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Top 10 Sports Brawls

Hockey produces the most frequent brawls, but other sports have had their share too. Hockey produces the most frequent brawls, but other sports have had their share too.

It’s common to hear sports commentators calling it a shame when a brawl breaks out on the court or field during play. But around the water cooler, the guys talk excitedly about the previous night’s melee. We all appreciate sportsmanship and skill, but we crave passion, tension, and rivalry as well. Sometimes that spills over into tragedy, and other times it amounts to little more than overgrown boys blowing off some steam.

Of course, hockey is most famous for its brawls, some of them have reached absolutely epic proportions. But baseball has had its fair share, and even basketball and football are not immune. And how about a brawl in a one-on-one sport? We have one on the Rosebud list.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of sports’ most memorable dust ups. Buckle up. It's a wild ride.

 


10. Colorado Avalanche at Detroit Red Wings – 1997

It’s no surprise that hockey kicks off the list. Hockey is no stranger to fisticuffs, and bench-clearing brawls were relatively commonplace until the late ‘80s when the league took measures to punish players leaving the bench to join a fight.

However, in the history of hockey brawls, Colorado at Detroit in March of 1997 is especially significant, even if it didn't clear the benches.

The rivalry between the two Western Conference powerhouses started to heat up one year before “Brawl in Hockeytown,” when Avalanche forward Claude Lemieux delivered a dirty check to the Red Wings Kris Draper. Draper was driven face first into the boards and suffered a broken jaw along with a shattered cheek and orbital bone.

Eventually tensions mounted to such a point that, on that fateful Wednesday night at the Joe Louis Arena, every player on the ice dropped their gloves and had at each other, including the goalies. Wings' tough guy Darren McCarty saw to it that Claude Lemieux was served his comeuppance a year after the fact, and justice was served.


9. Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees – 1998

Often baseball “brawls” end up just being everyone leaving the bench to talk trash to each other. However, Armando Benitez saw to it that things ended differently in this MLB brouhaha between the Yankees and the Orioles.

Benitez fired a pitch straight into Tino Martinez, then dropped his glove and called out the Yankee dugout. This brought both teams onto the field, where a couple of Yankees took after Benitez, but without much effect.

Things seemed to be calming down when all of a sudden Benitez started throwing punches like he thought he was Muhammad Ali. That brought Darryl Strawberry in with a flying punch that knocked Benitez into the Orioles dugout, where the fisticuffs continued.




8. University of Miami  vs. Florida International University - 2006

For all the violence of giant men crushing each other during play, football actually results in very few out-and-out brawls. However, the Miami Hurricanes and Florida International proved to be a radical exception to that rule in 2006.

After some post-touchdown showboating, things erupted during the point-after conversion. All of a sudden giant college kids in football pads were pounding the living daylights out of each other.

This one got ugly in a hurry. The violence was not limited to shoving and punching, but also included kicking, stomping, a body slam (believe it or not), and one guy holding his helmet in his hand and using it as a bludgeon. It was ungodly and unforgettable.


7. Strikeforce: Nashville - 2010

It’s difficult to get a brawl going in a one-on-one sport, but Jason “Mayhem” Miller found a way to get one started in MMA. During Jake Shields’ post-fight interview, Miller snuck into the cage and popped up from behind a banner to challenge the Strikeforce middleweight champion to a title match.

Shields’ corner, which included MMA fighters and all around badass brothers Nate and Nick Diaz, lost their marbles and attacked Miller. Miller seemed confused, and hadn’t anticipated causing such a stir with his antics, but it was too late. The cage was soon swirling with people pulling at each other and throwing punches from all sides.

The sportsmanship typically displayed in so brutal a sport as MMA might seem ironic to outsiders, but that night in April 2010 did away with any such gentlemanly paradox.


6. Canada vs. USSR World Junior Hockey Championships - 1987

Another hockey brawl makes the list, but what makes this one surprising is that it occurred in an international tournament. There’s no fighting allowed in international rules, so when the ’87 Russian and Canadian juniors started throwing down at that year’s tournament in Czechoslovakia, it was shocking.

“The Punch Up in Piestany” lasted 20 minutes and resulted in both nations being ejected from the tournament. Officials turned out the lights in the arena at one point, a futile attempt to get the teenaged players to stop fighting.

Future NHL stars Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Alexander Mogilny, and Theoren Fleury were all involved. The melee helped raise the profile of the World Junior tournament in Canada, where it is now a widely-covered annual event.


5. L.A. Lakers vs. Houston Rockets - 1977

A relatively harmless basketball scuffle turned into one of the most infamous moments in NBA history one night in December 1977. Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Rockets center Kevin Kunnert engaged in an altercation that attracted all the players on the floor.

In the midst of the scrum stood Lakers behemoth Kermit Washington, who was trying to protect Abdul-Jabbar. Other players raced in to help break up the fight, including Rockets forward Rudy Tomjanovich. Washington saw Tomjanovich approach out of the corner of his eye, then turned and fired a punch into Tomjanovich’s face. Tomjanovich hit the floor, where he lay unconscious in a pool of blood for several minutes before being taken to hospital.

Tomjanovich needed five surgeries to repair his face, but returned to play the following season. Washington served a record 25 game suspension and was fined $10,000. To this day the infamous brawl stands out as having one of the most disastrous outcomes of any similar incident.


4. Chicago White Sox vs. Texas Rangers - 1993

One for the old guys!One for the old guys!This one wasn’t much of a brawl per se, but it is certainly memorable. 46-year-old legend Nolan Ryan fired a pitch at White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura, then in his mid-twenties. Ventura charged the mound, as sometimes happens in such a case.

But what happened next was one for the ages. As the younger Ventura neared the mound, the aging Ryan grabbed his attacker in a headlock and laid an unholy beating on the lad.

The benches cleared and separated the two, which is what constitutes the “brawl” portion of the incident. When all was said and done, Ventura was ejected from the game, while Ryan was allowed to stay and continue pitching. Sometimes when you’re a legend, you’re more inclined to receive a favorable impromptu self-defense ruling.




3. Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens - several

It says a lot about hockey brawls that just between these two teams it’s impossible to pick the most significant one.

1955 saw an incident where Canadiens superstar Maurice “Rocket” Richard took after a Bruin with his stick and even attacked an official. That might be one of the most famous incidents, but nothing beats the "Brawl Under the Stands," which took place some time around the mid-80s.

In the aftermath of several fights on the ice, players were ejected from the game. While being escorted off the ice, Montreal enforcer Chris Nilan took a poke at Boston’s Ken Linesman, who was on the bench. That drew several players into the hallway under the stands, where the fights resumed.

The Boston Bruins have been involved in some of the other most memorable brawls in sports, including a 1979 incident where several players climbed into the stands at Madison Square Garden to attack New York Rangers fans (a la #2 on this list). That’s old time hockey!


2. Indiana Pacers at Detroit Pistons – 2004

At The Palace of Auburn Hills, home to the Detroit Pistons, a hard foul by the Pacers’ Ron Artest on Pistons’ big man Ben Wallace resulted in a shoving match. Cooler heads seemed to have prevailed before things got out of hand in the event that came to be known as “Malice at the Palace.”

Artest went and lay on the scorer’s table as a way of peacefully removing himself from the skirmish. Then a cup of beer flew from out of the stands and down onto the sulking player’s chest. Artest jumped into the stands to attack the offending party, but ended up punching the wrong fan.

Several more players and fans got involved both in the stands and on the court. Most notably, Stephen Jackson leapt into the crowd to attack a Pistons fan, while Jermaine O’Neal cold-cocked a fan who ran onto the court.


 

1. Ottawa Senators at Philadelphia Flyers - 2004

Quite a year for sports brawls when the top two incidents on our list are months apart.  The Senators and the Flyers rewrote the book on fighting in sports by launching into several brawls through the course of the game.

At the end of the night, 20 players had been ejected, and a handful more were in the penalty box. At one point, each team had only three players sitting on each bench.

It’s not clear exactly what caused things to erupt in the first brawl late in the third period, but there had been bad blood between the teams stemming from a slashing incident in their previous meeting. At first team pugilists Rob Ray and Donald Brashear squared off, then all hell broke loose.

In total, 419 penalty minutes were issued, including 21 fighting majors.The days of leaving the bench to fight were in the past, but that fact only prolonged the violence. This one still stands as the mother of all brawls.



The Quebec Nordiques vs. Montreal Canadiens - 1984

The “Good Friday Massacre” included two separate bench clearing brawls – neither during play. The first one broke out after the horn to end the second period, and the next one occurred when the teams skated back on the ice to begin the third period. The game’s referee, Bruce Hood, retired at the end of the season.

Another infamous brawl took place in Russia’s KHL, and resulted in over 700 penalty minutes and a game that lasted only four minutes because almost everyone had been kicked out. Wow.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 06:17

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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