12 Of The Pettiest Acts Of Retribution In Sports

Over 600 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 12 Of The Pettiest Acts Of Retribution In Sports
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Vote up the pettiest moments of revenge in professional sports

Few things stir the passion quite like the biggest occasions in sports. Those grand venues full of cheering fans can lead to moments of inspiration and a lifetime of acclaim, but equally, a misguided action in the heat of the moment all but guarantees a lifetime of infamy and regret. Some actions are silly moments of pettiness, while others are far more serious, but in almost every instance featured here, the athletes and officials would regret their actions.

From the sour grapes of an Italian soccer club owner to a French runner’s disdain for mascots, this collection looks at moments of petty retribution across sporting history.

  • A Kenyan Distance Runner Punched A Rival At The Finish Line
    Video: YouTube
    349 VOTES

    A Kenyan Distance Runner Punched A Rival At The Finish Line

    At the 1992 world junior championships, Kenyan athlete Josephat Machuka was in pole position at the home stretch of the 10,000-meter final after leading for the entire race. Unfortunately for him, arch-rival and all-time distance running great Haile Gebrselassie was hot on his heels. 

    As Gebrselassie passed Machuka right at the finish line, a frustrated Machuka punched his rival on the back of his head as the Ethiopian breezed past him. That moment of petulance cost Machuka even the consolation of a silver medal, as he was disqualified. 

    Long after the incident, Machuka looked back on the moment of his career he is best remembered for, and while explaining his actions were more from youthful frustration than genuine malice, he expressed remorse for his conduct:

    I do regret my actions. I should have handled the situation better. I wish I had the knowledge I have now. I was still young.

    He went on to have a moderately successful career, but was completely overshadowed by the man he punched at the finish line in 1992. The two lined up against one another in the 1996 Olympics, and Gebrselassie stormed to gold with an Olympic record, while Machuka finished well behind - in 5th place.

    349 votes
  • A Referee Booked Paul Gascoigne After Failing To See The Funny Side Of A Joke
    Video: YouTube

    English football (soccer) legend Paul Gascoigne is a larger-than-life character known for his antics on and off the field. In a 1995 match for the Scottish club Glasgow Rangers, the referee dropped his cards behind the goals. Gazza picked up the cards and ran to the referee to return them, and for a joke he showed referee Dougie Smith the yellow card. The only person in the entire stadium not amused by it was, of course, Smith. 

    The referee fumbled with his pockets - forgetting Gazza had just given him the yellow card - and eventually booked the Rangers No. 8 for his impudence. Even opposition players protested at Smith’s complete lack of a sense of humor. Rangers won the match 7-0 and Gascoigne was named player of the year at the end of the 1995-96 season.

    381 votes
  • James Butler Jr. Sucker Punched An Opponent After The Bell
    Video: YouTube

    James Butler Jr. had a brief and controversial boxing career in the middleweight division. After an early career loss to Richard Grant, he wracked up 16 straight victories to earn a title shot against International Boxing Federation Champion Sven Ottke. The undefeated German defeated Butler in a unanimous decision in September 2001. 

    Two months later, Butler lost another bout to Richard Grant by decision. After barely landing a blow in the fight, Butler removed his gloves, and rather than congratulate his opponent, nailed Grant with a sucker punch. Grant suffered a dislocated jaw and 26 stitches, and Butler was jailed for four months at Rikers Island.

    Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the “Harlem Hammer’s” story. After three years out of the ring, Butler attempted to revive his career in 2004. He wound up staying with Sam Kellerman, brother of the sports analyst Max Kellerman, and repaid Sam’s kindness by slaying him with a hammer and torching his home. He was sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison and charged with nearly $40,000 in damages after pleading guilty to arson and voluntary manslaughter.

    320 votes
  • A South Korean Player's Contract Was Terminated After He Scored Against Italy
    Photo: FIFA / YouTube
    323 VOTES

    A South Korean Player's Contract Was Terminated After He Scored Against Italy

    South Korea was the co-host of the 2002 World Cup and made an astonishing run to the semi-finals, besting European soccer giants Italy and Spain before a narrow loss to Germany. South Korea was a heavy underdog in the knockout stage match against Italy, but triumphed after an extra-time winner. Striker Ahn Jung-hwan became a national hero when he scored the win of an extremely bad-tempered match rife with allegations of match-fixing.

    Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno was accused of heavily favoring the hosts and made some highly dubious calls. The Italians named a row of toilets after him, but the pettiest ire of all was saved for Korea’s match-winner.

    Ahn's contract at Italian club Perugia was canceled by owner Luciano Gaucci, who claimed Ahn only really tried for the Korean national team:

    That gentleman will never set foot in Perugia again. He was a phenomenon only when he played against Italy… I am a nationalist and I regard such behaviour not only as an affront to Italian pride but also an offence to a country which two years ago opened its doors to him. I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football.

    When Gaucci reversed his decision and tried to sign Ahn on a long-term deal, the Korean star was unsurprisingly not willing to re-join Perugia. After a protracted transfer saga, he moved to Japan. Italy went on to win the next World Cup.

    323 votes
  • The 2019 East Asian Youth Games Were Cancelled Over A Name Change
    Photo: Taichung photo / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    193 VOTES

    The 2019 East Asian Youth Games Were Cancelled Over A Name Change

    The Taiwanese city of Taichung was the designated host of the inaugural East Asian Games set to take place in 2019. The city spent more than $22 million preparing for the event, which was supposed to have participants from eight East Asian nations. Unfortunately, a diplomatic spat between China and Taiwan erupted over the proposal to change the name Taiwan traditionally competed under, Chinese Taipei, to Taiwan at the Tokyo Olympics.

    The diplomatic status of Taiwan is, to put it mildly, a sore point with Beijing. Most of the world's nations don't officially recognize Taiwan because of pressure from China. Even the possibility of Taiwan competing as… well… Taiwan at the Olympics was unacceptable. As punishment for the slight, the Chinese pressed the other members of the East Asian Olympic Committee to revoke Taichung’s right to host the event. Only Japan abstained.

    193 votes
  • Roy Keane Injured An Opponent In Retaliation For An Incident That Happened Four Years Prior
    Video: YouTube

    Manchester United legend Roy Keane was a fierce competitor in his playing days and captained the club during its most successful years. In a match against Leeds United in 1997, Keane suffered a serious injury in the opposition penalty box. A Leeds defender, Alfie Haaland, accused Keane of faking an injury to win a penalty. Keane never forgot the insult.

    Haaland later signed for United's arch-rivals Manchester City, and in a 2001 match, Keane sensed an opportunity. With just a few minutes to go in the game, he lunged at Haaland's knee. Keane was immediately sent off and banned for three matches for the incident, but much worse was to come. 

    If there was any doubt about Keane's motives, his controversial biography made the premeditated nature of the attack clear:

    I'd waited long enough. I f*cking hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c*nt. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.

    As a result, he was suspended for five additional games and fined an additional £150,000. In an interview shortly after the book's release, Keane made it clear he had no remorse for the incident. Haaland had to retire due to injury, although it was his other knee that caused his premature retirement.  

    Interestingly, the saga isn't quite over. Haaland's son Erling was a transfer target for Manchester United, but rejected the club's overtures to sign for Manchester City. 

    160 votes