Phenomena: Violence in our Sports


Last weekend was the long anticipated boxing match: Mayweather vs McGregor. Regardless of the result, although I hate to say I told you so, the history of hand to hand combat is worth taking a look at. Hand to hand combat is defined by two or more combatants standing at close range without the use of firearms or any other long range weapon. Perhaps the earliest example of this used in warfare was during the Zhou Dynasty in China, from 1022BC to 256BC, which saw soldiers and warriors being trained in pure unarmed combat. But outside of warfare, when did combat between two individuals extend past warfare and become entertainment? The answer is actually complicated.

Before the Zhou Dynasty was ever even dreamed of, hand to hand unarmed combat had already been around for thousands of years in the form of entertainment. The first documented form of this kind of entertainment is in the form of cave drawings found in Mongolia, dated back to approximately 7000BC. In these cave drawings, two naked males are seen grappling in the middle of a large crowd of individuals. This could be just about anything: a display of dominance, showing off for a female, or just a disagreement that got out of hand. However, there is a striking similarity between these cave drawings and what you would see on TV in the form of a wrestling or boxing match. Additionally, in the National Museum of Iraq, what appears to be the base of a vase is on display, with figures on it that actually appear to be in the middle of a submission hold, like those seen in wrestling and UFC fights. 

The reason that the answer is complicated is because while wrestling apparently did predate the use of hand to hand combat in war, there is no textual evidence that explains why it happened like that. One would assume that if physical combat isn't needed in a society, that it wouldn't be used. But then again, in our modern times, hand to hand combat as a form of entertainment is booming. Estimates of the amount of money that was bet on Mayweather's latest and perhaps last bout put it in the $700 million range. So as a society, why do we enjoy watching violence so much?

One possible reason is that watching violence committed but not being involved is a cathartic sort of release that we enjoy because it isn't socially acceptable to sporadically release pent up emotion any other way. In a way, it is similar to when people watch horror movies. Nobody likes to feel uncomfortable, but they pay good money to sit and be uncomfortable. Inside a person's psyche, enjoying to watch two men punch each other until they're bloody, swollen, and bruised, cannot be explained in any average psychoanalytical type of way. However, it's exactly that uncomfortable sensation that is the reason why so much money goes to boxing and other violent sports. 

Additionally, there are a few other things to think about. As we watch, it is possible that we emulate these violent actions within our own lives. It is entirely plausible that a person that watches violence being committed is empathetic with the person committing the violence. This can be helpful in preventing them from committing violence themselves. Also, let's not forget that regardless of the violence, there is still a sense of suspense. One wins and one loses; which is it going to be? Lastly, another reason why people watch violence is to prove to themselves that they have it in them. Overcoming the fear of violence can have highly positive effects on a person's psyche. So whether you watch to not feel so helpless, or you watch because it provides some suspense in your life, it can't be denied that as a culture, we yearn for violence in our sports. Even in a baseball game, when the benches clear, nobody can deny that it's exciting.