbol
Hooliganism

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Italian midfielder Marco Materazzi is headbutted by French national team star Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup final.

International futbol may be the sport where the best fighting is done by hooligans in the stands. Futbol players are notorious floppers and while their vicious attacks on the ball lead to confrontations, they rarely become actual fights. One of the most infamous ‘fights’ took place during the 2006 World Cup Final between Italy and France. Zinedine Zidane unexpectedly headbutted Italian midfielder Marco Materazzi.

The weird incident happened in extra time of the match. France lost 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw during which both men scored. Materazzi told L’Equipe newspaper, The most common version of events until now has been that Materazzi insulted Zidane’s mother but the Italian denies that this was the case. “My mother died when I was 15, I would never have insulted [his.] “I spoke about his sister.” I guess mothers are out of bounds, but sisters are fair game.

The Verdict

Let’s keep it real. With a few exceptions, athletes in the NBA, NHL, MLB, and Futbol can’t fight. They should leave it to the professionals.

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