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The Fights

Dana Whiteโ€™s โ€˜Power Slapโ€™ Is An Abomination

9:25 AM EST on January 27, 2023

A slapper celebrates after knocking out his opponent.
Image via TBS

Early in the first episode of Power Slap, two men named Chris stand face-to-face with a podium in between them. Chris Kennedy stares across at Chris Thomas, grinning. Thomas lines up his right hand, pumps three times, then slaps Kennedy at full force, sending his opponent to the mat. Kennedy's arms and legs curl up, a textbook example of the fencing response, as doctors rush to his aid. He's clearly unconscious.

The episode allows for eight seconds of heavy silence to linger over the broadcast before the referee declares an end to the contest, at which point the victorious Chris begins running around the ring celebrating and mimicking the other Chris on the canvas as triumphant music plays. After five slow-motion replays of the slap, the episode shows Kennedy waking up as he's told by a doctor that he was knocked out. "Knocked out doing what? Was I fighting?" he asks. "You're in a slap event," the doctor says.

TBS debuted Power Slap: Road To The Title on Jan. 18, following a one-week delay that was supposed to help the viewing public forget about the video of Dana White smacking his wife. The premise is devastatingly stupid: Follow White and his grinning lackeys as they attempt to create the "new sport" of slap fighting. It's structured like any other competitive reality show, in the sense that the competitors are forced to live together so that they can loudly argue, display the logos of various UFC-partnered beverage companies, and at some point get to hurt each other. The eight-episode run will be followed by a pay-per-view card. Burning a $50 bill would be a better use of your money.

White, the president of UFC and producer of Power Slap, says in the show that he was inspired by footage of slap-fighting competitions in Poland and Russia. The videos garnered enough viewership numbers for him to try and get slap fighting going in the United States as an official sport. The Nevada State Athletic Commission approved and sanctioned the events, which says more about the standards within the NSAC than the safety of the slapping. White, Power Slap president Frank Lamicella, and UFC Chief Business Officer Hunter Campbell (a notorious asshole) go to great pains to pretend that standing defenseless as someone tries to give you a brain injury is both safe and a legitimate framework for athletic competition.

White and his couch-bound dipshits evangelize the spectacle, but seem to have only two settings. They alternate between acting like there's nuance and strategy to two people trying to rip off each other's brain stems, or suggesting that if you think slap fighting is horrific, you should simply not watch it. The latter is at least logically coherent; the former is insulting. Polish strongman Artur Walczak was knocked out at a slap-fighting event in 2021. After living in a medically induced coma for a month, he died of "multi-organ failure resulting from irreversible damage to the central nervous system."

Although an open-handed slap might not seem as potentially damaging as a punch, competitors wind up and put all their weight into each slap. "This is everything bad about a hit," neuroscientist Chris Nowinski, a frequent critic of how concussions are handled in sports, told Insider. "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."

Nobody wears any pads or gloves, and whoever goes first has a significant edge on their foe. When Lamicella was asked this week about the legitimacy of a combat sport without defense, he claimed that competitors could build up a defense by training their neck and shoulder muscles, and "learning to roll with the slap but not committing a flinching foul." That's because in the Power Slap League, a player is penalized for the natural reaction to someone swinging at their face.

Not too long ago, MMA was considered the grotesque bastard child of boxing. When it started to reach mainstream popularity in the '90s, traditionalists blanched. The late Senator John McCain called it "human cockfighting" and wanted it banned in every state (later in life, he tolerated it). On the show, White attempts to draw a parallel between the early days of MMA and present-day slap fighting, but the crucial difference is that an MMA fighter can defend themselves. There's a meaning behind the phrase "Protect yourself at all times." As former UFC champ Luke Rockhold said in an interview with Ariel Helwani, White's insistence on the legitimacy of slap fighting undermines his promotion's actual fighters.

The facade of competitive integrity isn't necessary, because the hook of Power Slap isn't who will win the competition. It's seeing instant knockouts without any annoying tactics. The intent is as subtle as creating a NASCAR offshoot where two stock cars start 100 feet away and crash directly into each other. Putting this on TBS is part of a broader movement by Warner Bros. Discovery and CEO David Zaslav's vision to justify the merger, find tax writeoffs, and produce cheap, dumb shit. "Fans of wrestling have a lot of overlap with the fans of this and itโ€™s huge on social media," said Kathleen Finch, a Warner Bros. Discovery executive with a terribly long job title. Maybe in theory, but going by the ratings so far, it seems most AEW fans want nothing to do with this.

Like any Dana White production, the pay for Power Slap is pitifully low: MMA veteran Eric Spicely said that he was offered $2,000 to show up for a fight and another $2,000 to win. Contestants shuffle through cringy banter, give themselves stupid nicknames, and boast about how badly they want to win a title that functionally serves as a MacGuffin. If there's one thing uniting the participants chosen to live in this suburban Las Vegas house, it is desperation. The competitors exult in what they are told is a unique opportunity to better their situation, become stars, and provide for their families, because they are at the bleeding edge of something. Everyone is pretty obviously doing a shit job for shit pay. Competitive reality shows are built on underpaid labor appearing on screen for the chance to become famous and sometimes win a prize; since the market is so saturated, a show needs to heap on shock value to stand alone from the pack. Yesterday's Next is today's MILF Manor.

White is at the center of this show, watching people abase themselves for his entertainment and enrichment while he looks like a snapping turtle. He has made himself very wealthy by taking this role in the UFC; with Power Slap, he's just cut production costs. If the UFC is the flair of pro wrestling applied to the rigorous combat of boxing, slap fighting is the twice-diluted slurry of MMA stripped of its rigor. The viewer is not led to identify with the fighters, in the same way that the fighters are not performing for the viewers. Everyone does this for White's approval. The only thing Power Slap achieves is the feeling that Dana White could treat other people worse than he currently does and still get a TV deal out of it.

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