Combat Breakdown

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
Albert Einstein (Allegedly)

When a fight lasts a long time, often a very long time, things can get a bit... different. Elaborate sword duels can turn into bar brawls. A gunfight or mechafight becomes a fistfight. A long range exchange of sorcery or powers becomes an up-close and personal No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. Improvised Weapons start appearing. Things get brutal, or just plain silly, or just plain wrong.

A common comedy variation is for a brawl between two grown men to devolve into a childish slap fight. When played for drama, use of this trope can evoke feelings of desperation and/or savagery as arsenals get depleted, weapons broken, and yet the combatants only tear into each other even harder with their bare hands.

Kind of the opposite of the video game trope of starting off with a weak weapon and picking up more and more dangerous ones as you progress.

Destructo-Nookie is one possible outcome. Contrast Interesting Situation Duel - a fight that is as complicated as Combat Breakdown is simple.


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     Anime and Manga  
  • In Beyblade: Metal Masters, this is how Gingka's fight with Kyoya plays out. It starts with them fiercely attacking each other with all their strongest special moves, but ends with them so exhausted that their beyblades barely manage to touch each other before they fall over and Gingka and Kyoya pass out.
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Porco Rosso, several times during the same fight, no less. The dogfight starts out with machine guns, then devolves into using handguns, then throwing various tools, debris, and pieces of garbage at each other, and finally degenerates completely into a fist fight on the ground with both just brutally gut punching each other in succession with neither of them making an effort to block. To say it looked silly would be an understatement.
  • Likewise for Blue Submarine No. 6: Mayumi and Hayami having just killed Zorndijk, and the Blue Fleet having already destroyed his entire empire, his son Verg goes out in murderous rage against Hayami and they both end up in a very brutal fight. Not really a fight per se. Hiyami is just letting Verg beat the crap out of him because Zorndyke said that humanity needed to learn to talk out its problems. It was more like a voluntary No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, with Hiyami as the beaten and Verg as the beater.
  • In the Desert Punk anime, the titular hero and his rival, both Gadgeteer Geniuses have a duel that lasts an entire day- but it results in truly Epic Fail as they abandon their usual tactics and have a Blast Out with shotguns, the handguns, followed by running out of ammo and throwing rocks at each other. Eventually, they run out of loose rocks, and flip rubber bands at each other. The watching townspeople get bored and go home, and eventually they punch each other out.
  • The Final Battle between Suzaku and Kallen in Code Geass starts with both of their Knightmare Frames flying with energy wings and armed with powerful beam weapons. In the process of the fight, they lose the wings, wear each other's weapons down one by one, and eventually end up slugging it out with punches and kicks in a sequence that many fans declared the best fight of the entire series (and certainly the best one since the Lensman Arms Race took effect early in the second season, leading to battles decided by technological prowess rather than strategy).
  • The Final Battle of s-CRY-ed starts out as a fight between alter-powers and then gradually breaks down to a simple slug fest.
    • And a special kind of brutal one at that.
  • The Simon vs Lordgenome battle in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. By the end, both the Gurren and Lazengann have been trashed, and the fight continues with Simon's Lagann and Lordgenome's bare fists. When Lordgenome actually wins that one, he pulls Simon out of the cockpit to gloat — and Simon stabs him with his car keys, with explosive results.
    • In the last episode Gurren-Lagann ejects layer-by-layer from the titular mecha, starting from Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann, to Super Galaxy Gurren-Lagann, to Arc Gurren-Lagann, slowly but surely closing in on the Anti-Spiral homeworld, a component of their own super-mecha, Grand Zamboa, upon which their central hive-mind stands, and culminating in Viral manually ejecting Lagann from Gurren and throwing Lagann at the Anti-Spiral, which drills a massive hole in him. Woah...
      • And then in The Movie, it's taken yet another step further by having Lagann literally throw Simon at the Anti-Spiral. An epic fistfight ensues, ending when Simon creates a drill with his own blood and drills through the Anti-Spiral.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack has Amuro and Char whittle each others' Mobile Suits down bit by bit, turning from an epic duel into a bare-knuckle slugfest that is fondly remembered by fans decades later; many of the attacks from the latter part of the fight are considered iconic enough to be used in games such as Super Robot Wars.
    • Before that, in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro and Char systematically destroy each others mobile suits, going from the full suits, to fighters, to a gunfight, to swords... at which point it is interrupted.
  • In a most memorable scene from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Athrun and Kira duke it out in a free for all death match that made them both forget that their Gundams had any kind of specialty in mind and just go at it against each other. Involved lost limbs, broken cockpits and bashed heads. Eventually would have ended in Athrun's victory had he not ran out of power to fire the Scylla cannon after grabbing Kira. Of course this also results in him winning anyway since he self destructs the Gundam to attempt to kill Kira.
  • At the end of the second season of Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Setsuna gets his Gundam, the 00 Raiser, pretty much destroyed by Ribbons Almarck. Ribbons's Gundam, however, is also heavily damaged, so he takes the GN Drive he stole from the 00 Raiser and installs it on his old Mobile Suit, the 0 Gundam, that was drifting nearby. But then he gets attacked by Setsuna, who has installed the other GN Drive from the 00 on his old Gundam, the Exia. And they proceed to fight with their outdated Gundams. Gotta be the only mecha series when the hero got a Last Episode Downgrade.
    • It also happens in the first season's finale. Setsuna and Lasse start off piloting the GN-Armour Type-E against Alejandro's Alvatore, then the main bodies of those two are destroyed, leaving Setsuna's Gundam Exia that was inside the GN-Armour against the Alvalon that was inside the Alvatore, which Setsuna defeats by throwing six of swords at it. Then Graham Aker comes in a custom "GN-Flag", and they fight with Exia's one last weapon - his GN Sword/Rifle - against Graham's beam saber. By the end of the fight, neither machine is destroyed, but both of them are essentially floating wrecks with Exia's cockpit simply torn open.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team had this towards the end, with a battle between Shiro and Norris Packard devolving to the point where Shiro ends up beating Packard with the severed arm of his own mobile suit. The fight can be seen here in full.
  • Gundam Build Fighters features one in the fifteenth episode. Reiji and Sei's Star Build Strike is statistically superior, but Ricardo Fellini and his Wing Gundam Fenice have decades more experience together. The battle starts off with high-flying ranged combat, then they begin losing weapons and have their thrusters damaged, bringing things down to Earth. Even that suffers a breakdown, with both Gundams losing their respective Laser Blades, which results in them duking it out with their fists, Fellini wrapping his Gundam's beam cape around its left arm to counter the Build Strike's Super Mode. The whole thing ends with a "combat brofist" that causes both Gundams to shut down, marking the first and only draw in the entire series.
  • Revy and Roberta's first duel in Black Lagoon begins with a car chase across the city, then becomes a deadly game of hide-and-go-seek at the docks, then finally ends up as a no holds barred fist fight that lasts all night. Roberta wins, just.
  • The absurdly epic battle between Negi and Rakan in Mahou Sensei Negima! eventually ends with just the two of them slugging it out... for fun.
  • In YuYu Hakusho Yusuke's battle with Chu ends with a stand-up slugging match with each of them having a knife at their heel to keep them from moving away.
    • The first tournament arc ends with Yusuke and his opponent, a demon named Rando, completely exhausted - both combatants are depleted of energy, with Rando reduced to a tenth of his physical size thanks to a last-ditch spell gone awry. Yusuke decisively ends the fight by falling on top of Rando - with an elbow drop. Fighting until the very last gasp, and then a few punches more, is something of Yusuke's defining features in the series.
  • Terry's rematch with Krauser in the second Fatal Fury OAV ends this way after the two of them have exhausted each other with their ultimate attacks.
  • Most fights in Blade of the Immortal are bloody, messy and... rather clumsy looking affairs. Clean Cuts are few and far between.
  • One of the most brutal fights of Pokémon had Ash's Bulbasaur and an opposing trainer's Meganium start off the fight with Razor Leafs, Body Slams, and Vine Whips that also included a lot of moving. As the fight dragged on, it eventually got to the point where neither one of the combatants was even trying to dodge attacks, causing them to just be in a Vine Whip slug-fest that ended with a cross-counter that knocked both to the ground. The fight didn't end there, however, but stopped almost immediately after with a double Solar Beam.
    • The clones vs. originals in Pokémon: The First Movie. It's especially notable with the two Pikachu, as the clone starts crying while it keeps slapping Ash's Pikachu, who is just standing there sadly.
  • Fairy Tail has Erza and her Edolas counterpart destroy the floating island they were fighting on, each other's weapons, EACH OTHER'S CLOTHES, and use up all their magic in the process so their battle eventually breaks down to a fist fight, and finally leaves them both too exhausted to move. Earthland Erza still technically wins due to convincing Edolas Erza that stealing magic at the cost of lives is wrong.
    • Later, Juvia and Chelia get into a fight in the Grand Magic Games. Initially, it is a rather cool battle where both make use of their badass water and wind magic, but it soon degrades into a childish fight where they just pinch and slap each other... That is, until Gray and Lyon turn up to help Juvia and Chelia, respectively.
  • Goku in Dragon Ball before becoming a Super Saiyan tended to end his fights in such a way, particularly against King Piccolo, Piccolo, and Vegeta: In the first one, Goku ended up crippled, and the fight ended when he propelled himself against Piccolo, bursting clean through his torso and killing him. Against Piccolo, Goku ended up with a hole the size of a fist in his shoulder, and won by dropping from the sky against Piccolo and knocking him out of the ring (they were still in a tournament fight). As for the fight against Vegeta, it started quite even and Goku quickly gained the upper hand... Then Vegeta turned into a giant ape. Goku ended the fight lying on the ground with all his bones broken, while Vegeta lost because a giant 5-year old wereape fell on him.
  • The final battle in GaoGaiGar, against the Zonuda Robot ends up being a particularly memorable example of this. GaoGaiGar's Stock Footage attacks, the Broken Phantom, Goldion Hammer, and Hell and Heaven, all prove to be ineffectual against this enemy, and his Phantom Rings and Space Boosters are quickly destroyed. So then it gets into a brutal slugfest with the enemy robot, smashing in its head with its bare hands and legs and tearing off limbs before ripping its hands through it to pull out the core.
  • Naruto:
    • This is how the battle between Madara and Hashirama ultimately went. It started with them throwing their most powerful and impressive techniques at each other. It ended with a battered and exhausted Hashirama tricking an equally-exhausted Madara with a clone technique — one of the simplest tricks in a ninja's arsenal — and impaling him in the back with a sword.
    • The final battle between Naruto and Sasuke plays out the same way (and at the same spot as the above one) - the two combatants throwing ridiculously powerful attacks at each other until they're both out of usable chakra, at which point they forgo all that and just charge in and start beating the crap out of each other. By the end of it, they're so injured and completely exhausted that their punches are too slow and weak to even hurt each other anymore. Eventually though, they do go back to ninjutsu, both giving all that they had left to give. The end result costs each of them an arm.
    • Naruto's battle with Gaara ends with a plain old headbutt. This was after Gaara's multiple transformations into his inner monster, various sand-based binding techniques, and Naruto's pulling out a thousand clones, summoning a giant frog, and so on.
  • In Soul Eater, after all the anti-magic, enchanted weaponry, suicidal spirit-attacks and what-have-you the protagonists throw at the Big Bad fail to even scratch him, he is finally defeated with a perfectly ordinary fist to the face.
  • Deadman Wonderland: When Ganta finally confronts the "Red Man" who killed his classmates and ruined his life actually his long-lost friend Shiro, actually her long-suppressed psychotic/suicidal side they initially attack each other with their blood-based powers but end up pounding the snot out of each other, though acrobatically (Red Man is understandable, but when did Ganta learn how to fight like that?).
  • Joey's fight against Marik (actually his Dragon Odion, who was masquerading as Marik) in Yu-Gi-Oh! ends with both duellists collapsed on the ground, with the referee declaring that the winner will be the first to get up. Children's card games are Serious Business.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin and Saitou's fight starts out a relatively controlled "one special move at a time" sword duel, then devolves into Kenshin using his sheath as a bludgeon and Saitou trying to snap his neck with a jacket. They were saved from going fists-versus-sheath trying to beat each other to death only by Saitou's boss's timely intervention.
  • The final assault on Father in Fullmetal Alchemist starts as a proper battle, with heavy artillery and alchemy attacks flying left and right, and ends with Edward beating Father senseless with his bare fists.

  • The end of Infinite Crisis. After flying through a red sun and a field of Kryptonite, Superman, his Earth-2 counterpart, and the Big Bad Superboy-Prime are all Brought Down to Normal and duke it out in a mundane fistfight.
  • At the end of the Sinestro Corps War, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner and Sinestro's rings all lose power... so they start fighting with their bare hands.
  • The Spectre once tried to stop a war by removing all weapons from the battlefield. The armies simply picked up rocks. Even the embodiment of God's Wrath can't stop humans from killing each other.
  • At the conclusion of the Superman arc Up, Up, and Away, Superman has been battling Luthor, who is in a giant Kryptonian battleship equipped with Kryptonite. Superman slowly destroys the ship, but loses his powers to the Kryptonite. Luthor dons his protective suit and starts to get out, just as they plough into the ocean. The two wash up on the island, with Superman depowered and Luthor's armour shorted out, and proceed to beat each other unconscious in a fist fight.
  • Near the end of World War Hulk The Sentry and Hulk engage in a fight that tears apart Manhattan. Sentry unleashes what seems to be his full power and Hulk responds in kind. Then Iron Man hits them with De-Power rays from the satellite. They revert back to Bruce Banner and Bob Reynolds... and Bruce punches Bob out.
  • In the Astérix story The Great Divide, the two chieftains are finally convinced to fight each other for who gets to lead the village, instead of having their villagers do it. Their fight starts with the entire village watching and taking bets, but as it consists of nothing but the two punching each other, they get bored and leave, and even Asterix falls asleep while refereeing as they keep punching each other. When he wakes up, he finds they've both fallen asleep leaning onto each other, so he calls it a tie.
  • The French comic Captain Biceps (where the titular hero goes around fighting Expies of comic heroes and villains) has the fight against the Punisher. They start laying into each other with machine guns, then throwing knives, then fists. Exhausted, they settle on Rock-Paper-Scissors (Biceps wins).

    Fairy Tales 
  • Quite a few Russian fairy tales have two people starting a duel with spears, then maces, then swords... all of these are shattered one after another, so they end up having a wrestling match.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Used in I Did Not Want To Die. The protagonist starts out with an M4A1 carbine and in the end resorts to unarmed punches.
  • Happens in Racer and the Geek during the battle of Hill 20. The fight gets DESPERATE.
  • The Hill of Swords: The final battle between Shirou and Sheffield starts off with both combatants throwing every technique in their very large arsenals. It ends with both exhausted and completely drained of power, so Shirou simply distracts Sheffield long enough to grab her, then starts smashing her skull into the nearest piece of shrapnel until she finally dies.
  • Here We Go Again: The Siege of Italica begins with the tanks of Charlie Company firing down on the bandit hordes with explosive shells and their coaxial machineguns. By the time the JSDF and the rest of the US Marines arrive to support them, the crews are down to leaving the safety of their tanks to engage surviving forces with small arms and the occasional bayoneting.
  • The Final Battle of Marionettes sees Trixie having been upgraded into a 'mecha Alicorn' facing off with Masquerade (who is already injured from a previous fight) who's wearing a suit of Powered Armor called the Puppeteer that was designed to survive conflict with Celestia. The fight is long and destructive, going through a large portion of the Stallion's in Black's base of Moirai, but ends with a badly damaged Trixie destroying the Puppeteer with a Death-or-Glory Attack, leaving her mana engine nearly completely drained to the point she can barely move and Masquerade so badly hurt she can hardly stand. What results is two exhausted combatants no longer able to use their magic throwing tired punches at one another until Masquerade can no longer stand back up.

  • The fight between the bandit and the husband in the fourth story in Rashomon goes from a swordfight to a literal knock-down-drag-out where one of them ends up just throwing dirt in the other's face.
  • The famous fight scene from They Live is all breakdown. They fight like they're stone drunk, and it gets worse from there. And it works.
    • Recreated largely shot for shot in the South Park episode "Cripple Fight".
  • Subverted in Kill Bill Vol 2. The Bride is about to hit Pai Mei with a rock, and he will have none of that.
    • But played straight later on, when the battle between Elle and The Bride starts out broken down, including wrestling, brawling, wall-bashing, and improvised weapon use. There's a spot that looks like there'll be a swordfight...but then Beatrix just plucks Elle's eye out.
  • Played for Laughs in Robin Hood: Men in Tights with Robin and Little John's fight over the creek. It starts off as a staff fight, and eventually it becomes a strange version of Bloody Knuckles/Quarters.
    • Possibly the purest example here; the weapons were actually breaking down.
  • A variation in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Jen Yu fights Yu Shu Lien with the Green Destiny sword, with Shu Lien using a wide variety of different weapons against her as the sword whittles down everything she tries. Shu Lien still wins.
  • James Bond vs. Janus in GoldenEye.
  • The Matrix
    • The big fight scene in The Matrix Reloaded starts as a weapon brawl, and eventually traverses car chase into a fist v. sword fight on the back of a speeding semi, and ends with a game of chicken...
      • Burly Brawl for that matter starts out as a typical one-against-many fight scene and gradually turns into a Looney Tunes short on crack.
    • Even in the final part of the trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions had Neo and Smith engaging in an aerial battle above the city, creating massive shockwaves, with Smith gaining the upper hand when he gives Neo one hell of a Meteor Move sending them crashing bach to earth, and after much monologuing, the battle is reduced to a slightly high-powered version of Good Old Fisticuffs in a six-foot crater.
  • In the final battle of Serenity, Mal and the Operative start by fighting with pistols, but rapidly lose their respective firearms, resorting to melee combat with sword and screwdriver, before finally resorting to a blunt bare-handed fistfight.
  • The Roman Polanski film version of Macbeth has the final fight between Macbeth and Macduff turn into a protracted anything-goes match including punches, kicks, and Macduff swinging at Macbeth with a piece of firewood when he's been disarmed.
  • The fight between Mr. & Mrs. Smith starts with guns, then progresses to everything in the entire house being used as a weapon, from the dishes to the couch. And ends in Destructo-Nookie.
  • The final shown battle in Kingdom of Heaven has the Saracens breaching Jerusalem's walls. The battle goes from a stereotypical fight to what seems like the two sides pushing back and forth.
  • The ending duel in House of Flying Daggers has the two male leads fighting one another with their swords. Eventually the fight devolves from them fighting skillfully to them just slashing each other.
  • The final duel in Robot Jox begins with two giant mecha fighting each other until both mechs are utterly destroyed, at which point the "jox" jump out and start swinging broken parts at each other.
  • The third Sword Fight in The Duellists goes on for so long the duellists are gasping for breath, propping themselves up on their swords, and occasionally mustering the strength to make wild roundhouse swings at each other. The duel is ended by their seconds when they discard their swords and just start having at each other.
  • Oldboy (2003). Hallway. Hammer. Very tiring.
  • Several times in We Were Soldiers, but particularly one engagement between the North Vietnamese forces and the Lost Platoon. At one point, an American soldier can be seen bludgeoning a Vietnamese troop to death with his helmet.
  • Happens rapidly between two soldiers in Saving Private Ryan — both of their guns jam, so they resort to throwing things including their helmets at one another before they can get their sidearms out.
  • Happens offscreen in Patton. A battle that starts at night between tanks and rifles finishes at dawn with knives.
  • The German follows an air-to-air battle as it goes from fighter planes dogfighting all the way to two men in the woods in a fistfight.
  • Up has this between Carl and Muntz, as they're both really old men.
  • The climactic battle between The Terminator and Sarah Connor ends with Sarah, who has been stabbed through the leg by shrapnel, crawling painstakingly slowly through a delivery shaft, "chased" by the barely functioning remnants of the Terminator after a bomb has exploded whilst attached to it.
  • In Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan and Grievous start out their fight on Utapau with a lightsaber duel. After the clone army storms the base, however, both of them lose their lightsabers in the ensuing frenzy, and after a chase scene they resume their fight with their fists as well as an electrostaff and blaster that they grapple over.
  • The climactic seven-minute fight scene in The Sword of Doom sees Ryunosuke Tsukue steadily gaining new injuries to different parts of his body, affecting his speed and fighting style.

  • In Starfighters of Adumar, Wes Janson participates in a blastsword duel only to purposely turn it into a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown - knowing that he can't beat the other guy in a fair duel, he goads him into making a wild swing, disarms him, then puts up his fists. The other guy tries to punch back, but he's not trained in Good Old Fisticuffs. Wes Janson then promptly just punches the guy until he is one hit from dropping...then, as a finishing blow...SLAPS him.
  • In Max Barry's Machine Man, the final fight between Man in the Machine Dr. Charles Neumann and crazed cyborg Carl sees them deal a *great* deal of damage to each other before Neumann blasts Carl to smithereens with his BFG Arm Cannon.
  • Derfel, the narrator from The Warlord Chronicles lampshades this several times, and notes it as being almost inevitable in any proper early Middle Ages battle that features both sides using a shield wall, which is essentially a Stone Wall tactic. The start of the battle may have plenty of Boisterous Bruisers taunting the enemy, wizards chanting, and berserkers making charges at the enemy lines, but after more than a few minutes of battle, you have a bunch of exhausted men weighed down by their own armor and weapons whose swords have been blunted by the impact on shields and armor, whose spears have snapped, and are reduced to leaning against one another and just trying to muster up the energy for the occasional attempt to stab an enemy soldier. Now imagine a few hours of doing that...
  • In The Dresden Files book Death Masks, Harry's duel with Ortega devolves into a fight between Harry's allies and Ortega's vampires when Ortega cheats.
  • Happens in Frank Saberhagen's Swords series. Baron Doon goes three rounds against Shieldbreaker, which is shown in-universe to always defeat armed opponents. He keeps dropping his sundered weapons and grabbing new ones.
  • Alexander Pushkin uses the trope (the Fairy Tales variant above) in the battle between Ruslan and Rogdai in Ruslan and Lyudmila. Ruslan wins, but ends up unarmed; fortunately, there is an old battlefield covered with scattered weapons nearby.
  • In Serbian Epic Poetry, duels often start with both combatants using spears, then they go through maces and swords in some order, before ending up using their bare hands (and, on at least one occasion, teeth).
  • The duel between Raghunath Rao and Rana Sanga in the back story of the Belisarius Series was this. It started with both combatants on horseback, moved to fighting on foot, went to wrestling when both combatants were disarmed and eventually ended with both of them on the ground, too exhausted to move and debating philosophy. Since both of them fit the Cultured Badass trope, even the debating was admitted to be quite impressive as well.
  • The fights in Eden Green are improvisational and brutal, with the needle-infected humans often creating weapons from their own bodies. In the final battle, Eden and her best friend finally drop all pretense and wail on each other without mercy.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: Having been goaded into accepting Malfoy's challenge to a Wizards Duel, but having very little idea how to go about fighting one, Harry is concerned about what happens if the (very few) combat spells he knows don't work. Ron immediately suggests a sensible alternative: "Drop your wand and punch him on the nose."

    Live Action TV 
  • Several of the Terminator duels in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles start out with both combatants shooting at each other. Considering that doesn't work too often against Terminators, the battles rapidly devolve into environmentally-destructive fisticuffs.
  • The Monkees episode "Fairy Tale" climaxed with a battle between Peter Tork and Knight Harold. They fought with swords and somehow lost them, they continued fighting with daggers, and then Harold said, "You know, I'm really a non-violent sort." Peter replied, "That's very refreshing," and they put away their daggers and arm-wrestled.
  • The final battle between Kamen Rider Kuuga and N-Daguba-Zeba progresses thusly: Kuuga Ultimate Form vs. Daguba, brutally assaulting each other until they shatter each other's Transformation Trinkets and revert to their human forms, still punching each other. However it starts and ends as a fistfight, albeit initially one between two super-powered beings.
  • When Master Ping recounts his epic battle with the greatest Luchadore in history during the second episode of The Middleman, their combat starts with martial arts fisticuffs but eventually branches into Bi Plane dogfights, machine gun duels, and swordplay before his opponent finally dies of a heart attack during a Rock'em Sock'em Robots game.
  • In Firefly Mal starts fighting Atherton Wing in a swordfight. As he's never touched a sword before, this goes poorly. But when things get down to the punching, he has a definite advantage.
  • Game of Thrones. Brienne vs The Hound. It starts out sword-to-sword; by the end it's degenerated into a series of groin attacks, ear-biting, rock-bludgeoning, and repeated face-punching.
  • Daredevil has the end of the second episode, when Matt goes to take on roughly a dozen thugs having already suffered a thorough beating with only the barest minimum of patching up. He starts flinging them through doors and jumping off walls, but by the end is reduced to bodily knocking them down and hitting until they stop hitting back. It's a mark of his sheer bloody-mindedness that he still wins.
  • In Doctor Who, the war on Skaro that led to the Daleks' creation is an extremely large scale example, as it went on for so long that both sides began running out of resources to power their more advanced weapons and resorted to using gunpowder-based weapons, bows and arrows, etc.
  • The big Mutai fight in the Babylon 5 episode "TKO" starts off as a gritty pugilistic battle and eventually devolves into a clumsy back-and-forth punch trade at the end as the fighters both approach their limits.
  • Fairly common in Robot Combat competitions like Battlebots. Contestants show up with sophisticated killing machines that are brimming with weapons. After only minutes of in-ring action, weapons and wheels will break off or be disabled. The battered bots will then resort to ramming each other (if they can) to score points with judges.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In older editions of Dungeons & Dragons, this will often happen to Squishy Wizard type characters, particularly at lower levels: when they're out of spell slots, their viable combat options often degenerate to slinging crossbow bolts, and often even without proficiency in crossbows. Squishy Wizards in newer editions have the privilege of having unlimited use of cantrip spells, so even though cantrips are generally weaker than levelled spells, they're never truly out of magic.
  • The Succession Wars in the BattleTech storyline. The first two involved weapons of mass destruction, and a savaging of the Star League-era technological advancements. The latter two Succession Wars involved devolved levels of technology on all sides, almost back to that of the Age of War that preceded the Star League. Any old Star League era relics are known as "LosTech".

     Video Games 
  • In any game emphasising resource management or item hoarding players can be brought down to this if they run out of MP/Items/Ammo or can't afford to use any more, leaving them forced to remove a boss's last HP/enemies with their weakest weapons and abilities.
  • This trope is nearly universal in Tower Defense Games, when experts aren't playing. It is a consequence of the difficulty curve and the fact they are Endless Games.
  • If you drag a gunfight out for too long in Deus Ex, your foes will run out of ammo and try to stab you.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4, the final battle between Old Snake and Ocelot starts as an over-the-top cutscene brawl before entering into a three-stage fight (each stage reminiscent of the previous three Metal Gear Solid games), and degenerates into two exhausted old men slugging it out with each other.
  • Speaking of Super Robot Wars, one particular level ends with Duel Boss battle between Sanger and Wodan. Both of their machines get severely damaged in the cutscene beforehand, and you have three turns to defeat Wodan before the level ends anyways. To get the Bragging Rights Reward, you will have to throw everything at Wodan, and by fight's end, Sanger's machine will be stripped of pretty much all energy, Spirit, and be on its last legs.
  • Fallout 3 requires that you maintain your weapon and armor conditions so that you can equip and use them effectively. A similar effect can be inflicted on enemies, as shooting their weapon enough time will cause it to have a 0% CND rating, making it unusable to them.
  • This trope is able to show up in many The Elder Scrolls games. If a weapon breaks or is otherwise disabled, it's previous wielder is quite often reduced to fighting with their fists! This can even happen to Dremora.
  • War of the Roses has weapons that break if you parry with them too much - good players duelling will often go through their main weapon and side arm both in a single fight, having to end the fight with daggers.
  • Battlefield 3 ends after a chase through the New York subway system, followed by a Press X to Not Die sequence that ends with you bashing the Big Bad in the face with a rock.
  • God of War 2 has Kratos inflict this on Perseus, constantly wrecking all his divine gadgets until he is forced to take Kratos seriously.
  • The Dominion Tower's Climber Mode in RuneScape can have this effect. Instead of limiting storage access like Endurance Mode, before every fight you get a handicap (Such as lower attack accuracy, no prayers, monsters start out unable to attack, etc). While it starts out rather easy, by the time you get to F15 you'll affected by so many handicaps that you'll constantly be dazed, dropping your weapons, unable to eat, drink or even wear armour while fighting some of the toughest bosses in the game.
  • A Pokémon that runs out of PP for all of its moves will resort to the move Struggle, which does moderate damage and also damages itself.
    • Another example: some extremely powerful attacks in the games have this trope as an explicit side effect. Such as Draco Meteor, which reduces the user's Special Attack and thus can't hit as hard the second time, or V-Create, which lowers defenses and speed so that the user is left wide open to being hit for massive damage.
  • Most fights in Condemned 2: Bloodshot become this due to melee weapons breaking. Which often leads to the player using their fists to fight or running around in hope of grabbing a new weapon.
  • Competing online with other players in Fight Night: Champion for many rounds can result in this, as both players will have reduced stamina by that point. Even more so when there are two players that have been spamming punches and wasting stamina.
  • Over-committing in Team Fortress 2 can turn a fight into this trope, especially for classes who can give up their secondary weapons for a piece of equipment, such as a Scout using the slow-reloading Scattergun as well as the Bonk Atomic Punch. Most notable with the Soldier and Demoman, who have powerful weapons but long reload times — players who empty their magazine with one weapon will often just switch to the second and keep firing, and if that goes dry mid-fight as well, it's not uncommon for them to draw their melee weapon and have at it.
  • Dawn of War: Squads that have their Morale Meter reduced to zero become horribly inefficient at fighting, losing accuracy, damage and armor, and it drops as long as the squad takes damage. If you somehow get two squads to suffer this, it leads to this trope. Some squads are immune to morale damage, mostly thanks to being complete fanatics, possessed by daemons, missing chunks of their brain, or being more afraid of the commissar than the enemy.
  • Pharaoh: The longer a unit of soldiers remains in combat, the lower its morale drops, until they flee back to their fort. Enemy soldiers don't suffer from this, though they do retreat after a while.
  • Command & Conquer: Units that take large amounts of damage move at a crawl. In some games, power plants production is reduced if they're damaged.
  • Asura's Wrath: The last battle of the game begins with two gods capable of becoming planet sized, warping reality and firing laser beams at each other, and ends with them grappling and punching each other to death after all their godly strength has been exhausted.

  • The Bun-Bun vs. Oasis fight from Sluggy Freelance started out as a pure knife fight, but quickly turned into a chase scene involving grenades, handguns, and eventually Oasis revealing she can start fires with her mind.
  • In Gold Coin Comics, at a tournament, two magic users are fighting, and use up their magic. Then it turns into a Wimp Fight.
  • The ending conflict in the Empire of Blood arc from The Order of the Stick drags on like this, with the Vector Legion hammering away again and again at the Order, forcing them to improvise over and over. Near the end, you see most of them lying near dead in the desert heat before their back-up arrives. The final attack of the battle is delivered by Haley, propping her bow with her legs as one of her arms was broken by Tarquin.
  • In Drowtales Nishi'kanta's fight with her eldest sister Snadhya'rune devolves from them lobbing their summons at each other, then mana attacks when Nishi melts the metal in their gauntlets, then after she runs out of energy and gets eaten alive by Snadhya's summoned dragon she crawls inside the summon and starts hitting Snadhya in the head with a rock.

     Web Original 
  • Subverted in Ryan vs. Dorkman 2. Both combatants lose their lightsabers and begin to menace each other with fists... and then think better of it and make a mutual dive for their weapons.
  • There's a cool one in Issue 13 of the Knights of Reignsborough Actual Play podcast. The Necropath and Land Mine locked in a brawl underneath a stadium, throwing mental blasts and explosions, respectively, at each other, ending with them both resorting to fists, then a truly amazing Eye Scream.
  • Tex vs Wash and the Meta in Red vs. Blue begins with Tex taking every advantage she can get. She carbombs them so they're weak and disarmed before the fight even starts, hides weapons all around the battlefield for her to utilize with great effectiveness, and rigs more explosives along the cliff face the alter the playing field even further. Unfortunately, she's facing the two freelancers who are capable of surviving things Rasputin would succumb to. She gets shot in the back by Wash, which slows her movements. Then, she's thrown into a knockdown drag out with Meta, her kabar against his bruteshot. In the end, she's stabbed in the face in one of the most brutal finishers of the series.

     Western Animation 
  • In the final episode of the Battletech cartoon has Adam Steiner (our protagonist) and Nicolai Malthus going against each other in Fresh BattleMechs in a duel of sorts for the planet Somerset. Nicolai Malthus wins the mech duel, but then loses his own mech to a cliff face after Adam jumps into his cockpit; the ensuing struggle sending the mech out of control. Steiner and Malthus end up duking it out man-to-man on the remains of Malthus's mech.
  • Dexter's Laboratory. When Dexter and Mandark's dads throw down (ironic considering Mandark's father is a peace loving hippie), it starts out as a flat-out fist fight, then degrades into a wrestling match. Then they start throwing food and stray animals at each other. Then they just jump into their cars and ram each other for the rest of the day. The episode ends with Mandark and Dexter arguing over whose mom is tougher.
  • The Transformers: The Movie has Optimus Prime and Megatron fighting their ultimate battle to the death, from firing lasers and swinging energy blades to throwing rubble to flat-out just pummeling each other with their fists and feet. As it goes on, they're both clearly exhausted and taking heavy damage with dented armor and destroyed weaponry, and after knocking Megatron off the battlements Optimus can't even stand due to his (fatal) wounds, while Megatron is forced to beg Soundwave to get him to safety.
  • Samurai Jack's battle with The Guardian begins as a swordfight. Then The Guardian disarms him. Jack grabs a spear and The Guardian discards his sword for a pair of sai. They disarm each other. Jack grabs a pair of shields and The Guardian answers with a machine gun and grenades. Jack deflects one of The Guardian's grenades and blows up his suit, causing The Guardian to get serious, eat Jack's shield, and give him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.

     Real Life 
  • Occasional Truth in Television. For example:
    • During the battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, Joshua Chamberlain's 20th Maine regiment had to hold a vital hill on the flank of the Union Army. They repelled several enemy attacks, but ran out of bullets. In desperation, Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge, which saved the Union Army and got him the Medal of Honor. Several battles in that war had soldiers throwing rocks at each other.
    • In World War I, soldiers who could expect to wind up doing a lot of trench fighting often had customized melee weapons (mostly knives and clubs) that saw just as much use as their rifles, if not more. The wicked trench spike (think brass knuckles welded to railroad spike) was pretty much invented in this war.
    • During the legendary Battle of Thermoplyae, the Greek soldiers who fought the Persians reportedly kept battling their enemies even after their spears and swords were broken, battering them with their shields, eventually being forced to use their teeth and fingernails as weapons. Deadliest Warrior suggests that a Spartan shield punch, while obviously not a move to be used in heavy combat, was as or more lethal than the spears or swords. That's a lot of weight coming at you. Not to mention the circular (and actually quite sharp) edge of most Spartan shields. They could very well break bones and tear open flesh (albeit rather shallow) if used by the right people. Like the horrifying immortal god warriors that used them.
    • Standard procedure during mass aerial combat. Faced with too many aircraft moving too quickly for a human properly track, combat breaks down rapidly into smaller and smaller fights. The stories of pilots who began the fight as part of a large formation, then looked around at the end and saw a whole bunch of empty sky are numerous, while one of the best ways to score kills is to realize somebody doesn't think you're part of their fight and kill them before they realize you are.
  • Also, Mixed Martial Arts bouts also tend to go this way. The first round can be fast paced and exciting, but after 10 minutes of trying (and mostly succeeding) in beating the crap out of each other, the fighters noticeably slow down in the final round.
  • A verbal example comes from William F Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal's debates during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1968. What began as a debate on the Republican candidates quickly turned into a one-up contest, with both participants trying to make the other one look stupid. By the end of the debates, they were just insulting one another, and it looked like they were going to actually hit each other at some points.
  • Long and/or grueling boxing matches often follow this trope. A fight may start with the fighters moving very quickly and fluidly, throwing pinpoint combinations that show their skill as boxers. After a half hour or so of hitting a guy in the face and getting hit back, the two fighters may be reduced to a tired wrestling with each other and occasionally throwing sloppy, exhausted punches that don't much resemble what was being done in the first round when the fighters were fresh. Factor in the possibility for injuries to the hands, face, eyes, and even other areas such as the back, knees, and shoulders, and it's not surprising when this trope is played straight during a fight.
  • This can occur in fencing bouts. Occasionally, the intricate back-and-forth of thrusts and parries will be abandoned in favor of less... conventional play. Referees may interrupt a bout if this happens, and the action has become too confusing to follow from a judging perspective.
  • World War One (at least on the Western Front in France) was a large scale version. Instead of Napoleonic style field battles of manoeuvre and tactics it rapidly became two entrenched armies simply throwing artillery fire and masses of men at each other's defences in brute force attempts to break through.