by Pauli Poisuo
Everyone has a sport they absolutely hate to watch. Some of you dislike basketball, others can’t enjoy football, others still want to rain napalm over the very concept of sports.
Fortunately, there are some badass enthusiasts who agree with you. But instead of changing the channel, they ask themselves, “What if we took this boring thing, amped it up to absolute insanity, and then started practicing the ensuing abomination as a legitimate game?”
Biathlon is the Winter Olympics staple where skiers occasionally stop to shoot some targets with air rifles. It exists in spite of the fact that only a sad handful of European countries actually enjoy the sport. Russia has been known to dabble in biathlon, but they couldn’t help but feel that the event was missing ... something. In the early 2010s, they finally figured out what it was.
Like a regular biathlon, Tank Biathlon also has the participants compete against each other by speedily crossing rough terrain and stopping every once in a while to perform shooting shenanigans. Except when these badboys shoot, stuff explodes. Unsurprisingly, the sport is gaining popularity. In 2016, the annual Tank Biathlon tournament had participants from 13 countries.
If you didn’t watch the above video and/or are only aware of how tanks move from parades and war movies, you might assume that this is a fairly slow and deliberate affair where tanks plod on in peaceful rows, slowly turning their guns every once in a while to lazily shoot at something. No, dude. These tanks are fast. They’re zooming about in a way that leaves the Fast & Furious crew shaking their fists in impotent, wistful rage. They tear through water, dirt and mud like there’s no tomorrow, and their guns blaze in ways that would leave Michael Bay in a state of perpetual orgasm. In 2015, things got so heated that a crew actually flipped their 50-ton tank while drifting it. Drifting.
That deserves an automatic gold medal.
Do you realize how much it takes to flip a tank? A Russian biathlon’s worth, that’s how much.
Look, few people really like to watch poker. Even during its short-lived heyday as a spectator sport in the early 2000s, it was mostly just something that was on TV in the background while you were doing something more interesting. Some poker players are acutely aware of this fact, which is why they saw fit to add a bull in the game.
No, the bull is not one of the players. Or the dealer. Yeah, we agree that would be pretty awesome. However, the reality of bull poker is even better. Behold:
Bull poker, a.k.a. "cowboy poker" is basically your average game of poker, only everyone’s sitting in the middle of a rodeo. One that has an angry bull in it. Loose. Rules are the same as with normal poker, but the ultimate winner here is not the guy who somehow ass-pulls a straight flush. It’s whoever stays seated the longest without getting gored. Oh, and it gets worse: In some versions, if a player is really desperate to win his hand, he can always reach for a joker card ... that just so happens to be attached to the bull’s horns.
If you’re thinking that this sounds stupider than a headbutting match with an anvil, well, you’re not wrong. It’s not a coincidence that stories about the sport tend to involve words like “injured”, “hospitalized”, “serious”, and “unsurprisingly.” We imagine that the same words are heavily featured in the waivers the players must sign before sitting down for a game.
We tried to imagine a badass version of chess ourselves, but the best we could do was create a new rule that when you capture an opponent’s piece, you have to eat it while maintaining eye contact. This would lead to the real sporting event a few hours later, as both of the unfortunate players attempt to poop a rook.
Chess boxing, on the other hand, is exactly what it says on the tin.
Realizing that the only way to make chess an interesting spectator sport is to have the players punch each other at regular intervals, the creators of chess boxing have turned their oddball premise into a bona fide international sport. It has a governing body -- The World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO) -- and a solid set of rules that aren’t just “Yo, feel free to deck your opponent square in the jaw whenever they put you in check.”
A chess boxing match consists of 11 alternate rounds of chess and boxing. You can win with a checkmate, a knockout, a judge’s decision, or if an opponent exceeds the allotted time. Although that last part seems like a bit of an afterthought, we’ll hazard a guess that particular scenario is surprisingly common in a sport that requires you to remember how the knight moves after a few rounds of getting punched in the face.
As the new millennium was still vapidly blinking its newborn eyes, Mason Gordon decided to gift it with its signature sport. He started by asking himself: “What if we play basketball, but everyone jumps even higher and also tackles are legal?” Then he taught a bunch of dudes with linebacker physiques to bounce on giant trampolines. In 2002, it debuted as Slamball, and man, oh man, just look at it:
As America’s #1 source of comically large men flying through the air like they mistook NBA: Jam for a documentary, Slamball ruled (or, uh, at least graced) the airwaves on Spike TV for two full years. Unfortunately, tapping into unabashedly kooky American Gladiators brand of entertainment-sports ultimately failed to find its audience, and Slamball faded into obscu-
... Wait, the sport was resurrected in 2008 as a full league? Holy crap, after another hiatus in 2015, they were suddenly all over China, with plans to bring Slamball programs to the country’s universities.
Yes, despite being generally laughed at, Mason Gordon has been tirelessly plugging his invention for almost two decades, despite the fact that this has turned him into something of a patron saint of misfit sports. People constantly harass him with pitches of their own “groundbreaking” sports: one of the more cringe worthy ones was a version of baseball with two pitchers and two batters, called “Fastball” because it would indeed be twice as fast as regular baseball.
But really, is that any more ridiculous than Slamball? Maybe he turned it down because it's not ridiculous enough.
To be fair, table tennis is not necessarily an awful game to watch. At the absolute top level, where you barely see the players’ hands move and they perform incredible desperation returns 20 feet away from the table, it can be quite enticing. But the vast majority of matches are, well, ping pong. And at no point will it stop being ping pong.
Headis is a fairly marginal sport -- it has a dedicated fan base and annual World Championships. Replacing the ball with a much slower one and the paddles with the players’ actual faces may sound like a Yakety Sax scenario, but in practice, Headis loses surprisingly little in translation. The leg work and tactical elements of table tennis are still there, but the fact that your hands are removed from the equation brings a completely different level of physicality into play. Headis players mash, leap and pounce after the ball, with moves that involve a very real chance of bone-breaking injuries.
To add to the backyard wrestling vibe of the sport, the players often invent colorful gimmicks for themselves and even take outright heel personas, snarling at the camera and misbehaving after losing points. It's basically the WWE of ping pong. And we're not going to complain about that.
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, but it has historically failed to captivate Americans in the same way it does almost every other part of the world. Its major hindrance in the US has always been what Europe hilariously insists in calling “a heavy tactical element”: An insanely slow pace and the difficulty of goal-scoring.
So why not throw tactics to the wind and add a third goal and team on the pitch?
It’s described as a combination of traditional soccer, poker, chess and, uh, basketball. To ensure that absolutely no one will catch a moment’s break, the playing area is not only hexagonal, but significantly smaller than the traditional soccer pitch. Its game time of three 20-minute periods is also significantly shorter than regular soccer’s (90 minutes with a half-time). This makes sure that each of the three 5-man-plus-goalie teams has plenty of energy to run throughout the game. To add a little more chaos to the mix, the team that wins the game is not the one that scores the most goals, but the one that concedes the least.
This rule cocktail immediately turns “the beautiful game” into an “organized confusion” of constant betrayals, shifting loyalties and attacks that can come from any direction, at any time. In the above video, two of the teams gleefully agree on focusing their attacks on the third before the game even begins.
Oh, and in case you were under the impression that this is just a wacky publicity stunt by some lower-division teams: Here’s a video about the basics of Three-sided football by none else than FIFA, the international governing body of soccer:
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