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Three things separate humanity from beasts of the wild: opposable thumbs, superior intellect, and the way we cheerfully use them to fill almost every single second of our species' history with absurd, terrifying details. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of sports. Competitive and dangerous as today's sporting events may be, they're nothing compared to the many murder-combat trials our ancestors watched while complaining about the price of popcorn. Those sports were truly exciting, truly chilling, and, most of all, truly deadly.

So of course a bunch of them are making a comeback in the dumbest ways possible.

Modern-Day Gladiators Duel In Clumsy Iron Man Suits

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Fat pro wrestlers as they might have been in real life, gladiators have held the modern world's collective imagination ever since Spartacus and Gladiator cemented their reputation as hard-ass slave warriors fighting for life and glory in absurd arena games conjured by the era's equivalent of bored Internet trolls. These days, various athletes enjoy a similar rock-star reputation as the best gladiators did in their day and age, but the sports themselves just can't reach that old "hack everyone with melee weapons while getting chased by tigers" level of insanity entertainment (insatainment).

So we're not even trying to bring back the days of the gladiators of old. Why would we? We live in the fucking future, so let's drag gladiators kicking and screaming into the modern age. What? No, I'm not talking about actually traveling across time and picking up a bestiarius or two to take on your neighbor's yapping dog, although I'm sure you'd like that, Steve. I'm talking about modernizing the equipment. Iron Man-style. Like so:

Digital Trends
Robot Andy Dufresne found the Shawshank Redemption pose
is a lot more effective while holding twin axes.

Such is the ball an Australian up-and-coming fighting promotion known as UWM (Unified Weapons Master) is trying to get rolling. Their rules are simple: It's gladiatorial combat with ancient weapons, only this time everyone's wearing super-advanced, impact-resistant, carbon-fiber armor that enables them to go all out without covering the ring in entrails after two seconds.

Yes, of course the helmets have GoPros. I don't know why you even bothered asking.

The UWM people are hoping their particular spin on non-mortal combat will enable different weapon masters to test their strength against each other, much like the million or so different types of gladiators tended to wield very specific weaponry. If you ask me, this is a damn cool concept on paper. Unfortunately, they've yet to address the fact that, while pitting two grown men against each other in a chunky high-tech suit does offer some thrilling visuals, its unfortunate side effect is that a UWM fight looks a huge, steaming lot like two fat robots clumsily slap-fighting.

"Shit, he's on to us."

Chariot Racing Is Now A Yokel Hobby

Tina Rencelj/iStock/Getty Images

Ah, ancient Roman chariot racing! As Ben-Hur taught us, it was a deadly scene that presumably wasn't too healthy on humans and definitely murdered horses by the dozen. (In the movie, that is. Real chariot racing was probably even worse.) It was a hard life, but the rewards for those who could keep going were even harder; adjusted for inflation the highest-paid athlete throughout the whole damn history was a charioteer.

Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"Suck it, Mayweather."

So, what are we doing today to keep this amazing, dangerous, well-paid sport alive? If you said, "We mostly dick around in Wyoming mud on a shoestring budget," come, friend -- step forward and claim your prize of one slap across the cheek for thinking about Wyoming. But that's where the sport lies these days, and has done so since the 1920s, when locals revived old-school charioting for, basically, shits and giggles.

Via Park Lane Equestrian
In a few centuries, boxing will consist of two old guys slap-fighting in a bathtub.

Originally a sled-based entertainment to pass the time during cold winters, the Wyoming sport soon evolved into a moderately high-tech thing where drivers pilot aluminum and fiberglass chariots with state-of-the-art shocks, and the increased speed and maneuverability -- complete with the unpredictability of horses -- are said to make the sport's danger and adrenaline levels surprisingly close to the Roman original. However, it doesn't take away the fact that, at its core, modern chariot racing looks like your drunk uncle strapped a wheelbarrow behind some horses and rode off to get another jug of moonshine.

Via I Love Horses
"Morituri te salutant, bitch."

Not that the Wyomingians are the only ones attempting to do weird things with (to?) the sport, as the British have also revived a predictably lukewarm spin on the theme, known as horse driving. However, my personal vote in the "put this guy in charge of the sport" hat goes to the Italian entrepreneur who hopes to straight-up bring chariot racing back to Circus freaking Maximus, its original site -- and keep it like it once was. Seriously, he mostly seems to want to modernize the chariots and driving apparel (because, you know, Porsche, Nike, and whatnot would surely thrive at the thought of sponsoring a live stampede). A scholar describes this thought as unwise, because old-school chariot races were essentially, and I quote, "NASCAR on speed." But really, do you think that description would stop people from throwing their money at the organizer? Just make it the event's actual slogan and you can start printing money.

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"Modern" Mesoamerican Ball Game Is Neutered Ass-Ball

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Veteran readers of Cracked might remember the Mesoamerican ball game, a legendary Mayan basketball/volleyball hybrid played in the unfortunate manner of slapping a hard, nine-pound rubber ball with your pelvis until you either got it through a stone hoop, or mistimed a hit and your testicles became Marmite. The game was played by gladiators, slaves, and rulers alike, and the losing team was commonly decapitated.

Incidentally, this game is also by far the least likely to still be played in its original form. Even if you remove the whole decapitation thing (which would really suck ass if you were trying to get a league going), there's still the fact that the game is played by repeatedly slamming your strategic area at what for all intents and purposes is a bouncy bowling ball. There's no way anyone would ever be insane enough to-

Well, shit.

Hey, look. It's a video of a bunch of people doing that exact fucking thing.

Turns out, the good people of Mexico are keeping the tradition alive with exhibition matches all over the place. This tells me two things: Not only are they admirably proud of their heritage, they can also manufacture way, way better cups than any that I've ever seen. At least, I hope that they're wearing a cup; otherwise, those ceremonial loincloths are covering tiny flesh-sacks of extremely sad soup.

However, these re-enactments reveal a thing that I personally have never even suspected; removed of its bloody roots and the Super Bowlian cultural obsession the Mayans had for it, it just isn't a very neat game. In fact, it looks way the hell goofy and just as frustrating as pushing things uphill without the full use of your limbs. Look at these poor guys, endlessly attempting to dick their ball through the stone hoop:

Remove the ball, add some Avicii, and you see the exact same moves at every fratbro dance party.

Think of how frustrating it must have been for a losing team in the olden days: You know the only way to keep your head is to pelvis-punch that fucking ball uphill until the laws of physics pity you and bounce it through the hoop. I'm guessing half the losing teams just eventually said fuck it and voluntarily marched to the chopping block.

Knight Battles Are Now MMA Gimmick Matches

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As anyone who watches Game Of Thrones can attest, shit gets real when people in armor pick up their swords. Make believe as the show may be, that same brutality very much applies to real life: Whether the knights were fighting in a tournament or for real, their battles were all about attempting to cut-punch their opponent into a non-moving state. Sure, any number of LARPers and Renaissance fair enthusiasts can poop together a clumsy, semi-choreographed slo-mo mock-fight. We've even covered a very real Knight Fighting League that specializes in team-based melee combat in replica knight gear. But if you're the kind of person whose sports enthusiasm can only be saturated by a real, "doing their level best to maul each other" knight battle between expertly trained warriors, you'd better invest in time-machine research.

Or, you know, a plane ticket to Russia, where that shit is par for the course.

MMA Fighting/M-1
"In Soviet Russia, Fight Night is Kni-"
"So help me, Yuri, I will bury this sword in your dick if you finish that sentence."

Yes, those are two fully armored knights kick-punch-chopping the shit out of each other in an MMA ring, and no, that's not an isolated incident where a couple of History Channel extras find an empty ring and decide to take some badass Facebook profile pics. A Russian MMA promotion called M-1 has started featuring them in their otherwise ordinary events, and they've become so popular they're even trying to put together a knights-only federation called M-1 Medieval. They're still figuring out the exact rules, though the final rule set is almost certainly going to forbid some of the more fatal strikes and the use of sharpened blades, because they recognize spraying the front seats with blood and limbs "Monty Python's Black Knight" style is generally frowned upon if you do it in every match. The participants will enter the ring in full regalia themed after their home country, and the fights take place in a very special combination of a ring and a cage that M-1 insists on calling a "rage" because even people who punch each other in the face for a living can't resist a terrible pun.

As awesome as this all sounds, let's face it: There is almost zero chance of this turning out to be anything but the next World Bodybuilding Federation. Still, while they're at it, let's cherish the insanity:

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Jousting Is Now Reality TV

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Jousting, aka the first thing you think of when you picture a historical sporting event, is one of the most visually captivating things a medieval tournament could offer, which is saying something considering most of the menu consisted of armed folks liberally beating the shit out of each other. You know how the rules go: Armored riders charge at each other with lances until one of them drops. I'm sure there are other rules, but why would you care about them when holy shit people are charging at each other with lances? In my personal opinion, jousting was, is, and remains cool as hell, which of course is why its revival had to be the saddest of them all: a fucking reality TV show.

History Channel

Look, I get that Full Metal Jousting (Jesus, it even sounds like a bad parody) is based on a real, although small competitive jousting revivalist movement, and renowned experts on the sport were involved. Still, it turns out there are aspects of jousting I can't appreciate, and my limit is dressing random accountants as the love child of Shaq O'Neal's Steel costume and an Academy Award, then making them complain about the hardships of being a pretend knight on television.

History Channel
"It ain't easy being gold-black."

Oh, fuck you, world. You took the best historic sport and turned it into something that'll no doubt eventually feature Simon Cowell as a judge. That's ... I can't ... screw it. You know what? We're done here. I'm off to terrorize my co-workers with my cardboard tube, FedEx box armor, and wheeled office chair, like nature intended jousting to be re-enacted.

Pauli is on Facebook, Twitter, and writes columns and edits stuff right here.

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