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Street fighting

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Goya, Man Interfering in a Street Fight (1812–20)

Street fighting is hand-to-hand combat in public places between individuals or groups of people.[1] The venue is usually a public place (e.g., a street), and the fight sometimes results in serious injury or even death.[2][1] Some street fights can be gang related.[3]

A typical situation involves two men arguing in a bar, during which dispute one suggests stepping outside, where the fight commences. It is often possible to avoid the fight by withdrawing from the situation; whereas in self-defense, a person is actively trying to escape the confrontation, using force if necessary to ensure his own safety.[1]

In some martial arts communities, street fighting and self-defense are often considered synonymous.[1][4]


Evidence for human fighting goes back 430,000 years in Spain, where a fossil skull was found with two fractures apparently caused by the same object, implying an intentional lethal attack.[5] Another record of early human fighting is one that happened 9,500 to 10,500 years ago in Nataruk, Kenya.[6] The hunter-gatherers fight was a group fight involving both males and females, including children,[6] armed with bladelets and arrow projectiles. The fight was to protect their valuables such as lands, food and water resources and their tribes or families or to respond mortally to the threat from the encounter between two groups of people.[6]


Street fight in Jimma, Ethiopia

Street fights can be planned ahead or occur suddenly, regardless of location and time. The frequency of physical assaults is based on crime rates, level of poverty and accessibility to weapons.[7] In street fights, everyone can be an opponent, including friends, relatives or even strangers.[8] Street fights usually start with an outbreak of emotion such as anger, fear and indignation.[8] Street fights do not last long, usually running for minutes or even seconds. The outcome of the fight is unpredictable due to the fact that participants are unlikely to know others' abilities, strengths or weaknesses.[8]

The scene can go beyond expectation with the introduction of weapons or the participation of someone from the crowd, whether intentional or unintentional. In the past [when?], only when an opponent died could the other participant be considered the winner. Similarly, at present, the match is only over when one surrenders, or both are unable to continue, when someone from the crowd or the police or a security guard stops the fight or "steps in" or when one of the combatants dies. Despite the brutal and life-threatening consequences, people's willingness to commit violence has increased over time [where?], escalating the danger of street fights.[8]


The causes of street fighting are varied. Originally, street fighting was a way of defending oneself. In the stone age, fights were mostly aimed for survival purposes – protecting territory, securing resources and defending families. According to Mike Martin, a London lecturer in war studies, "Humans fight to achieve status and belonging. They do so because, in evolutionary terms, these are the surest routes to survival and increased reproduction".[9]

As humans evolve, new conflicts arise in order to gratify more sophisticated wants. The purposes of street fighting shifted to solve interpersonal conflicts. These conflicts could be stratification, misunderstanding, hate speech or even retaliation. For instance, in areas that are not under police surveillance and criminally dominated, violence is believed to be the substantiation of superior reputation and pride.[10] In other words, people take part in street fights to obtain dominance because of social status given to the ruler.[10] For another instance, men showed off their value in the sense that opponents' self-esteem is on the verge of being destroyed from their insults, humiliation and vilification to which violence is the go-to resort.[10] Additionally, some fights are driven by alcohol. Alcohol itself does not directly lead to violence but it acts as a catalyst, allowing cheers from the crowds or provocation from opponents to ignite the fight between fighters.[11] Since the consumption of alcohol negatively impacts the brain function, drunk people fail to assess the situation which often results in overreacting and unpredictable fights.[11]



It is theorized that certain biological features of the Homo lineage have evolved over time as a means to mitigate injury from hand-to-hand combat. Facial robusticity, which includes traits such as jaw adductor muscle strength and brow ridge size, may offer a protective effect against combat.[12] The jaw adductors stretch as a means to absorb energy from the punch in order to reduce the likelihood of jaw dislocation and prevent fracture.[12] The postcanine teeth may have evolved to be larger and thicker so as to allow the energy from the punch to be transferred from the jaw to the skull.[12] Additionally, the proportion of the human hands have evolved in a way that allows for the formation of a fist, something that was not possible in pre-Homo species.[13]

Physical and mental health[edit]

The consequences of street fighting are undeniably dangerous and critical, and street fighters are exposed to short-term and long-term physical health issues. Such poor health includes temporary and permanent disabilities, fractures, partial body part losses, severe injuries, or death. For instance, the face, other parts of the head and neck, and the thorax are the most targeted parts in the body, which account for 83%, 4% and 2% of fractures, respectively, amongst all injuries.[12] In addition to damaging physical health, street fighting can also result in mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and depression.[14] Extreme feelings of guilt experienced by some perpetrators in the aftermath of a violent event may lead to suicide.[7]

Not only does the involvement in street fights affect the participants, it also collaterally influences the participants' family members and friends, especially small children.[7] Traumatic exposure in small children to such negative experience often leads to post-traumatic stress reactions, such as fear, sadness, numbness, timidity, moodiness, eating disorders, difficulty sleeping, or nightmares.[15] Adults have the high probability of coping with trauma, even when they do not sustain direct injuries, leading to increases in preterm birth, mortality rate, and communal trauma.[7]


Street fighting is usually illegal due to its disruption of public order. Depending on each localities' laws and the gravity of the situation, participants may be liable to either a fine or imprisonment. In South Australia, for example, the maximum penalty for the offence of fighting in public is a $1,250 fine or three months imprisonment.[16] In New South Wales, Australia, persons involved in a fight that could intimidate the public can be charged by the police for the offence of affray with a maximum punishment of ten years imprisonment.[17] If any injuries are caused during the fight, the severity of the injury will impact the penalty of the participants.[17] Intentional injuries, especially, will result in more severe penalties.[17] One may still be liable for the injuries of the victim even if the injuries were not directly caused by that person but by another participating in the fight.[17] If someone dies, all members in the group that are involved in the assault may be accused of murder, no matter who inflicted the fatal blow.[17] Self-defence is generally too narrow to provide protection.[17]


In terms of economics, street fights result in damage to social infrastructure. In 2000, a fund worth approximately 9 million euros was spent in order to repair previous three-year demolition done by street fighters.[18] In 1995 in Basque city, the destruction of public transport resulting from street fights cost 2.5 million euros.[18]

Underground street fight clubs[edit]

Fight between two men

Street fights used to happen in the dark, out of communal sight.[19] With the exposure to social media, however, street fights have become more transparent.[19] Organisers that help with professional street fight setup are known as "clubs", which are run on a money-oriented basis.[19] These clubs can host either amateur underground fights or professional ones.[19] In New York, professional fighters are those who contend for the prize (money or gift) which has monetary value exceeding $75.[19] In contrast, amateur fights also known as 'smokers' refer to unsanctioned fights where no safeguards and regulations are required.[20]

Despite the fact that some illegal fight clubs still run within the authorisers' competence, some street fight clubs even obtain authoritative approval, meaning these sanctioning entities are running under the supervision of a certified regulator.[19] Some further requirements for professional fights enacted by New York State Athletics Commission (NYSAC) include:

  • Medical check-ups for participants before and after the fight
  • A minimum attendance of one commission-designated doctor and an ambulance with medical personnel equipped with appropriate resuscitation kits to be on scene
  • Medical insurance must be provided to participants
  • The venue must meet safety requirements

Pre-fight medical check-ups are required to ensure that the participants are not involved with drugs or infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis or any other illnesses.[20] Any fights that are not in compliance with the authoriser rules and regulations are considered illegal and the participants will have to face legal penalty.[19] The venue of the fight is changed every time for confidential protection and will be announced on the fight day.[21] The promoters are in charge of finding different locations to host these fights where indoor boxing rings,[19] gyms[20] or gym mats with crowd-form barricade[21] are utilised as a disguise so as not to attract the public attention. Amongst incentives that draw people into underground street fights, money oriented and attention seeking are the two most fundamental one.[19] In order to qualify for the fight, attendees have to go through a registration process.[21] The fight is either between two randomly matched applicants whose identity will be kept until the matching day[19] or between two attendees with unresolved conflicts.[21] Sometimes, it can be between 2 fighters urging to start their MMA career that get matched right on the registration spot. [20] Attendees are required to comply with the rules set by the club.[21] The grant price is usually given to the winner only, but sometimes both people can be paid.[19] The club is funded by entrance tickets sold to audiences with undisclosed amounts.[19] The audience may have to go through a security check for weapons as they are not allowed inside the venue.[21] On several occasions, the audience gamble on the result of the fight, particularly, they place their bet on one of the attendees that they expect to win in the hope of a worthy return.[19] The fight lasts for three rounds, sometimes an additional round is conducted because the crowd's provocation fuels the combativeness of the attendees.[19]

Notable street fighters[edit]

  • Bruce Lee: Lee was known for engaging in street fights before he started training in martial arts, and continued to street fight while training. He challenged students from rival schools, cross-trained in several disciplines, and eventually developed the hybrid martial art of Jeet Kune Do.[22]
  • Chuck Wepner: A retired professional boxer. He was once a street fighter and took part in multiple street fights from a young age.[8]
  • Haku: Professional wrestler with a fearsome reputation for street fighting and resisting arrest.
  • Ken Shamrock: He engaged in paid street fights while a pro wrestler prior to his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.[23]
  • Tank Abbott: He engaged in many street fights before beginning his professional career with UFC.
  • Josh Barnett: Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Barnett engaged in street fights that he organized online prior to his professional MMA career.[24]
  • Kimbo Slice: He started his career participating in street fights and gained public recognition after footage of him defeating his opponents went viral on the internet.[25] In his first taped fight against a man named Big D, Ferguson left a large cut on his opponent's right eye which led internet fans to call him "Slice", becoming the last name to his already popular childhood nickname, Kimbo.[25][26]
  • Jorge Masvidal: He was a known street fighter prior to his professional MMA career, including fighting and beating Kimbo Slice's protégé "Ray."[27]
  • Eddie Alvarez: Former UFC Lightweight Champion Alvarez engaged in street fights due to a lack of opportunity before his professional career.[27]
  • Nate Diaz: He has engaged in several street fights during his professional fighting career.
  • Lenny McLean: An English unlicensed boxer, bouncer, bodyguard, businessman and actor. He was known as "The Guv'nor", "the King of the Cobbles" and "the hardest man in Britain".[28]

Bar fights[edit]

A bar fight, sometimes known as a pub brawl,[29] is a type of street fight that happens in bars,[30] pubs,[31] and taverns.[32] It is commonly depicted in fiction, most notably in Hollywood films and crime video games.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Reality Fighting, Street Fighting & Self Defense". Kung Fu Magazine. Archived from the original on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  2. ^ White, Rob. et al (2007). 'Youth Gangs, Violence and Anti-Social Behaviour. Australian Research and Alliance Club. pp. 18, 29.
  3. ^ White, Rob (2007). Youth Gangs, Violence and Anti-Social Behaviour. Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. pp. 18, 29.
  4. ^ "Street fight – practical self defence". skbu.cz (in Czech). Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
  5. ^ Gill, Victoria (28 May 2015). "Evidence of 430,000-year-old human violence found". BBC News. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  6. ^ a b c Lahr, M. Mirazón; Rivera, F.; Power, R. K.; Mounier, A.; Copsey, B.; Crivellaro, F.; Edung, J. E.; Fernandez, J. M. Maillo; Kiarie, C.; Lawrence, J.; Leakey, A. (January 2016). "Inter-group violence among early Holocene hunter-gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya". Nature. 529 (7586): 394–398. Bibcode:2016Natur.529..394L. doi:10.1038/nature16477. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 26791728. S2CID 4462435.
  7. ^ a b c d Rivara, Frederick; Adhia, Avanti; Lyons, Vivian; Massey, Anne; Mills, Brianna; Morgan, Erin; Simckes, Maayan; Rowhani-Rahbar, Ali (1 October 2019). "The Effects Of Violence On Health". Health Affairs. 38 (10): 1622–1629. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2019.00480. ISSN 0278-2715. PMID 31589529. S2CID 203924766.
  8. ^ a b c d e Hauser, Thomas (17 January 2019). "Street fights: Stories of violence outside the ring". www.sportingnews.com. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  9. ^ Humphreys, Joe (29 May 2018). "Is fighting in our genes? A biological theory of warfare". The Irish Times. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  10. ^ a b c Weenink, Don (2015). "Contesting Dominance and Performing Badness: A Micro-Sociological Analysis of the Forms, Situational Asymmetry, and Severity of Street Violence". Sociological Forum. 30 (1): 83–102. doi:10.1111/socf.12146. ISSN 0884-8971. JSTOR 43653972.
  11. ^ a b Monico, Nicolle (4 June 2020). "Drinking Alcohol and The Risk of Violence". Alcohol.org. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  12. ^ a b c d Carrier, David R.; Morgan, Michael H. (2015). "Protective buttressing of the hominin face". Biological Reviews. 90 (1): 330–346. doi:10.1111/brv.12112. ISSN 1469-185X. PMID 24909544. S2CID 14777701.
  13. ^ Morgan, Michael H.; Carrier, David R. (15 January 2013). "Protective buttressing of the human fist and the evolution of hominin hands". Journal of Experimental Biology. 216 (2): 236–244. doi:10.1242/jeb.075713. ISSN 0022-0949. PMID 23255192.
  14. ^ Bailey, Kylie A.; Baker, Amanda L.; McElduff, Patrick; Jones, Mark A.; Oldmeadow, Christopher; Kavanagh, David J. (July 2017). "Effects of Assault Type on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Coexisting Depression and Alcohol Misuse". Journal of Clinical Medicine. 6 (7): 72. doi:10.3390/jcm6070072. PMC 5532580. PMID 28753976.
  15. ^ Eyuboglu, Murat; Eyuboglu, Damla; Sahin, Birgul; Fidan, Esra (1 September 2019). "Posttraumatic stress disorder and psychosocial difficulties among children living in a conflict area of the Southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey". Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 61 (5): 496–502. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_165_18. ISSN 0019-5545. PMC 6767824. PMID 31579176.
  16. ^ "Fighting in a Public Place | Possible Defences, Likely Penalties". Caldicott Lawyers. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  17. ^ a b c d e f "Group assaults". www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  18. ^ a b de la Calle Robles, Luis (1 June 2007). "Fighting for Local Control: Street Violence in the Basque Country". International Studies Quarterly. 51 (2): 431–455. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2478.2007.00458.x. ISSN 0020-8833.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Hauser, Thomas (12 April 2020). "Underground Fight Clubs and The New York State Athletic Commission". BoxingScene.com. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  20. ^ a b c d McElroy, Jordy (25 February 2014). "Unsanctioned Mixed Martial Arts Events Creating a Stain on the Sport". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 28 May 2021.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Delgado, David (15 March 2018). "Step into the ring at an underground fight club". Andscape. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  22. ^ Lopez, Delano (27 October 2016). "The Original Street Fighting Man | Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective". origins.osu.edu. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  23. ^ "MMA pioneer Shamrock on knocking guys out and proving age is just a number". talkSPORT. 30 November 2019. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  24. ^ Santoliquito, Joseph (30 April 2016). "Stories From The Road: Josh Barnett". Sherdog. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  25. ^ a b "Kimbo Slice | MMA Fighter Page". Tapology. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  26. ^ "David Abbott ("Tank") | MMA Fighter Page". Tapology. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
  27. ^ a b Cunningham, John (21 June 2021). "5 MMA stars who were street fighters". www.sportskeeda.com. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  28. ^ Kelly, Guy (7 October 2016). "How Lenny McLean became the hardest man in Britain". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 May 2023.
  29. ^ "Man guilty of clerk's murder in pub brawl". 18 November 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  30. ^ Leary, James P. (1976). "Fists and Foul Mouths: Fights and Fight Stories in Contemporary Rural American Bars". The Journal of American Folklore. 89 (351): 27–39. doi:10.2307/539544. JSTOR 539544.
  31. ^ Berthelot, Emily R.; Brown, Timothy C.; Drawve, Grant; Burgason, Kyle A. (25 March 2015). "The Southern Pub Crawl and Brawl: An Examination of the Alcohol–Violence Nexus in a Southern City". Deviant Behavior. 36 (8): 605–624. doi:10.1080/01639625.2014.951575. S2CID 144600919.
  32. ^ "Bar fight leads to three arrests in Southington". Meriden Record-Journal. Southington, CT. 15 October 2019. Archived from the original on 16 May 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.