A battle between two evenly matched and determined opponents is the kind of stuff that makes history ... when somebody actually wins. But sometimes the opponents are too evenly matched, and the fight goes on, and on, and on, until everybody just wishes it would freaking end already. Kind of like that tennis match last year that lasted 11 hours.
So let's salute the athletes, politicians and warriors who kept up the fight long after a reasonable person would have said, "Fine, you win."
#5. The Real-Life Rocky vs. Apollo, But Bare-Knuckled and Drunker
Imagine a boxing match like the one in Rocky -- 15 rounds of two men beating the shit out of each other until they can barely stand. Now imagine two guys doing that five consecutive times without stopping. Oh, and one of them is drunk the entire time. That was the absolutely insane 1889 bout between John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain.
Though formal championships didn't exist outside the world of hoop rolling in those days, John L. Sullivan was nationally recognized as the king of the boxing world. At a time when the sport was so raw they could have called it "murder-hits'' and nobody would have blinked, Sullivan was the best. And leave it to the Gilded Age to somehow translate his fame into a mustache so powerful it actually started over at the eyebrows:
We can't help thinking he means that literally. It's in his eyes.
As insanely masculine as Sullivan was, he was also insanely addicted to alcohol. So when a relatively young and fit family man named Jake Kilrain challenged Sullivan to an illegal match for a $20,000 purse, he did what any man with a mustache like that would do: he continued binge drinking. And this was while battling a host of ailments that, according to him, included typhoid fever, gastric fever, inflammation of the bowels, heart trouble, liver complaint, an "incipient paralysis," a "mysterious itch" and delusions of phantom rats. So, he was not in fighting shape is what we're saying.
The Sullivan/Kilrain match lasted over two hours and 75 excruciating rounds. Oh, and the fight was outdoors, in July, in Mississippi.
They don't make stenches like that anymore.
It turns out Sullivan was too drunk or too brain damaged to feel pain, even after his face was split and his ear was ripped. The fourth round alone lasted over 15 minutes, and there were still 71 more to go. Thanks to the whiskey Sullivan was swilling in his corner, a 44th round punch caused him to vomit on the ring ... and he kept on fighting.
"They banned Vaseline, but the rules don't say nothin' about vomit."
By round 75, both men were sporting sunburn blisters on their backs, Sullivan's eye was swollen shut and neither man could hardly stand. Yet it was Kilrain's team that threw in the towel, not because Kilrain wanted to quit, but because his coach was pretty sure he'd die if he continued.
#4. The Ping-Pong Match That Resembled Trench Warfare
One thing common to every game is that there is always someone who finds a way to completely suck the fun out of it. These are the people who want to win by virtue of making the game boring. In multiplayer FPS games it's the "campers," and in Ping-Pong/table tennis, it's the "chiselers."
Unlike campers, though, you can't sneak behind them and deliver a merciful bullet to the head.
Chiselers play defensive only, keeping the back-and-forth going forever and ever, "chiseling" at the stamina and the mind of an opponent until one or the other breaks. It's sort of like Chinese water torture, but the droplets of water hitting your forehead are Ping-Pong balls, and the insanity you're experiencing is the game.
Table tennis champions Alex Ehrlich and Paneth Farcas were really, really good at chiseling. Want to guess what happened when the two played each other?
We do know that a civilization was formed during the match with a curious hatred of metronomes.
A living Hell, that's what. At the 1936 World Games, Ehrlich and Farcas commenced to show the world exactly how mind-numbingly torturous table tennis could be.
This isn't a recent photo. This was taken straight after the match.
Twelve thousand hits. That's how many times the ball crossed the table before either one of them scored a point. After more than an hour and a half, an umpire had to be replaced because his neck literally stopped working. Ehrlich was playing a game so monotonous that he called out chess moves to a nearby table as he played. The committee in charge of the match finally asked if the players would consider making it a five-point game.
"One of the ladies has gone into labor. She claims she wasn't even pregnant at the start of the match."
But then Ehrlich suddenly altered his return of the ball, and Farcas' arm had grown too stiff to counter differently. After two hours, the first point was scored. After another quick point, Farcas went apeshit and ran screaming from the room. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Ping-Pong games are restricted to 10-minute matches to this day.
Of course, we now realize we compared the stalemate match to "trench warfare," but nothing compares to the real thing. Just look at ...
#3. The World War I Battle That Lasted 10 Months
They don't make wars like World War I any more. World War II gets all the movies and video games, but the world will never see that combination of massive scale and primitive tactics again. And thank God. It brings to mind images of hundreds of thousands of dudes in muddy ditches, gaining ground inches at a time across piles of corpses.
90 percent of war is looking into the camera stoically and writing groundbreaking poetry.
It may be that no one battle in the history of warfare embodies the "Well, we'll all just stand here until every single person is dead!" strategy like the Battle of Verdun. Two sides firing more than 100,000 artillery shells a day, every day, for most of a year.
In 1916, the German invasion of France had bogged down into the kind of horrific stalemate that only trench warfare can give you. But the Germans knew what would get the invasion going again: taking out the strategically important city of Verdun, France. Sure, it was encircled by forts and about 300 big guns ("strategically important" cities don't tend to be left unguarded). But the Germans had a plan.
They knew Verdun was crucial to the French, so their theory was if they kept coming at it, the French would spend everything they had trying to defend it. The Germans didn't even really want the city -- they just wanted to turn it into a graveyard for as many French troops as possible. Normally in war, the best case scenario is a quick, decisive victory, but this was one time when they wanted a long, protracted, bloody standoff.
They fucking got it.
This is the pockmarked surface of what used to be a fucking massive fort.
The Germans brought 72 battalions and 1,400 guns. On February 21, the Germans began the attack with a strategy known as "let's shoot artillery shells at them until there are no more artillery shells left in the world." They opened the ceremonies by firing over one million shells at the French position.
But the French held through that attack. And through the next one. And the next. In March, the Germans tried to flank the French, launching another four million shells at the spot where they were dug in (they blew so many craters in one hill that after the war, the hill was measured 12 feet lower than before). The French held again. In the spring, the French counterattacked. The Germans held. Then the Germans counterattacked elsewhere. And so on.
"Don't worry! With all those shells there won't be room for bullets!"
The two sides pummeled each other for 10 freaking months, from February until December. Combined, they launched a mind-boggling 40 million artillery shells at each other while fighting over this tiny hunk of land. To this day, parts of the area still look like the surface of the moon -- they can't grow crops there because the soil is so infested with hunks of shells.
Sure makes for an exciting game of golf, though.
The Germans' plan worked, in a way -- the battle cost the French 163,000 men. The problem was the Germans lost 143,000 men in the process and, as you know, went on to lose the war. So it was all one big fucking waste.
But hey, at least they captured a massive pile of strategic rubble.