For this list, we’ve found 10 of the strangest sports you’ve probably never heard of. Some of them are weird, others are unique for the level of skill they require, and a few are shocking blood sports that span our history.
1. Octopus wrestling was a sport that gained popularity in the United States in the 1960s. It involved divers going into the ocean to catch an octopus and drag it to the surface. The diver that caught the largest octopus was crowned the winner.
There were annual World Octopus Wrestling Championships held in Puget Sound, Washington. The event was televised and attracted as many as 5,000 spectators. Reportedly, the divers sometimes caught octopuses weighing up to 90 pounds.
The sport was based on a technique used by some fishermen who would enter the water as live bait, allow an octopus to wrap itself around them, and then have a partner pull them out of the water. One magazine writer described the difficulty of wrestling an octopus by pointing out that “it is impossible for a man with two arms to apply a full nelson on an octopus,” and that it’s futile to try “a crotch hold on an opponent with eight crotches.” Following the competition, the captured octopuses would either be eaten, returned to the sea, or given to a local aquarium.(source)
2. Bo-taoshi (pole toppling) is an intense Japanese sport where two teams fight for control of a pole. The defenders try to keep the pole upright, while the attackers try to pull it over. It involves a lot of players using both teammates and opponents as stepping stones as they scramble to the top of the heap where they can put more leverage on the pole.
The sport was created in Japan in the 1940s as a military training exercise. The National Defense Academy of Japan still holds an annual event where they play large games of bo-taoshi. In these games, each team is made up of 150 cadets from the school. While the game can seem chaotic to the untrained eye, each player has a specific role. Some players take the role of “springboard” to allow teammates to spring themselves off their backs to get over the defenders. The defender on top of the pole is known as the “ninja,” and his job is to help keep the pole upright by leaning in the opposite direction when it starts to tilt. The ninja will also often unleash some vicious kicks to keep attackers off the pole.
As if all this wasn’t intense enough, bo-taoshi is also a race. That’s because there are two poles and the teams race to see which can force the opposing team’s pole below a thirty-degree angle first. Needless to say, it makes for quite a spectacle, if you’ve never witnessed it before.(1,2,3)
3. Fox tossing was a competitive blood sport that was popular among some European aristocrats during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was often played at parties and involved tossing foxes and other small animals into the air to see who could get them the highest.
The sport was played either in a courtyard or a field where long strips of canvas were laid out. The competitors formed teams of two, often made up of the couples at a party, then each team would arrange themselves at the opposite ends of a canvas strip. Then small animals would be released into the field, and as they crossed a strip of canvas, the competitors would yank on the ends, launching the animal high into the air. Although foxes were most commonly used, other small animals were tossed including such as hares, badgers, and wildcats.
Sometimes the sport would be played as part of a masquerade ball where the competitors and animals were dressed in costumes. It was usually fatal for the animals and often dangerous for the competitors as well.(source)
4. Sepak takraw is a sport that has been referred to as “Shaolin soccer” due to the incredible high-flying moves and bicycle kicks it involves. It is similar to volleyball, except—with all due respect to volleyball players—it requires a lot more skill.
Sepak takraw differs from volleyball in that players are only allowed to touch the ball with their feet, knees, chest, and head. To make things even more challenging, it’s played with a small rattan ball. To spike the ball onto the opposing team’s side, players often unleash unbelievable bicycle kicks. Since the ball is made from rattan, it’s hard and can make a serious impact on players’ bodies. So, the rattan ball is covered in rubber for some competitions.
Sepak takraw has been around since at least the 15th century. The earliest evidence is a historical text that describes an incident where the son of a sultan was accidentally hit in the head by a ball during a sepak takraw game. He then fatally stabbed the player who was responsible.
You’ll likely hear more about this sport in the near future as it is planned to be included in the Olympics in 2022.(source)
5. Robot sumo is a blindingly-fast sumo competition between robots. Unlike many robot-based competitions, the bots are fully autonomous. Since there’s no need for humans controlling them, the robots can react almost instantly and move at speeds that would be too fast for a human to control.
Some teams program their robots to blindly follow a pattern in the hopes it will randomly push the opponent out. Others equip their robots with sensors to keep track of the opponent and program their robot to react accordingly. To take advantage of this, one popular tactic is to design a robot that will confuse the opponent’s sensors. For example, some teams attach paper flags to their robots that make them seem wider than they actually are.
Since the point of the competition is to simply push the opponent out of the ring, there’s a rule that all of the robots have to be harmless. So, you won’t see any of the weapon-wielding robots that are typical of competitions like Robot Wars. However, the blistering speeds and clever programming tactics make robot sumo worth watching.(1,2)
6. Spider fighting, also known as spider derby, is a blood sport where people get two spiders to fight each other.
There are different forms of spider fighting around the world including countries such as Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines. The sport is also popular among prison inmates in Florida. Various species of spiders are used for spider fights including orb-weavers and jumping spiders. Most spider fights involve putting two spiders on a thin stick or a tight string and prodding them so they meet in the middle. Sometimes it’s a fight to the death, other times the fight ends when one of the spiders falls off the stick a predetermined number of times. In some matches, padding is placed underneath the fighting spiders to prevent them from getting injured if they fall. Similar to cockfighting, the sport is used for gambling purposes.
Some cities have laws against spider fighting mainly because it often attracts school children. A good fighting spider can be sold for up to $2 which leads children to get involved in catching and training spiders as opposed to going to school.(source)
7. Bull baiting was a blood sport that was popular during the Victorian era among all classes of people in England. It involved making bulls fight various animals, but most often a dog was used. The dog was declared the winner if it was able to bite onto the bull’s snout and hold on. The need for small, fierce dogs for bull baiting led to the creation of the bulldog and pit bull breeds.
Bull baiting events were held in London twice weekly and were also common in small towns. They were either held in circular arenas, or the bull would be tethered to a stake in the ground. To get the bull angry before the event, they would blow pepper into its nose. Then they would release a dog into the arena.
To win, the dog had to perform a “pin and hold” which meant it had to latch itself onto the bull’s nose and not let go. The dogs were specially trained to do this and were often successful. One reason for that is selective breeding.
The dogs originally used for bull baiting were large dogs, but as the owners bred the best bullfighters, it led to the creation of dogs like bulldogs and pit bulls. These dogs had a few characteristics that made them ideal for bull baiting. For instance, bulldogs have most of their weight near their head which helped keep them from breaking their backs when the bull tried to shake them off. Also, it’s believed the wrinkled skin on a bulldog’s face would help direct the bull’s blood away from its nose and eyes.
There was a belief that bull baiting made the bull’s meat more tender and nutritious. For this reason, many towns even had a law stating that butchers could be fined if they sold the meat of a bull that hadn’t been baited. Bull baiting was eventually outlawed in England in 1835.(1,2,3,4,5)
8. Ultimate Tazer Ball was an extreme sport created in California in 2012. The game involved two teams of four players trying to carry or throw a large ball into the opposing team’s goal. What made it interesting was that every player was armed with a stun gun.
When Ultimate Tazer Ball was created, the sport faced a lot of skepticism. At first, when videos of the sport appeared on YouTube, many people thought it was a hoax. Other people worried that the sport could be dangerous.
Ultimate Tazer Ball’s creators called it the “future of sport” and compared it to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. They said that the UFC also had to fight an uphill battle at first, but was able to overcome it. As for the concerns about safety, they said that the stun guns didn’t deliver enough electric current to be harmful. Instead, they only cause muscle spasms that cause players to drop the ball or fall over. Though the novelty of the sport attracted some attention, it never really gained popularity and had fizzled out by 2015.(1,2,3)
9. Shin-kicking is a simple competition that was created in England in the 17th century. It involves two combatants go all-out kicking each other in the shins. The object is to force the opponent to the ground or get them to give up out of pain.
Shortly after the sport was created, it became a popular pastime among miners. Today there’s still a World Shin-kicking Championship that draws thousands of spectators. At the beginning of each round, the fighters take hold of the opponent’s collar and then start trying to kick them in the shins using their toes or the inside of their foot. It’s believed that in early forms of the competition, the fighters would sometimes wear steel-toe boots. But to provide some protection in modern competitions, combatants have to wear soft shoes, and they stuff their pant legs with straw as padding.(source)
10. Chessboxing is a hybrid competition that tests both brains and brawn. Each fight is made up of 11 three-minute rounds where fighters alternate between playing chess and boxing. It was originally created by a performance artist but went on to become a full-fledged competitive sport.
The sport was created by a Dutch artist in 2003. So at first, it was considered performance art rather than a real sport. But since then it has gained momentum and is now popular in the UK, India, Russia, and Germany.
The fight starts with a round of chess. After three minutes, the fighters start their first round of boxing. When the boxing round is over, they pick up the game of chess where they left off. This goes on until someone wins or they’ve finished six rounds of chess and five rounds of boxing. Fighters can win all of the standard ways in boxing and chess. That includes knockouts, technical knockouts, checkmates, and exceeding the time limit for the chess rounds. If neither fighter wins either the boxing or chess by the end of the match, the winner is decided by boxing points.
The artist who created the sport said he based it on a French science fiction graphic novel from 1992 called Froid Équateur (Cold Equator), which portrayed a chessboxing world championship.(source)