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Hill: Slap fighting’s seal of approval is a slap in the face

Updated February 20, 2023 - 9:46 am

There’s a guy who often sets up shop under the canopy at the Fremont Street Experience with a sign that tells people they can kick him in the groin for the low cost of $20.

Some nights, there is a line of drunk tourists holding out their bill and awaiting their turn.

You can pretend this is something you aren’t intrigued by and would never watch, but you’d probably be lying. I find the concept repulsive in theory, but I can’t deny that I’ve paused way too many times with a group of friends to take in the spectacle.

It’s human nature. People love a calamity. That doesn’t mean the government has to put its seal of approval on it by sanctioning such a circus.

Yet the Nevada Athletic Commission does just that with Power Slap League, the event that keeps popping up as you scroll through TikTok showing people falling unconscious and then trying to stagger back to their feet after getting knocked out by someone named “Slap Jesus.”

In fact, one of the items on the commission’s agenda this week was a disciplinary hearing for a competitor who tested positive for cocaine following a Power Slap event in November.

Apparently, that’s frowned upon.

“Slap Daddy,” whose real name is Jon Kennedy (insert joke here), was suspended nine months and fined $150 plus $326 in fees.

But the real point is this is a thing the commission, a legitimate state agency and traditionally one of the most respected sanctioning bodies in all of sports, now has on its platter after formally approving slap-fighting competitions in October.

The move was made at the behest of longtime UFC president Dana White and his friends and business associates, including Lorenzo Fertitta, Hunter Campbell and Craig Piligian.

But don’t blame them. They are an entrepreneurial group that saw a vision of what slap fighting could become and invested in the product.

And the numbers don’t lie. While TV ratings have been somewhat mediocre, the quick clips are ideal for social media and have absolutely blown up online.

Slappers wait in wings

This thing isn’t going anywhere. White said nearly a thousand potential competitors have reached out about participating in future events. He said he plans to host a combine in Las Vegas to determine which of them have the talent and determination to succeed as slappers.

Yup, I just typed that.

The question is whether the NAC should be involved in this. Its decision to sanction this was essentially a guarantee of legitimacy, and there’s no turning back now.

In addition to the drug suspension, the NAC had a rules discussion as Power Slap continues to evolve. Competitors must deliver only open-handed blows above the chin, according to amended guidelines passed by the NAC.

To his credit, NAC chairman Anthony Marnell III has always taken his role on the commission seriously, and he appears to be genuinely conflicted about signing off on slap fighting.

The reason it passed at the time was essentially that the NAC would rather find a way to put some oversight and rules on the chaos in the hopes of avoiding having the matches go underground.

But that decision may also have allowed Power Slap a level of acceptance it may not have otherwise enjoyed.

“I think we have to take this sport, whether you like it or not, just as seriously as we take the $20 million, $100 million boxing match that we’re responsible for,” Marnell said this week.

“It seems like there’s a market for this, whether you like it or not. It is unarmed combat so it fits the definition, but it seems to me, it needs some further regulation.”

White sees a winner

To be fair, many of the same concerns raised about Power Slap were absolutely brought up in the early days of the UFC. White likes to tout the fact there have been no deaths or critical injuries in his time running that organization, and he vows to bring the same health and safety protocols into slap fighting.

He also correctly points out that Power Slap competitors take three or fewer shots in a contest while boxers might take several hundred punches in a fight.

He’s not wrong. He’s also correct that he’s a better promoter than us media folks who can just sit here and type opinions with no skin in the game.

“When the media starts getting negative and saying something isn’t going to work, you know you have a winner on your hands,” he said.

But few are questioning whether it will work. It will. The debate is whether it should be given the level of credibility the NAC has provided.

But that ship has sailed.

We now look forward to the sign guy from Fremont Street applying for sanctioning and wondering what his first drug test will reveal.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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