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Top 10 of the Most Brutal Sports in History

Sports are meant to be fun and bring people together, but this has not always been the case. Human beings have enjoyed bloody games with some murderous events like the Roman gladiator battles being the most famous fun events in history. Today, the idea of a single injury or an unfortunate death in a sport is considered a total tragedy. That is an improvement from a past where dying in a game was considered part of the game. Although most extreme sports have been regulated or banned today, it is still hard to forget how violent these fun events were in the past. Some of these sports led to the deaths of animals and the players themselves. Sadly, this was considered part of the fun. Here is a look at some of the most brutal sports no one would want to play today.



Naumachia is one of the most disturbing sports in all history from ancient Rome and Greece, famous for its extremity and the number of deaths and injuries involved. The game involved two teams, mostly made of prisoners of war, slaves and gladiators. Each side was given a fleet to charge the opponent in an actual battle until the other team was destroyed. Survivors from the losing team could still be killed or be further sold into slavery. It was a real battle in the name of the sport in ancient Rome played on artificial lakes which were created by flooding the arena.

The most famous one took place in 46BC created by Claudius Caesar in celebration of his victory over Pompey. The mock battle took place off the Banks of the Tiber river on an artificial lake created by the army. This particular Naumachia had over 19,000 men fighting on thousands of ships.[1]

Calcio Storico

brutal sports Calcio Storico

It was Italy’s earliest version of soccer and rugby combined, except that there were no actual safety rules involved. The whole event was a very bloody affair. It involved two teams with 27 players on each side fighting in scoring a ball in the other’s goal post or Caccia. There were 15 forwards whose primary role was to injure and disable the other team’s defense to allow the 12 backs to run the 40M field width and score.

In the process of disabling the opponent, kicks, punches, head butts and wrestling were legal. In the process of weakening the enemy, many people would end up with bloody faces and broken limbs and sometimes, even death. It’s still played today in parts of Italy although the game has become a little bit tamed. Injuries are still typical although fatalities are not common.[2]



It takes more than five years to train a single Matador and near equal time to raise and train a bull, but both of them can be lost in a few seconds in the bull ring. Despite the cost and worldwide condemnation, this bloody sport continues to enjoy millions of followers worldwide. It is still one of the main tourist attractions in Spain since its start in the 8th century during the crowning of King Alfonso VIII.

The sport is associated with the death of over 250,000 bulls and more than 500 people since the late 90S, which is why many countries have banned it. It is still one of Spain’s most luxurious sports with matadors gathering every spring and summer to play it. It is all about ducking the charge of an enraged bull and piecing it on its neck. Which means death for the poor animal. In many cases, the beast may end up goring the matador instead leading to an agonizing death for both the matador and the bull.[3]

Ancient Pato

Ancient Pato

Today, Soccer and Polo have taken center stage of Argentinian sports, but the national game of Argentina is Pato. Pato Is duck in Spanish so you can imagine what we are dealing with here. Ancient Pato was a combination of Polo and basketball in which the players of two teams on horseback would fight to put a duck carried in a leather sack through the opponent’s hoop.

The duck was not the only victim of this sport. There were no rules except don’t kill an opponent meaning someone could be knocked down and get trampled by horses even to death. The church condemned the brutality and started excommunicating everyone that played Pato. The government banned it in 1822 for its Brutality before the advanced modern version which uses a real ball was revived in 1937 with stricter rules.[4]

Fox Tossing

Fox Tossing

Fox tossing was simply what the name suggests, and it was played in many parts of Europe from the 1500s to the 20th century. The test involved releasing a large group of caged animals including foxes, hares and wild cats into an arena with two teams armed with slings. When an animal lands on your sling, you hurl it into the air with maximum effort. The team with the highest throws was the winner. All ages and gender groups played this game despite its brutality. Sometimes, the scared animals would switch to offense mode, biting and scratching the tossers.

In most cases, all the animals that participated in the game ended up dead. The injured players could suffer infection and rabies, sometimes turning fatal. It was banned in most countries in Europe in the early 20th century.[5]

Mesoamerican Ball Game

brutal sports Mesoamerican Ball Game

It is the traditional version of the famous sport Ulama played in Mexico and other Central American countries believed to be the oldest team sport in the world. It was both a game and a ritual played across communities before the Greek Olympics even started. It was more like the combination of basketball and volleyball as a hard-round rubber ball was bounced off the hip of the players in a bid to pass it through an overhead hoop. The challenge was keeping the ball in play, which is why people would run into rocks and walls to get hold of the ball and keep it in play.

The ball itself weighed over 4 kilos and being hit on the head by this ball alone could mean extensive internal bleeding and sometimes death. It was played between two warring communities where the losers could quickly become a human sacrifice. Brawls were bloody as players of opposing teams struggled to get the ball as it fell through the hoop to get it to their teammates before the other group did. There were no real rules in this game, and no one mattered because the losers could end up homeless or being used as a human sacrifice.[6]

Fisherman’s Joust

Fisherman's Joust

Ever wondered what games the ancient Egyptians played? Well, they dwelled-on boats on the Nile in a real warlike sport that recorded nearly as many deaths as the Roman version Naumachia. Two teams each with their own boat armed with long poles would attack each other with each one trying to drop as many members of the other side into the water as they could.

Broken limbs and concussions were normal, and of course, if you couldn’t swim, your fate was sealed. Other unlucky players would be torn apart by crocodiles and hippos in the Nile. This sport also had a ritualistic meaning. Communities could use it to decide rivalries, and whoever died in the process would be considered to have been punished by the gods. The sport was still played recently in Egypt, but safety measures were included so no fatalities can occur.[7]

Ancient Polo

Ancient Polo

It is hard to imagine that Polo, widely considered a safe sport, was a death sentence to players a few centuries ago. Polo’s origins trace back to 600BC Persia where the king’s guard used it as a method of training. It is mostly considered the world’s earliest equestrian sport as two teams on horseback struggle to get the ball through the opponent’s goalposts. The old version had very few rules, or none at all with teams of up to 100 men as compared to today’s four except here, every man played for himself. As the horses galloped across the field ramming into each other, some flipped while others simply went wild and threw the players into the ground.

The sport was very bloody, but the game was only stopped in case of a severe injury or death. This sport was mostly played by royals, which is why many soldiers and kings died playing it. In 910, emperor A-Pao-Chi of China ordered the beheading of all players when his relative died in the field. In 1210, The Emperor of Northern India also died while playing the sport.[8][9]



It is still the most famous combat sport from Ancient Greece even entered the Olympics in 200BC. It was more like a combination of boxing and wrestling except kicking, and random punching was allowed. The only two rules in the game were no eye-gouging and no biting. Of course, there was no weight matching here, and anyone could become your opponent no matter their size. Everything about the sport was bloody including the referees who enforced the rules with clubs, and they could go Floyd Mayweather on the players if someone continued to break the rules.

There were lots of deaths and serious injury because the game had no time limits. The game only stopped if one of the players was knocked out or surrendered, most of which would not happen until someone died. Later versions allowed judges to end the game if they thought one player was at a high risk of serious injury.[10]

Mob Football

Mob Football - brutal sports

The medieval version of this sport had two rules only, no murder, and no manslaughter. It was played between two rival towns as players struggled to get a pigskin ball or a live pig to the end of the rival town’s border. It was a total stampede as hundreds of people went running through towns. Getting the pig through the rival village was a total brawl as people run into each other and into walls trying to get past the opposing town’s defenders. Achieving the objective could be done through any means possible. So it didn’t matter whether you carried the pig on a horse or simply ran with it through the streets.

Sometimes fights would break out as individuals decided to settle scores while playing. The end of the game would leave towns looking like battlefields. A moderate version of this sport is played in Derbyshire UK every year on Shrove Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday. Two teams try to get a normal ball through the opponent’s goal post by any means possible. The modern rules of the sport are no manslaughter, no murder, no cars can be used, and the players cannot run through cemeteries and memorial grounds.[11]

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