The World’s Most Brutal Sports (and Where to See Them)

most brutal sports

Football, hockey, MMA — Americans laud the contenders of these sports for their ruggedness and ability to survive the game. But, none of these holds a candle to some of the world’s most brutal sports.

Buzkashi (Afghanistan)

Imagine polo, except the “ball” is a recently slaughtered, headless goat and riders are allowed to whip each other senseless. This is somewhere close to the sport of Buzkashi. The rules of the Afghani national sport are relatively straightforward: grab the goat, ride the field up and back, and drop the carcass in the goal zone. There are no teams, so it’s every man for himself and opponents frequently attempt to gain the upper hand by colliding, beating, and kicking one another. The uniquely Afghanistan sport is virtually unknown outside of the country. Although, the Afghan Olympic Federation has established official rules for the game with the hopes of finding acceptance at the global Olympics.

Nguni Stick Fighting (Southern Africa)

The warrior prowess of the Zulu is well-known (and rightfully feared) throughout much of Africa. Their ancient sport of stick fighting is still in practice to this day, partly as tradition and partly because the skill of hand-to-hand combat is revered among its people. Modern bouts consist of two contenders squaring off in a large open space mostly to prevent injury to spectators. The rules of engagement are simple: each fighter has three sticks (one for attack, the other two defense) and must inflict as many strikes on his opponent without allowing that opponent to return the favor. Not surprisingly, long-time veterans of the sport often bear severe scars. However, these marks are revered among the tribal people as literal badges of honor.

Tire Machèt (Haiti)

Haitians have long been known as a resilient people. So, it’s no surprise that one of their oldest and most treasured sports was borne of necessity. It dates back to the time of the Haitian Revolution when islanders fought for their independence using whatever tools they had available. The skills the farmers gained in handling their machetes as weapons rather than field tools evolved into Tire Machèt (literally “pulling machetes”). The modern version of the sport is like fencing but without any of the safeguards. It combines European fencing techniques with the traditional melee style of African stick fighting. Although it dates back more than two centuries, it only gained recent worldwide recognition with the release of the 2014 documentary Papa Machete.

Pasola (West Sumba, Indonesia)

The people of Indonesia’s West Sumba practice one of the world’s not just brutal but deadly sports. In the “game” of pasola, two teams of 25 contenders gather on horseback and lob spears at each other. There isn’t much more to it. In fact, there are no other rules, and there is no scorekeeping. The bout ends when players are too injured (often severely) to carry on or spectators riot–whichever comes first. It’s all part of the region’s sacred Pasola Festival demanded every year by the local people who believe the blood shed by the game’s players feeds the nyale sea worm which is said to indicate a good rice harvest.