Sunday, August 01, 2004

Battle of the Hockey Gladiators

With the looming lockout and players committing to play overseas, there's not much for NHL fans to look forward to this summer. Fortunately, the WHA is slated to begin play on October 29, and there is also the Battle of the Hockey Gladiators, for the sicko minority of hockey fans who love the sight of blood. This is a two-day tournament of hockey style fighting. Thirty-two goons (semi-pro, NHL, college, and minor league) will slug it out in Winnipeg Arena from August 20-21. The winner will receive $100,000 in the double-elimination tournament. The fights will take place at center ice with each bout lasting up to 90 seconds. There will be two "referees" overseeing the fights. If you want to watch the goons' tournament, it will be available on pay-per-view television, and tickets are available, $20 for one day and $35 for both. The main problem I have with this boxing-on-ice tournament is that it cheapens the emotion of true hockey brawls. The reason that just about everyone loves the drop of the gloves in a hockey game is that it's all about respect and vigilante justice. But when you stage a fight, and have the fighters dressed in full hockey gear, it gives the wrong impression about what fights are really about for hockey. The people that pay to watch these goons, who beat each other to a bloody pulp for no tangible reason, are like the people who watch Nascar to see the cars crash. They make fighting a sideshow circus act, rather than what it should be: an impassioned bout between two players within an intense/emotional hockey game. Fighting has a place in the game, but only when it isn't perverted into a barbaric goon-fest. Even former NHL enforcer Enrico Ciccone has said that the event degrades the role of a hockey tough guy to a barbarian. I see this event as another black eye to hockey. From the looming lockout, to neck-breaking Bertuzzi, to murder-for-hire Danton, to this thugfest. Essentially, the Battle of the Hockey Gladiators is exploiting former hockey players who are short on cash, and paying them to shed blood so paying customers can get their kicks. These are the same people who go to hockey fight web sites and pay to see gory pictures and videos. Part of the reason I enjoy hockey is that it is a physical-intensive sport, but fighting does not define the sport. That said, I would be very disappointed if the NHL eliminated fighting from the game in an attempt to bring in a broader, more mainstream fan base.


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