At this moment in time, the biggest story in sport is the fact that Conor McGregor, an MMA fighter, is taking on Floyd Mayweather, who many regard as the best boxer of all time (that is not a debate for now), in a boxing match.
However, away from the glitz and glamour of the Showtime fight, brutal combat sports are still a central part of some communities. Nigerian towns and villages are a far cry from the lights of Las Vegas, but in their native sport, Dambe, they have one of the most brutal fighting sports known to man.
Dambe, which is a form of boxing that has been part of the Nigeria’s culture for centuries, involves fighters wrapping up their “strong arm” in hard rope and pummelling each other until they are knocked to the ground or “killed”, in their terminology. In the old days of the sport, fighters were allowed to dip their arm in resin and shards of glass, however this practice has now been banned, thankfully.
The sport belongs to the Hausa people and is centuries old. However, despite its age, Dambe remains extremely popular in certain areas of Nigeria, southern Niger and the south west of Chad.
The sport is synonymous with the butcher caste groups in the area and often lies at the center of the communities that it is practiced in. Dambe originally began through groups of butchers who would travel to nearby villages at harvest and fight other men as part of the festival entertainment.
This sense of being part of a group, or an “army” as Dambe fighters call it, is still a key part of the sport. The fighters will travel within a group from their area, and not only do they represent themselves, but also the community that they are from.
The sport is still dominated by butchers, but nowadays the competitors are much younger, with the fighting groups mainly being made up of teenagers, who train in gyms and yards and fight throughout the year. Also, the prize for fighting has changed, while the fighters used to duel for each other’s harvest, Dambe fighters now clash for money, something which is of vast importance in the impoverished areas that they are from.
Unlike boxing, where you might see someone enter in a white robe with gold shorts covered in sponsors, there is no fancy clothing involved here. The fighters wear either a pair of shorts or trousers and do not have any form of protection, for example there are no head guards or gum shields to soften the blows.
Dambe is purely a striking sport, there used to be an element of wrestling, known as Kokawa, involved, but this is no longer the case. Instead, the fighters are allowed to use their strong arm, known as the “spear” to punch, and both of their legs to kick. The lead hand is known as the “shield” and must constantly have its palm open and facing towards the opponent in order to block punches or grab them when required. In some competitions, the lead leg is allowed to be wrapped up in chains to cause maximum damage as well as provide protection, however this is becoming increasingly rare.
Dambe fights last three untimed rounds, which end when there is a lull in action, one of the officials call time on it, or one of the fighters is knocked down. Unlike boxing, there are no weight classes in Dambe, so fighters are matched up against those with a similar build to them.
So, it’s pretty hardcore stuff, right? But what do these guys use to prepare themselves when getting read for a scrap? A load of protein? Some glucose tablets? Nope. They smoke a joint. Honestly, Dambe fighters have been known so smoke marijuana before fight… I guess it’ll calm the nerves down.
It’d be pretty interesting to see these guys up against an actual boxer. I mean, their form is insanely loose, but they seem to take some pretty hefty hits, and lets be honest here, you’d have to have balls of steel to even try and do Dambe in the first place; I think I’ll stick to my 16oz gloves and gum shield, thanks.