A Slap in the Face

Mickey Martinez and the slap that (almost) launched a sport.


Competitive slapping may never seriously take off as a sport but if it does, a tattoo artist from Texas named Mickey Martinez will go down as one of its first great naturals. The brevity of his career — the length a single contest — will only add to the legend.

On 1 February Martinez downed a man with a single slap, during a ‘slap-off’ organised as sideshow entertainment at a tattoo convention in Lubbock, Texas, taking home a purse of $200 and a Bishop Rotary tattoo machine. The contest itself drew a modest crowd. But a phone-shot video of Martinez’ knock-out slap went viral. Blogs and radio programmes picked it up, it was discussed on radio programmes, the Daily Dot said they’d found their new favourite sport.

A slapping contest is simple: two players stand over a foldout table trading slaps one at a time, until one forfeits. The rules for each bout are common sense: hand-to-cheek slaps only, the slapee must remain still, and so on. Last man standing wins.

Getting slapped by Martinez looks like getting hit by a sailing boom. His arm keeps moving through impact as if his opponent’s face isn’t even there. Martinez’s KO slap was viewed over 500,000 times in that first week. For a while it looked like slapping was having a moment.

But when the organisers tried for a repeat performance the following month in Odessa, drawing bigger crowds, the sport’s new poster boy sat it out. I called Martinez to ask what had happened, and he began listing injuries he had sustained from slapping. Martinez said he perforated an eardrum, resulting in a course of antibiotics, and his hand swelled up so painfully he switched to his left halfway through the contest. Competing again would mean risking permanent injury to his tattooing hand.

He also said he had to walk around for days with a pink hand print on his face. The worst blows Martinez took came from the man he finally knocked out: “He had some rough brick hands. His slaps didn’t have a lot of whip behind them, but they had force. He was like getting hit with a rock rather than like a big-ass fish.”

I asked Martinez what else he learned at the slapping table. Here are his fundamentals.

1. Slapping is about endurance
“It’s not the first time I’ve had the shit knocked out of me, so I knew I had a good chance of winning it just because I knew I was tough enough to take any slaps from anybody. A slapping competition is about being able to take it.”

2. Bracing yourself
“It didn’t tickle. I have a good poker face and it wasn’t the first time I’ve been hit, like I say, but it didn’t feel good. It’s like getting spanked by your parents when you’re a kid, but right in the face, you know. It probably hurts worse than getting punched with an actual boxing glove. The sting of the slap. The burning, that whipping feeling, with all the force behind it there’s grown men can get a lot of force out of someone that’s not moving or trying to get out the way.”

3. Channel your anger
“It’s tough just standing there and letting a grown man take a swing at you unprotected. But getting mad is just a waste of energy. You just sort of take it and wait for your next one you know.”

Tattooed across his torso Martinez has a giant face, with nipples for eyes

4. A good, clean slap
“I just believe it’s more about generating speed, rather than trying to hit him hard. If you can generate speed catch him slap in a good spot, a good clean spot. I have a slow draw back but I generate a lot of speed from when I start coming at him. I mean, it looks slow, from a big guy, but if you really look at the speed from where my hand stops going back and starts coming forward, I generate a lot of speed through it. I kind of slap through his face instead of slapping him.”

5. Be careful
“The ones that knock you out are the ones you don’t see coming … Also you never know who’s going to get in there. I would suggest if anybody starts feeling woozy if anyone did compete in that again just go ahead and stop.”


This post comes from a weekly email written by Sam and Larry, designed by Ronan with illustrations by Jacky. Subscribe here.

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