Illustration of Slap Fighter Comsa Sorin, winner of the RXF Slap Fighting Championship in Romania in January of 2023. Somsa is pictured with half of his face swollen and chalk on his slapping hand; many participants in the sport also have swollen faces after the matches, and some championships use chalk. Illustration by Lula Hugo.

Have you heard of competitive slapping? This unique sport, also known as “Slap Fighting,” has gained popularity on the internet in recent years. Highlight reels often populate social media sites, raking in millions of views. The sport involves two competitors taking turns slapping each other on one side of the face until one of them can no longer continue, or becomes unconscious. While it may appear to have little value and origins in machismo displays, competitive slapping is surprisingly a carefully regulated sport that requires careful training and technique.

The origins of competitive slapping are unclear, but it is believed to have started in Russia in the early 2000s. It quickly gained popularity in the country, and in 2018, the first international championship was held in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Since then, the sport has gained a global following and has even been featured in international competitions such as the World Series of Slapping. The U.S. has its very own slapping league, Slap Fighting Championship, which regularly posts its matches on YouTube. On March 5, 2022, the league hosted a tournament that was presented by famed bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger and YouTube star Logan Paul, which was live-streamed on Paul’s channels, and popular with viewers.

Matches are typically held on a small platform on a stage, with two competitors standing opposite each other. The match begins with a coin toss to determine who will go first; the competitor then delivers a slap to the face of their opponent, and their opponent slaps back. This cycle continues until the winner is determined by the competitor who can withstand the most slaps without forfeiting the match, or otherwise becoming unable to continue.

While it may appear that competitive slapping is just about brute force, there is apparently a significant amount of strategy and technique involved, according to the Slap Fighting Championship league. Competitors must carefully choose where to slap their opponents in order to maximize the impact while minimizing the risk of injury. They must also be able to endure pain and remain focused throughout the match, making the sport require a significant amount of physical and mental preparation. Competitors must build up their endurance and train their bodies to withstand repeated blows to the face, develop their technique, and learn how to deliver powerful and accurate slaps.

Competitive slapping can certainly result in injuries, just like any other combat sport. The most common injuries that occur are bruises, cuts, and swelling of the face, especially around the eyes and cheekbones. In more severe cases, competitors may suffer from concussions, dislocated jaws, or broken bones in the face. The risk of injury is higher for competitors who do not follow proper technique, as well as those who are not physically or mentally prepared for the sport. These competitors must know how to properly position their body and head to absorb the impact of the slap most efficiently, and must also be able to manage their pain and remain focused throughout the match. 

To help reduce the risk of injury, strict rules and regulations are in place during competitive slapping matches. For example, competitors are not allowed to use closed fists, elbows, or any other part of the body other than the hand when delivering slaps. In most leagues, slappers’ feet must stay planted on the ground to ensure they are not generating more force by stepping into the slap. Competitors are also required to undergo medical check-ups before the matches to ensure that they are physically fit to participate, and not at an increased risk of more serious injury.

Because of the kinds of injuries that the sport can cause, it has faced criticism from some who believe it is dangerous and harmful, without much real skill or honor involved, as opposed to other combat sports like mixed martial arts (MMA) or boxing. However, online proponents of the sport and those involved in the leagues argue that it is no more dangerous than other combat sports, and that strict regulations are in place to ensure the safety of competitors, including rules on the size and strength of competitors and restrictions on the use of certain techniques.

Competitive slapping is a unique and unconventional sport that has gained a following around the world. While it may not be for everyone, some find it wildly entertaining or morbidly fascinating and think it is worth a watch. While there are risks involved, the sport is heavily regulated in most competitions. As the sport continues to gain popularity, it will be interesting to see how it develops and whether it becomes more widely accepted in the world of competitive sports, or fades into obscurity.


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