A slap fighter 'could kill people on a regular basis with enough practice,' neuroscientist says
- A concussion expert is sad and angry that slap-fighting is taking place on US television.
- Power Slap, a slap-fighting venture from key UFC execs, airs Wednesdays on TBS.
LAS VEGAS — Prominent neuroscientist Chris Nowinski issued a grim warning about the future of slap fighting should the sport be allowed to continue.
Slap fighting has recently gained mainstream attention in the US, as a new reality show, Power Slap, began airing on TBS on Wednesdays.
The latest venture from some of the most powerful people in the UFC — including president Dana White, chief business officer Hunter Campbell, and counsel Frank Lamicella — Power Slap endeavors to be more than just a competition TV show but a full-fledged combat sports promotion.
That vision has left some in the world of boxing aghast, given how brutal slap fighting is.
Unlike boxing or MMA, defense is prohibited, meaning participants simply absorb heavy open-handed strikes to the cheek. The results have been brutal.
One competitor, Kortney Olson, was so dazed from a strike that she inadvertently did a somersault while trying to get back to her feet.
A male participant Chris Kennedy was knocked out so badly that he made the fencing posture — a primitive defense mechanism that is a glaring sign that a significant injury has occurred, according to Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
"It was a curiosity when you saw it coming from Eastern European countries, and it was like, 'Oh, this will never happen here — we're too smart for this.' But then we found out that we're not," Nowinski told Insider.
Slap fighting is not an appropriate sport, according to Nowinski
"There is a line in what's appropriate to be considered sport, and this shows us where this line is. And it's far over it," Nowinski said.
—Power Slap Official (@powerslapleague) January 20, 2023
"Where the man has the fencing posture, and the woman who did the forward roll — they both suffered traumatic brain injuries," Nowinski said. "No question about it."
He continued: "When somebody has a traumatic brain injury — when they're knocked unconscious — their cortex goes offline. That's the more advanced part of their brain, and it's not functioning.
"A primitive brain response occurs where their arms go out in front of them, and we think it's maybe to protect them in a fall.
"So when you see arms and legs straight out and flexed, it's been called posturing, or, these days, the fencing response, because it looks like you're fencing with a sword with your arms straight up.
"It's definitely a sign of a significant brain injury."
Nowinski said some people who suffer a brain injury may never recover
Brain injuries are not to be messed with, Nowinski said. And they are so complex that the impact of suffering from one can be felt immediately, or later in life.
"Everybody can be one concussion away from being a different person for the rest of their life," he told us.
"I got off a phone call with the mother of a college football player, who told me he had a concussion from playing a decade ago. He's never been the same, and he died by suicide due to psychosis.
"You can die on the spot, or you can die years later," Nowinski said.
Nowinski: A slap fighter 'could kill people … with enough practice'
Boxing promoter Dmitriy Salita recently shared his concerns with Insider, saying that one possible issue is how the impacts of one of these slaps could worsen as training methods improve with practice.
"A boxer spends the entire match trying to get one of these punches in, and most of the punches are with little force," Nowinski said.
"This," he said, referring to slap fighting, "is everything bad about a hit.
"It's primarily rotational acceleration, which is going to cause greater damage than a straight-on shot, it's going to pull blood vessels apart so you could have brain bleeds, and then if you use your palm right, there's no padding, and you're landing on bone.
"Boxers have softer hits" because of the gloves, Nowinski said, "and this is untrained people. You could be certain that somebody with enough training could kill people on a regular basis with enough practice."
Nowinski was left saddened and angry that Power Slap aired
Nowinski was surprised Power Slap made it to US television, despite seeing the announcement last year.
"And then, I'm sad it aired," he said.
Based on the clips that began circulating on social media, he fired off a tweet "because I was angry."
He said: "It's one of those things that I know how stupid it is, because I deal with families who have been affected by brain injuries every day."
Nowinski said organizers of slap fight events "are essentially taking advantage of the fact that we don't have the data for what happens to people in the sport yet, but I promise you if this were allowed to continue, it will be a nightmare."
"I hope it's not allowed to continue," he said. "I hope the powers that be, TV networks, commissions, sober up and realize this is not sport.
"This is in the realm of bum fights, or who can survive a stabbing, or a fentanyl overdose.
"The only reason it's allowed on TV is that they're not bleeding. All the damage is happening inside their skull."
Power Slap returns Wednesday on TBS.
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