I tried. I gave this stupid sport a chance. Now, three weeks in, I cannot believe this is still something being promoted and aired on television. Wednesday night marked the third week of Power Slap, and the third straight week I tuned in to try and understand its appeal, then turning it off before the end.
For the uninitiated, Power Slap is just what it says on the tin. Two competitors stand a table width apart, one being the slapper, the other the slappee — and they take turns trying to slap each other into submission. On the surface this might seem fine. I think most people had a casual, cartoonish idea of what a slap constituted, but reality is far from imagination. I try not to be judgemental, but I’ll judge: You have to be a pretty sick individual to enjoy watching this.
Power Slap’s own Twitter account loves leaning into the barbarism. Not only is the competitor receiving the slap forced to put their hands behind their back, but can be disqualified if they flinch, tuck their chin, or attempt to avoid the slap in any way. Rules are designed to make one person as defenseless as possible — essentially turning the sport into a contest of who can cause traumatic brain injury quickest.
That isn’t hyperbole either. Power Slap celebrates people getting knocked out, more often than not displaying a “fencing response.” This is when a person’s body appears locked up, with their arms taking on an unnatural position. A 2009 study noted that the fencing response is an observational marker than can discern between a mild brain injury, and a moderate one — positing that this could also be the difference between temporary damage, and a permanent traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Chris Nowinski, a former professional wrestler and now head of the “Concussion Legacy Foundation” has been outspoken in his condemnation of Power Slap, particularly in regards to athletes showing the fencing response.
He’s not alone either. Dr. Nikos Evangelou, a neurologist at Nottingham University Hospital in the U.K. spoke to Sky Sports about Power Slap and called it a “recipe for disaster.”
“Any movement that might reduce the effect of the blow to the head is penalised. Impact to the head, from an angle, can cause rotational forces on the brain. It’s all a matter of time before we see more serious brain injury from a dissection.”
Evengelou went on to say that because of the rotational forces applied on the brain through a slap, and because it applies a twisting force to the head, Power Slap is far more dangerous than other combat sports when it comes to traumatic brain injury. There is a much greater chance for an artery to be split, causing instant death.
Power Slap isn’t the first sport of its kind, it’s just the first to be widely marketed in the United States. Slap fighting has existed in some form since the early 2000s, with its internet popularity in the U.S. taking a huge jump in the past three years, precipitating Dana White’s involvement. White serves as the producer of Power Slap and naturally its staunchest defender — essentially calling people cowards who don’t enjoy watching mindless barbarism.
“In Slap, they take three-to-five slaps per event. Fighters in boxing take 300-400 punches per fight. And guess what: you know what my answer to that is? If you don’t f***** like it, don’t watch it! Nobody’s asking you to watch this. Oh, you’re disgusted by it? Watch The Voice.”
White knows this is deliberately misleading, because the 300-400 punches in a boxing match aren’t all unprotected shots to the head thrown at maximum force with an opponent making no attempt to avoid them. Also, when he says that “nobody is asking you to watch this,” well, Dana White is asking you to … regularly.
At this point it’s clear White is concerned with the criticism. Any discussion of the dangers or barbarism of Power Slap represents an existential threat to his investment in the sport. One, it should be noted, really isn’t paying off for those involved yet. Power Slap has routinely been pulling mediocre ratings for TBS — despite claims it’s wildly successful. The Jan 25th cable ratings (the most recent Wednesday night available) had Power Slap ranked 30th in the ratings on the night, well behind an old re-run out House Hunters on HGTV.
Still, White is pressing on, desperate to make his neanderthal brain smack show a success — with gleeful sycophants boasting about its TikTok views and social media following. Power Slap announced its first pay-per-view, set to take place on March 11 after a UFC Fight Night.
The irony of Power Slap is that it’s everything people who didn’t understand MMA used to say about the sport White worked so hard on popularizing. It plays entirely into the brutality of people getting knocked out, without any of the skill, training, or athleticism behind it. If the evolution of MMA made people more intelligent and knowledgable fans of combat sports, Power Slap exists to appeal to the lowest common denominator who just like watching people get hurt.
The sport is a ticking time bomb. Every week we’re seeing people suffer traumatic brain injuries, and it’s only going to get worse until people finally lose interest with the mindless stupidity. Until then we can question how long networks will keep letting this go on, and how the hell the Nevada Athletic Commission decided to license this as a sport.