Nothing spices up athletic competition like a good fight. Whether you’re a fan of hockey (a sport practically built on fighting), football, basketball, baseball or soccer, the sudden outbreak of violence ratchets up the energy level and draws the interest of everyone. Even non-sports fans are glued to the screen when a fight happens. There’s just something about hot-headed athletes duking it out that arrests our attention. However, in the long-standing tradition of hot-headed athletes, a few stand out. Their fights were either so incredible (or so frequent) that fans associate the athlete with his fights first, and his play second. This article celebrates 20 of these hot-headed athletes, the cream of the crop from both past and present.
1) Ron Artest
Ron Artest was one of the sparkplugs behind the now-infamous Detroit Pistons vs. Indiana Pacers slugfest from 2004, which commentator Bill Walton lamented as “a low moment in NBA history.” It all started when Artest fouled Ben Wallace from behind. Wallace did not react favorably to the hard foul and retaliated by shoving Artest clear across the court. What unfolded was, as ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume called it, “one of the ugliest incidents of player/fan violence that we’ve even seen in this country.” The fight between Artest and Wallace exploded into an arena-wide brawl that saw Artest assaulting a fan who threw a cup of beer at him. Although the game was just 45 seconds from being over, officials quickly called it off once fans began storming the court and throwing bottles at the players.
2) Chris Benoit
During his storied career in professional wrestling, Chris Benoit acquired the nickname “the rabid wolverine.” He was a fierce competitor known for his unsurpassed technical ability and refusal to give any less than 100% in the ring. Unfortunately, it appears that Benoit took his athletic tenacity much too far. On June 25, 2007, it was discovered that Benoit had killed his wife, son, and eventually himself in an apparent case of “roid rage.” Benoit was found to be taking anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to stay in top wrestling shape, which many doctors theorize is what led him to kill his family. Benoit’s case of athletic hot-headedness is undoubtedly the most cruel and heinous on our list.
3) Latrell Sprewell
Latrell Sprewell is best known for choking PJ Carlesimo, his head coach with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. The incident occured at a team practice in 1997 and cost Sprewell dearly: an 82 game suspension handed down from NBA comissioner David Stern, his $6.4 million salary for the season, and his shoe deal with Converse. According to Wikipedia, Sprewell later said that he would’ve continued choking and possibly killed Carlesimo if his teammates had not pulled him away. Sprewell would never play for the Warriors again, but did go on to have a successful career and somewhat rehabilitate his image.
4) John McEnroe
John McEnroe is now famous for his many temper tantrums and outbursts at officials during tennis matches. This video shows McEnroe in vintage fiesty form, slamming his tennis racket down on the clay and verbally assaulting the official for ruling a play against him. After after being penalized, McEnroe can be heard sniping “you’re so full of shit” and other obscenities. Tennis fans are divided on McEnroe’s outspoken and occasionally outrageous style of play. Some welcome it, saying it is evidence of his passion, while others say it taints the integrity of the sport.
5) O.J. Simpson
Not every hot-headed athlete’s aggression manifests on the playing field. That seems to be the case with O.J. Simpson, the NFL Hall of Famer who retired as the league’s 2nd all-time leading rusher (he is now 16th.) Simpson’s fall from grace began in 1994, when he was named as a suspect in the murder of his wife (Nicole Brown Simpson) and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Simpson was famously found not guilty of the two murders despite overwhelming evidence in what has been called “the trial of the century”, an injustice which many feel is now being remedied by Simpson’s upcoming 05DEC08 sentencing for armed robbery charges.
6) Mike Tyson
“Iron” Mike Tyson is a fiery athlete even non-sports fans know. His hot-headed claim to fame is biting off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear during a 1997 boxing match, which Tyson claimed was retaliation for Holyfield headbutting him. Nevada’s state boxing comission immediately filed Tyson $3 million, causing him to issue an apology for the incident and beg to not be banned for life from boxing. While Tyson did indeed live to “fight another day”, he was never able to shake the stigma of “that guy who bit off that dude’s ear.”
7) Izzy Alcantara
Professional baseball players react differently to pitchers throwing the ball “inside”, or close to them. Good-natured players dive out of the way, dust themselves off, and get back into the batter’s box. Players with less humility might send an evil glare out to the pitcher’s mound. But nobody was prepared for Izzy Alcantara’s reaction to being pitched inside. When Alcantara found himself brushed back by the opposing pitcher of a minor league game in July 2001, he promptly turned around, karate-kicked the catcher in the face, and charged the pitcher’s mound in a violent rage. Unfortunately for him, Alcantara was quickly outnumbered by players of the opposing team and tackled to the ground.
8 ) Nolan Ryan
A notorious hot-head and relentless competitor, Nolan Ryan was involved in one of Major League Baseball’s most epic brawls. After plunking opposing batter Robin Ventura in the back with a fastball, Ventura charged the mound looking for retribution. What he got instead was put in a headlock by Ryan, repeatedly pounded in the face and tackled to the ground in a huge mob of players from both teams (some trying to break up the fight and some trying to participate in it.) It is astonishing how the then-45 year old Ryan was still fearless and adept enough to completely dominate the much younger Ventura.
9) Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens has a well-earned reputation as a “head-hunter”, or a pitcher who throws hard at a batter’s head to back him off the plate. What we didn’t know (until game 2 of the 2000 World Series) is that Clemens was capable of getting angry enough to throw a bat at someone! When Mike Piazza broke his bat on a Clemens pitch, Clemens proceeded to pick up a shard of the broken bat that landed near the pitcher’s mound and throw it at Piazza as he jogged up the first-base line. Many now suspect that Clemens throwing the bat was an example of “roid range” in light of recent allegations that the one-time lock hall of famer used Human Growth Hormone.
10) Terrel Owens
Terrell Owens has had the pleasure of annoying teammates on every team he’s played for thus far – the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Dallas Cowboys. His tenure with the Eagles was especially contentious, as indicated by this quote from Fox Sports. “NFL Insider Jay Glazer gives the story of T.O.’s locker room fight. After trading punches in the training room, the suspended wide receiver challenged the entire locker room. Owens actually fought Pro Bowl defensive end and current Eagles ambassador Hugh Douglas in the team’s rehab room late Thursday and then issued a challenge to fight several other teammates afterward.”
11) Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace was mentioned earlier as the Detroit Pistons player who shoved Ron Arest, setting off the biggest brawl in NBA history. This outburst was not the first however, as “Big Ben Wallace” already had quite a reputation for aggressive play and a hot temper. Of course, Wallace’s supporters will be quick to point out that his style of play is not without merit, having earned him a record-tying four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards. (Dikembe Mutumbo is the co-record holder.)
12) Chad Johnson
Chad Johnson is another hot-headed NFL wide reciever, currently playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. The video below shows Johnson getting into a fight with teammates (namely Madieu Williams) at Bengals’ training camp in August, 2007. The scuffle eventually became so brutal that the two had to be physically separated by other teammates, and needless to say, the rest of the day’s training camp activities were tainted by the animosity Johnson stirred up.
13) Adam “Pacman” Jones
Adam “Pacman” Jones has such a reputation for on-field (and off-field) nastiness that the NFL only recently re-instated him from suspension as an eligible player. He had previously been suspended an entire year for various off-field incidents and problems. That being the case, one would think Jones would be eager to prove himself as a changed man upon return. Sadly, the plan isn’t going so well, as Jones was found to have been involved in a fight with one of his own bodyguards in October 2008 – one night before a scheduled meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell!
14) Alonzo Mourning
“Zo” is often remembered for his role in the New York Knicks vs. Miami Heat bench-clearing brawl in the 1998 NBA playoffs. While the fight began as a squabble between Mourning and Knicks forward Larry Johnson, perhaps the most remembered image of the whole ordeal is Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy clinging to Mourning’s leg and trying to break the fight up. Both Mourning and Johnson were suspended for starting the fight, and Mourning later apologized for “losing his cool.”
15) Juan Marichal
We’ve already seen catchers take the heat for their battery mate throwing inside at batters. Unfortunately, Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro may have suffered even more than the backstop unlucky enough to be catching behind Izzy Alcantara. When Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal got plunked at the plate, he promptly turned around brought his bat down on Roseboro’s head, presumably thinking that Roseboro called for the inside pitch. Of course, baseball’s rules on fighting were a bit more lax in 1965 than they are today; Marichal was fined $1,750 and suspended for only 8 games.
16) Pedro Martinez
As we’ve seen with many of the above athletes, on-field competitiveness can easily translate to aggression. That’s what happened to former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez during an on-field brawl in 2003 against the Yankees. During the brawl, Pedro was charged by Don Zimmer (the Yankees’ 72 year old pitching coach) who he promptly threw onto the ground. Martinez is also a famously aggressive pitcher whom many believe hits batters on purpose, to establish control of the strike zone. (He was once quoted as saying, after hitting an opposing player, “if he wants to cry, let him cry.”) Supporters of that theory point to Martinez’s very high number of hit batters and otherwise impeccable control, suggesting he is perfectly capable of not hitting batters and simply chooses to do so anyway.
17) Kyle Farnsworth
Kyle Farnsworth could be called a “serial fighter”, as he has now been at the forefront of two bench-clearing brawls for members of two different baseball teams. The 6’3, 250lb+ pitcher got his earliest hot-head stripes as a member of the Chicago Cubs, when he speared opposing pitcher Paul Wilson flat onto his back. Farnsworth was suspended 3 games for his misconduct, but it was just two years later when he body-slammed Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Affeldt in much the same way! Farnsworth, by this time a Detroit Tiger, was ejected from the game, but not suspended this time. He has retained his hot-head status well into the present, having been accused of throwing at Manny Ramirez toward the end of the 2008 season.
18) Dennis Rodman
Cross dressed and rebound extraordinaire Dennis Rodman was known for his aggressive style of play during his accomplished NBA career. He was frequently ejected from games for hard fouling players and even made a semi-regular occurance of physically assaulting the referees. The NBA never quite knew what to expect from Rodman, with his dyed hair, wild tattoos and eccentric personality. Rodman was also quite the hot-head outside of basketball, participating in World Championship Wrestling and Ultimate Fighting Championship matches on separate occasions.
19) Elijah Dukes
Elijah Dukes has such a penchant for on and off-field trouble that the Tampa Bay Rays traded him away despite his youth and immense talents. He has a “rap sheet a mile long” as many commentators have pointed out, including fights and off-field troubles such as drug arrests and abusing his girlfriends. Here, we see Nationals manager Manny Acta giving Dukes a stern talking to in the dugout following one of Dukes’ typical temper-tantrums. Dukes got involved in another near-fight late in the 2008 season, appearing to threaten Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey after Pelfrey threw him an inside pitch.
20) Bill Goldberg
Wrestling is supposed to be fake, right? Tell that to Bill Goldberg, the former WCW star who slashed tendons in his arm after slamming it into a plate glass limousine window as part of an on-screen stunt. While Goldberg was not supposed to be actually injured (only fictitiously), the glass did indeed penetrate deep enough into his skin to cause serious damage. The injury kept him out of wrestling for nearly a year, though he did eventually make a full recovery. Goldberg is also well-known for ending icon Bret Hart’s wrestling career by kicking him in the face during a match.