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Rigged Spectacle Fight

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Some villains love to make a spectacle of their foes, and there's not many better ways than beating them down in front of an audience. To make the process even faster, and/or to highlight their loathsomeness, these fights are often done with the villain having some advantage over their opponent, their opponent being given some disadvantage, or even both. This (dis)advantage is sometimes very obvious, but more often than not it's done in secret so the villain can look that much better. If it's obvious, it's likely been done to demoralize the opponent or make it clear that the fight is not even remotely fair.

Dramatic tension comes from how the fight actually goes, as the villain's foe may be able to win through a combination of sheer grit, the villain's overconfidence, or outside circumstances. Even if they fail, they may be able to put up enough of a struggle to give the villain pause. Additionally, if the audience becomes aware of the unfair circumstances of the fight, they may realize who they're dealing with and turn on the villain.

Often used in tandem with Bread and Circuses, especially in Gladiator Games.

Related to Fake Danger Gambit, where a fight is scripted to make the "hero" look good. Compare Throwing The Match and Kayfabe, when both parties are in on it.

No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Super: During the Tournament of the Gods arc, one of the opponents on Champa's side is a being named Frost who appears to be a friendlier version of Frieza. When he steps into the ring to fight Goku, the two hit it off well, and Frost makes a good enough impression to get the opposing side cheering for him, eventually managing to paralyze Goku and knock him out. Afterward, Frost fights Piccolo, and the fight proves just as epic and ends the same way. Jaco notices this and reveals that Frost had been cheating by using a weapon to poison his foes, and Frost reveals himself to be just as villainous as Frieza. Despite this, Frost is allowed one more fight at Vegeta's request, and Vegeta even allows him to continue using his poison. With his secret now exposed though, he is beaten the moment his fight with Vegeta begins.
  • Fairy Tail: During the grand magic games, Laxus is set to fight Raven Tail's Alexei in a one-on-one match. While the audience watches an epic fight between the two, in reality, the fight is nothing more than an illusion rigged to give either one the victory while Alexei reveals himself to be Ivan Dreyar (who is the guild master and thus not allowed to partake in the games) and the entire Raven Guild prepares to either get Laxus to give them Fairy Tail's secrets or gang up on him and have Ivan win the fight as Alexei. However, Laxus manages to overpower the entire guild on his own, break the illusion, and expose them of their cheating, resulting in Raven Tail being disqualified.
  • Food Wars!: Some of the shokugekis that take place under Central's regime are blatantly rigged. The biggest example is Tetsuji's shokugeki against Etsuya Eizan with the survival of Tetsuji's club at stake. Even though Eizan barely puts any effort into his dish, the judges unanimously declare him the winner without even tasting either man's food, making it obvious Tetsuji had no chance from the start. All the other clubs withdraw their shokugeki challenges as soon as they see the results of this match, which is exactly what Eizan and Central wanted.
  • Moriarty the Patriot: William Moriarty rigs a final showdown with Sherlock in front of all London during The Final Problem and even ensures that thousands of people will be watching them. Of course, he did rig it so he would lose and Sherlock would win, as he wasn't trying to win at all. Sherlock managed to undo the rigging and win on his own merits anyway.
  • One Piece:
    • The final event in the Davy Back Fight is a boxing match between pirate captains Luffy and Foxy. The arena is Foxy's ship, which is loaded with weapons and booby-traps that Foxy gleefully uses to his advantage. Luffy wins only through his raw determination and figuring out a weak spot in Foxy's Slow-Slow Fruit powers.
    • When Luffy is trapped in the Udon Prison Mine and gets on the bad side of the wardens, Queen the Plague decides to put Luffy and The Old Con Hyo through a "Sumo Inferno"; Luffy and Hyo are outfitted with special collars that will cut off their heads if they leave the arena, and have to fight an endless wave of mooks who are allowed weapons. Thankfully, Luffy is allowed to fight without the Sea Prism Stone chains that negate his Gum-Gum Fruit powers, and treats the whole event as a means to practice his Haki mastery. Queen doesn't mind Luffy steamrolling his opposition as he enjoys the spectacle. The whole thing gets broken up by Big Mom invading the mines.
  • YuYu Hakusho: During the Dark Tournament arc, Team Urameshi are forced to participate in the tournament. They end up running into rigged fights in their second and third matches thanks to the crooked human higher ups running the show. They anticipated getting a respite after winning their second match, but are immediately forced to fight another group of opponents while most of the team is wounded and exhausted, with Hiei and the Masked Fighter trapped in a barrier that their opponents constructed beforehand to prevent them from participating. What's more, Yusuke ends up losing a match because a human committee member used technical mumbo jumbo to have the fight's results tossed out; however, Togoro and Sakyo disapproved of this and had the committee member killed, allowing the next match to go on fair and square.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: In Asterix and the Big Fight, the Romans learn that Getafix has gone mad and can't prepare any more magic potion (taking a menhir to the head will do that), so they send the Gallo-Roman chieftain Cassius Ceramix to challenge Vitalstatistix to a one-on-one fight for leadership of his village. Vitalstatistix can't refuse despite being nowhere near as strong as Cassius without the potion, so he accepts and starts training under Asterix, and the entire thing is hyped up as the match of the century by the Romans (intending to get rid of the Gauls once and for all). On the day of the match, Vitalstatistix starts running around the ring instead of trying to fight Cassius, who exhausts himself running after Vitalstatistix. And once Asterix tells Vitalstatistix that Getafix is back to normal, it motivates him enough to send Cassius out of the ring in a single punch.
  • The Dark Phoenix Saga: Professor X and Lilandra agree to settle Jean Grey's fate through a formal duel between their respective teams, which they watch aboard the Empire's space ship. As the battle progresses, it becomes clear that it was blatantly rigged against the X-Men:
    • Cyclops points out at the beginning of the duel that they have no idea what their opponents are capable of. However, the aliens outright state that they know exactly what the heroes' powers are and how to counter them.
    • The chosen arena is the Blue Area of the Moon, whose low gravity and lack of atmosphere severely disrupt Angel and Storm's powers, respectively.
    • One of the Imperial Guards is revealed to actually be two separate aliens who can combine and disassemble at will, thus turning the 8v8 match into a 9v8.
    • The Imperial Guard's knowledge of the battlefield enables them to trick a Watcher into assisting them, as the enraged entity psychically assaults Wolverine when the latter is hurled into its home.
    • The two "impartial observers" who are sent to supervise the duel turn out to be fully supportive of Lilandra's cause and attack Wolverine.
  • Wolverine: His first solo series' first issue opens with a fight between the leader of a pirate gang and the captain of a plane that the pirates have captured, with the other pirates and the surviving passengers watching. It's immediately obvious that the fight is meant to be bloodsport, as the pirate is wielding a machete while the captain's arms have been tied behind his back. The captain manages to put up enough of a fight to impress some of the other pirates, but he's eventually overpowered and decapitated by the pirate leader, who makes it clear to some of the female captives that this was done as an example of what could happen if they displease him.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Sensation Comics: New Rome treats public executions as a grand spectacle in which some captives are given a chance to try and fight for survival, though their survival will not be permitted by Empress Fausta.
    • Wonder Woman (1942): Queen Clea's gladiatorial arena is a place to watch captives struggle as they are torn apart. She gives them weapons which are not meant to be of any use against her beasts, has them stripped and redressed in only a loincloth and sets archers around the arena walls just in case they manage to surprise her and survive or climb the walls. Steve manages to survive his fight anyway, by using the bodies of the beasts he'd managed to kill with the knife he was given as a shield against the archers and then being rescued by Wondy.
  • World War Hulk: The climax sees a rare Anti-Hero moment of this from the Hulk himself. Hulk returns to the Earth after the Illuminati trapped him in a rocket and sent him hurtling through space in a misguided effort to prevent more destruction. Understandably furious, Hulk captures four of the Illuminati—Iron Man, Black Bolt, Doctor Strange, and Mister Fantastic—and straps them with "obedience disks" that prevent them from using their powers (the other two members are spared this fate—Namor because he voted against sending Hulk away and Professor X because Hulk decides that after the events of M-Day, he's suffered enough). He then pits the four in a globally broadcast gladiator-style match against both a giant alien and each other, the latter apparently to the death. Hulk eventually stops the fight, though, and announces that he doesn't want anyone to die—he just wanted to utterly humiliate the Illuminati for their cruelty.

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Multiple combatants, of women against men, but that's not what's rigged about it:
    • The duel between Ami, a teenage magical Bookworm, against a muscular, tall, Big Red Devil, mandated by Dark God Azzathra, with its rigged nature noted in multiple chapters:
      • "Out-of-Dungeon Experiences":
        duels of that sort happen fairly regularly in his honour, and are great public spectacles
        magic used during the battle is mirrored. Beneficial enchantments are applied to each combatant. Aggressive spells hit both the target and the caster."
        she had learned that Azzathra's challenge was most likely a sham intended to humiliate and kill her
      • "More Lessons":
        "Oh, and there's another tactic we have to scratch. In one fight, a captured elderly hero wizard developed a spell to turn himself into an exact replica of himself so that the duplication effect would bring his heavily-armoured opponent down to his level. Azzathra was furious and turned his opponent back into his true form, then copied him, thus turning the fight even more one-sided than it previously was."
    • As summarized in "Informal Debriefing": The champions of two armies fighting: Cathy versus the World's Best Warrior, where magic is used to unbalance the sides, resulting in a surprising victory, due to throwing the fight:
      "No, it's perfectly normal to fall unconscious after being head-butted in the invisible shield protecting your face," the swordswoman muttered. She poked at the bandage around her forehead and grimaced a little. "So yeah, I'm pretty sure he was faking it."
  • The Mountain and the Wolf:
    • The Wolf's every duel against his targets would already be a Curb-Stomp Battle (he's described as being even bigger than the Mountain), but he also has a Chaos-given ability to insult his enemies into attacking in blind fury (including a Non-Action Guy like Petyr Baelish). Even those threatening him with arrows see their shots go wild just as they're loosed.
    • While fighting Euron, he arranges for both crews to be present and watch, the Silence's crew making no move to support their captain. For extra humiliation, the Wolf has his crew chant his name then asks Euron's (tongueless) crew to do the same.
    • Subverted after Daenerys returns to King's Landing and the Iron Fleet is sighted at the entrance to Blackwater Bay: The Wolf participates in planning the defense when the reader knows the fleet now follows his orders, but then it sails away without fighting. Once reunited with them, he tells the Ironborn captains that if they'd disobeyed him and attacked the city, he would have attacked them without hesitation (and what with the wall defenses, Daenerys' fleet, and Drogon, they would have stood no chance anyway).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Gladiator:
    • After Commodus learns Maximus is alive and is the gladiator known as "The Spaniard", he arranges for a match that he does his best to rig without being completely obvious. He hires a retired champion gladiator to return to the arena for the fight, then has numerous tigers stationed around the arena, with their handlers having been given orders to sometimes let the tigers come close enough to Maximus to distract him or let the tigers take a swipe at him. Maximus barely manages to win the match.
    • Just before the climactic fight in the Colosseum between Commodus and Maximus, Commodus stabs Maximus in the side. It's clear from the get-go that Maximus is dazed from shock and blood loss, even hallucinating the door to Elysium at one point, but he still pulls himself together enough to fend off Commodus' attacks and eventually kills Commodus with his own dagger.
  • Idiocracy: After Joe is found guilty of causing the economy to collapse due to him convincing the presidential cabinet to irrigate crops with water instead of Brawndo, a sports drink, he's sentenced to Monday Night Rehabilitation, a Public Execution. Joe's punishment is to face off in a crowded stadium against two monster trucks armed with a giant drill and a jackhammer, while chained to a big rock and riding in a subcompact car.
  • Mr. Nice Guy: Towards the second half of the movie, Jackie is captured by the mob boss, who fancies himself a fighter. He has his goons tie ropes to Jackie's arms and legs, and then challenges him to a fight, but Jackie still manages to put up a decent fight.
  • Space Jam: Overlapping with Come to Gawk. The villains plan to use Michael Jordan as an attraction where customers will play against him in a one-on-one basketball match as he's chained to an iron ball and there are stairs leading to the basket, allowing the tiny monster to dunk the ball effortlessly.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: The central attraction of the Grandmaster's gladiator matches is the showdown with his champion the Hulk, with opposing gladiators offered their freedom in exchange for the battle. Typically the Hulk is more than powerful enough to smash any opponent to paste, but Thor is strong enough to not only match the Hulk but come very close to beating him. However, the Grandmaster tires of the match and activates Thor's obedience disk, paralyzing him and causing him to lose.

  • Captive Prince: After Damen is Made a Slave in an enemy country, his new owner has him dosed with recreational drugs and forced into a wrestling match with a soldier, hoping for him to suffer a traumatic defeat. Damen wins. The cruel act is much later revealed to have happened because the owner recognized Damen as the man who killed his brother in battle.
  • Chivalry of a Failed Knight: Hagun Academy's Seven Stars Sword Art Festival Tournament is a major event with thousands of spectators and live television coverage. When F-Rank swordsman Ikki Kurogane makes it to the finals of the tournament, he's abducted by the villains, poisoned, tortured, and sleep-deprived for days. They don't release him from jail until the day of the finals, with just enough time for him to run to the stadium before the match is due to start. While his opponent in the finals wasn't a villain and wasn't part of the scheme, the actual villains did everything in their power short of killing Ikki to ensure he would lose, because they couldn't tolerate an F-Rank swordsman (the lowest rank possible) winning such an important competition, and intended to make a public example of him.
  • Dune: One chapter covers Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen celebrating his 17th birthday by fighting a gladiatorial duel against a fighter who reveals himself to be part of the Atreides army. Feyd is fighting with a dual advantage: he has not only secretly switched which of his two daggers has a poisoned blade, his opponent has been conditioned to freeze up when a Trigger Phrase is spoken. Feyd drags out the fight to give the crowd a show, and this causes him to underestimate his opponent enough that he almost kills Feyd before Feyd uses his advantages to win.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Champions adventure The Great Super Villain Contest: The Crimson Claw may carry out the "Claw Shows Off" scenario, in which he releases all of the captured superheroes and fights them at the same time in front of the other supervillians to prove to the villains how strong he is. However, he will cheat in any way necessary to ensure his victory, including sabotaging the heroes' gadgets and drugging them.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Wych cults of the Drukhari routinely put on gladiatorial fights against each other or captives from other species in order to use the fear and pain generated by the fighting to sate the psychic hunger of the fighters and the audience. These combats are usually fought in arenas that are loaded with lethal traps, the Wyches are often doped with performance-enhancing drugs, and their non-Drukhari opponents are usually sporting some sort of injury or handicap from their treatment before they're put into the arena. The fights are often drawn out, partially so the Wyches can show off their prowess but mostly to draw every ounce of pain they can from their opponents before finally finishing them.

  • Hamlet: When Claudius needs to get rid of Hamlet, he convinces Laertes to duel with him and poisons Laertes's blade so that any wound will (eventually) kill Hamlet. Although Laertes himself wasn't aware of it, he was fighting on Claudius's behalf.

    Video Games 
  • Ryse: Son of Rome: During his gladiatorial fight with Marius, Commodus uses some very dirty tricks, even resorting to bringing out a group of body doubles and ganging up on his opponent with them.
  • Saints Row IV: The climactic fight takes place within the confines of Zinyak's lair, and he's broadcasting the battle to every corner of his empire so that his subjects can see him kill The Boss, and destroy the last remnants of humanity, as well as any possibility of anyone else wanting to rebel against his rule. During the fight, The Boss is wearing Powered Armor with the capability of emitting the super powers gained in the Simulated Steelport. Zinyak, however, is riding around in a heavily armed and armored mech suit, and has dozens of Zin Empire foot soldiers and Murderbots teleport into the battle to fire at The Boss from every direction.

    Web Comics 
  • Mob Psycho 100: When the (LOL) Cult finds out Mob is immune to their (psychically amplified) peer pressure to laugh, its leader Lord Dimple challenges him in front of the cultists to a series of milk-drinking duels and whoever laughs first loses. Mob's last milk has something mixed in, making him spit it out.

    Western Animation 
  • Justice League: In "War World", Mongul, the tyrannical ruler of the titular planet, uses this to keep his star gladiator Draaga (and later, Superman himself) in line. He has a death ray that could completely devastate a planet, and keeps it pointed at Draaga's homeworld so that even if Draaga managed to rally the crowds against him, Mongul could force him to lose a fight against Mongul himself by threatening to fire it. He later uses this tactic against Superman, forcing the Man of Steel to get beaten up quite badly before Hawkgirl is able to destroy the weapon- and thus, his hold over both Draaga and Superman.
  • The Transformers: In "Heavy Metal War", Megatron cites a Cybertronian law as the basis to challenge Optimus Prime to one-on-one combat, with the loser and his forces abandoning Earth forever. Optimus accepts, but before the fight, Megatron secretly gives himself the abilities of all the other Decepticons, and is thus able to trounce Optimus in front of the other Autobots, with the depowered Decepticons cheering him on. However, his cheating is eventually discovered, and the Autobots turn the tables on the Deceptions and beat them.
  • X-Men: The Animated Series: Mojo's debut sees him teleporting several of the heroes into his own personal dimension, where he traps them in rigged scenarios that they must try to escape, all before a screaming studio audience (in the Mojoverse, everyone is hopelessly addicted to television). Although the tests are specifically designed to defeat them, Jean Grey eventually realizes that she can psychically manipulate the broadcast signals Mojo is using and turns the tables on him.