Fights are not something actively sought out in most sports environments. In the heat of competition, when tempers run high, players can become consumed by their emotions and attack members of the opposing team. While fighting holds a status on the fringe of a sport like hockey, it is frowned upon on virtually every other field of play aside from combat sports. Many of the fights on this list carried significant suspensions and fines once the dust settled.
There is something about the passion and effort put into competitive sports that makes them the perfect environment for tempers to flare. Sports have long been viewed as a replacement for recreational warfare, but that is no longer the case in our modern sports environment where professionals are well paid and respected individuals. However, there always seem to be occasions where athletes allow their primal instincts to take over and these moments have produced some of the most memorable scenes in sports history.
Despite professional leagues taking measures to remove violence from their respective sports, it still manages to find a way into the game. Athletes have become consumed with anger in full view of a spectating audience, which has led to some of the most outrageous acts in sports history. The effects of these events have changed the way we view certain athletes, immortalizing some and irreparably damaging the reputations of others.
15 Pedro Martinez Throws Don Zimmer
The rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees reached a fever pitch in the early 2000s. At the center of the action was Boston’s Pedro Martinez, who intensified the rivalry during Game 3 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. Manny Ramirez had been thrown at, which prompted both benches to clear. In the ensuing melee, Pedro Martinez threw the 72-year-old Don Zimmer to the ground. Zimmer was taken to the hospital as a precaution and tearfully apologized for his role in the brawl.
14 Kermit Washington Knocks out Rudy Tomjanovich
During a December 1977 game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most infamous acts in NBA history occurred. After a physical rebound by Kevin Kunnart and Kermit Washington, the two got into a scuffle, which Karim Abdul-Jabbar attempted to prevent from escalating. Rockets captain Rudy Tomjanovich came running to Kunnart’s defense, only to be met with a haymaker from Kermit Washington, which dropped Rudy to the ground. Tomjanovich thought the scoreboard had fallen on him, because he suffered a broken jaw, fractured skull, and a severe concussion. Washington was fined $10,000 and suspended for 60 days, which was the longest suspension in NBA history for an on-court incident.
13 Miami vs. FIU
The University of Miami has a reputation for being one of the most reckless teams in college football, and they proved it again against Florida International University in 2006. After receiving an excessive celebration penalty following a touchdown, the FIU Panthers took offense to the Hurricanes celebration. The animosity between the schools separated by only nine miles spilled over and a melee ensued. Players removed their helmets to use them as weapons, a Miami player bodyslammed an FIU player, and Marshall McDuffie kicked the Miami field goal holder in the head. When the dust settled, 13 players were ejected, and Miami won the game 35-0.
12 Avalanche vs. Red Wings
In the late 1990’s, hockey’s biggest rivalry was between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings. The franchises battled throughout the season and playoffs, with perhaps their greatest battle occurring on April 1st, 1998. With 7 minutes remaining in the 3rd period, Kirk Maltby and Warren Rychel got into a shoving match. Events escalated and both goaltenders skated toward each other, removing their helmets to get ready to fight. Osgood landed the first couple of punches, but Roy responded with a flurry before removing Osgood’s jersey. Osgood eventually scored a takedown in front of the Red Wings bench to end the brawl with the crowd chanting “Ozzy” in his honor.
11 Orioles vs. Yankees
After reliever Armando Benitez gave up a 3-run home run, and the lead, to the New York Yankees, he sought revenge by beaning the following batter. After plunking Tino Martinez with a fast ball, Armando Benitez was thrown out. Both benches cleared with the Yankees upset about the cheap shot. Benitez threw wild punches at several Yankees, before being pushed into the dugout. Once things appeared to settle down, both Scott Brosius and Darryl Strawberry took wild swings at Benitez’ head in an attempt to avenge Tino Martinez. Benitez received an eight-game suspension, while Strawberry received 3 games.
10 Shirtless Rob Ray Beats up Claude Lemieux
A scrum broke out behind the Buffalo Sabers goal during a 1995 regular season matchup between the Sabers and New Jersey Devils. Matthew Barnaby of the Sabres and Claude Lemiuex of the Devils scuffled as the teams tussled behind the Sabers goal. Suddenly, Rob Ray appeared without a shirt and set out to destroy Lemieux. Ray delivered a devastating jab, which stunned Lemieux and proceeded to batter the downed man with punches. Lemieux had nothing to grab on to, while Ray rained punches from above. The fight led to the NHL’s mandated use of the fight strap to prevent players from removing their jerseys during fights.
9 Izzy Alcantara’s Karate Kick
Izzy Alcantara made baseball history during an International League game on July 3rd, 2001. Alcantara perceived that Red Barons pitcher Blas Cedeno was throwing at him and responded by delivering a karate kick to the catcher’s mask of Jeremy Salazar before charging the mound. Despite his ingenuity, Alcantara missed an overhand right aimed at Cendeno before he was surrounded by opposing players. Alcantara received a six-game suspension for the offense and lost his place on the International League All-Star team.
8 Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Ventura
On August 4th, 1993, perhaps the most famous fight in baseball history occurred between Robin Ventura and Nolan Ryan. Ryan had just plunked Ventura in the back, which Robin took offense to. He then decided to remove his helmet and charge the mound. However, Ryan responded by immediately putting Ventura in a headlock and delivered several uppercuts to his head before both were separated by their teammates. Ryan was two decades older than Ventura, but still managed to give him a personal taste of the Ryan Express.
7 St. Patrick’s Day Massacre
Following a disputed high stick call, the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks decided to take their own version of disciplinary action. Players squared off in a line brawl, with the best fight occurring between notorious tough guys Scott Stevens and Dave Manson. The two slugged it out for nearly a full minute before they could be separated by officials. It represented the peak of tensions in the rivalry between the Blues and Blackhawks. 12 players were ejected from the game and both teams were fined $10,000 for participating in the brawl.
6 Maradona’s Kicking Spree
Diego Maradona is an Argentinian national treasure and his career was put in jeopardy by a tackle from Athletic Bilbao’s Andoni Goikoetxea that broke Maradona’s ankle. Following his return, at the conclusion of the Copa Del Ray final between the teams, Maradona responded to the “Butcher of Bilbao’s” actions with violence. Maradona’s preferred move was the karate kick, which he used to knock out at least one person during the brawl.
5 Flyers vs. Senators
In the closing moments of the 3rd period regular season matchup between the Ottawa Senators and the Philadelphia Flyers, Rob Ray and Donald Brashear squared off, with the Flyers’ Brashear getting the best of the veteran enforcer sending him off the ice with a bloodied ear. When another Senator came to the aid of Ray, a line brawl ensued complete with goaltenders Robert Esche and Patrick Lalime going at it. This was just the beginning.
Once the dust settled and penalty minutes were doled out, the teams allowed the puck to drop, only to have another line brawl immediately break out. That brawl saw Zdeno Chara take on a much smaller opponent in Mattias Timander. Once that settled down, the referees again dropped the puck, only for a third line brawl to ensue. This process repeated again with a fourth brawl, where veterans Mark Recchi and John LeClair got in on the action. When a fifth fight broke out, it ensured an NHL record 419 penalty minutes were handed out to the teams.
4 State of Origin Rugby Fight
The State of Origin series is a best-of-three series held every year between New South Wales and Queensland. The matches have developed a reputation for also hosting several of the greatest brawls in rugby history. Perhaps none of them is better than the fight during Game 2 in 1995. Only two minutes into a match, a brawl broke out before a scrum. Players paired off and duked it out on the pitch, while officials were helpless to control the donnybrook. The announcers said it almost appeared rehearsed, but the violence was anything but pantomime.
3 Bruins go into the Stands
Following a hotly contested game between the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins, tempers flared after the final whistle. The teams came together, but when fan John Kaptain reached over to hit Bruins enforcer Stan Jonathan, he got much more than he bargained for. Terry O’Reilly entered the Madison Square Garden stands to defend his teammate and was soon followed by Peter McNab and Mike Millbury. Millbury whacked Kaptain with a shoe and in total 18 Bruins went into the stands to defend Jonathan. Three suspensions were handed out by the NHL as a result of the incident.
2 Punch-Up in Piestany
During the final game of the 1987 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, a brawl broke out between Canada and the USSR. Two players squared off in a fight before Pavel Kostichkin delivered a two-handed slash at Theoren Fleury, which sparked a line brawl between the teams. Vladimir Konstantinov delivered a headbutt that broke Greg Hawgood’s nose and both benches cleared. The officials were unable to control the brawl and left the ice. The arena’s lights were cut off, leading players to continue brawling in the dark. The IIHF called off the remainder of the game and disqualified both teams from the tournament.
1 Malice at the Palace
Ten years later, the Malice at the Palace still holds an infamous place in the history of the NBA. When the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers squared off on November 19, 2004, the Pacers held a lead late in the game. A scuffle broke out between Ben Wallace and Ron Artest on the court. Once things had cooled down, a fan threw a cup at Ron Artest, who had been laying on the scorer’s table. Artest then entered the stands at the Palace at Auburn Hills seeking vengeance.
Fans spilled onto the court as the fighting continued. Artest and Stephen Jackson wreaked havoc on fans, while Rasheed Wallace attempted to restrain them. It was, without a doubt, the ugliest scene in NBA history. David Stern dealt Artest a season long suspension, which cost him nearly $5 million in salary. Nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games and $11 million in fines were levied. Five players also received criminal charges for their part in the brawl, while five Pistons fans were banned from attending home games.