Dambe: Africa’s Brutal Fighting Sport


There are many combat sports around the world. Some are more popular than others and some are more brutal. Dambe falls on the more brutal side of things.

Dambe is one of the more unique combat sports as well. The rules are unique and the sport is as raw as one gets. It focuses on striking and today is primarily seen in northern Nigeria, southern Niger, and southwestern Chad. At first glance, it is sure to grab your attention because the fighters have one fist wrapped in rope.

There are no weight classes in Dambe, although for the most part fighters are matched equally in weight. The fights have no preset time limit. They are three rounds, but there is no clock and instead, a round ends when the referee or a fighter call an end to the action or a fighter’s body, hand or knee hit the ground.

The fighters use their dominant or strong side hand as their attacking hand. It is wrapped in cloth then wrapped in rope. This is the only hand they can use to strike their opponent. Their other hand is not wrapped in rope or cloth and can only be used to grab and hold the opponent. Originally fighters would dip their roped hand in a glue type substance that was mixed with glass. That practice has since been banned. A fighter’s strong side leg can be used to kick, while their lead leg can be wrapped in a chain and used to attack and block.

Like with Muay Thai in Thailand, gambling is a big part of Dambe. Side bets are a common occurrence at fights. Unlike with other combat sports the fights don’t always take place in a ring and when there is one it is makeshift. On most occasions, the crowd that is gathered to watch the fights serves as the barrier between the fighting arena and out of bounds on. The ground is dirt or sand and there is no protection such as mouthguards. It is as primitive of a combat sport as you can get.

Dambe is one of the most brutal sports in the world.

It is said that Dambe originated when butchers used to use it to train soldiers to get ready for war. Now it is a way for fighters to earn a decent living. They start fighting at very young ages. Similar to Muay Thai in Thailand, by the time a fighter reaches his mid-twenties he has easily had over 100 fights. The danger in Dambe is very high because it isn’t as organized as Muay Thai or Lethwei. Fighters run the risk of dying in Dambe and most fighters make it very clear that they are ready and willing to die in the fight.

The brutality of the sport, like with other combat sports such as Lethwei is what makes it appealing to people. Yes, the rules are unique, the wrapping of one hand only and the chain around the lead leg. Everything about this combat sport is different. What makes it interesting to people is the fighters that are willing to partake in this sport and the passion to fight that they have. It is raw and unfiltered and that brutality is often appreciated by fight fans. Every punch that is thrown is done so with bad intentions.

Timing is very important to victory in Dambe. Since you can’t follow up with your other hand you need to be able to move into range and throw your punch while being able to move out of range before they can counter with theirs. This is not only about power, but speed and athleticism. Dambe seems like it will always be relegated to its country of origin, but you can’t deny these fighters have heart and guts.

Check out these videos of Dambe below. The first is clips from fights and the second is a mini-documentary on a Dambe fighter.

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