A meltdown, in its informal sense, is an outburst of severe emotional distress. It can come in many forms, such as uncontrollable violence, showers of profanity or bucket-loads of tears. And while meltdowns are frowned upon by the sporting world, it’s not all that surprising when we see them in athletic competitions. After all, engaging in sport can be a very emotional undertaking, even for the most casual of athletes. As a result, some of the most unbelievable documented meltdowns have been those of sportsmen and women.
In compiling this list of the ten most outrageous meltdowns in sports history, we’ve chosen to include only those that occurred while athletes or members of the sporting staff were actually involved in a match; meltdowns during interviews and practices have been excluded. Also, the meltdowns are arranged according to the amount of money lost in each case, with each amount adjusted for inflation.
10. Ángel Matos / Taekwondo / Cost of Meltdown: $0
The cost of this meltdown is listed as $0, but it’s only because the organizers of taekwondo events don’t usually offer prize money nor mete out fines for transgressions. However, the penalty for the incredible meltdown of Cuba’s Ángel Matos during the 2008 Summer Olympics was certainly costly: he and his coach were ejected from the event by the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and banned from WTF-sanctioned events for the rest of their lives — grave consequences for the 2000 Olympic gold medalist and his coach.
Matos’s meltdown took place in his bronze medal match in the men’s 80+ kg class. Ángel was leading 3-2, but suffered from a foot injury and was unable to return in time. As a result, the referee disqualified him, and his Kazakh opponent was declared the winner. After briefly arguing his case, Matos kicked the referee in the face, pushed another judge, and spat on the floor of the arena before being escorted out by security.
Angel and his coach were quite unapologetic for the incident and even accused the Kazakhstan team of offering bribes to officials.
9. Mikhail Youzhny / Tennis / Cost of Meltdown: 80¢
When an athlete undergoes a meltdown and ends up hurting someone, serious penalties are likely to follow. That happened to Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny during the Miami Masters in 2008, but he wasn’t penalized, not even warned. That was because the person he hurt was himself. Out of frustration for playing a crucial point poorly, Youzhny drew his own blood after whacking himself in the head with his racket three times. Fortunately, the wound didn’t require stitches (hence the 80¢ cost, for a bandaid). The most surprising part of this story is that the outburst seemed to help Mikhail win the match despite being down 4-5 in the final set when the shocking incident occurred.
Youzhny seems to have tried to use his anger to motivate himself again during the 2013 French Open:
It didn’t work that time as he lost in straight sets.
8. Zinedine Zidane / Cost of Meltdown: $10,000
Trash talking, although a frowned-upon practice, is actually pretty common in the sporting world, including football. Thus, it was quite a shocker when French football superstar Zinedine Zidane responded so violently to something that Italy’s Marco Materazzi said during the final of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
It had already been announced in advance that the encounter would be the last of Zidane’s career. And what a way to go out it was: at the World Cup final. Being such an important game, Materazzi pulled out all the stops, occasionally tugging on Zidane’s jersey. That caused Zizou to offer his shirt to Marco, to which Materazzi replied, in a non-complimentary manner, that he would prefer Zidane’s sister instead. That did it.
The three-time FIFA World Player of the Year head-butted Materazzi in the chest, causing him (like Marco) to be banned and fined. Without their star player, France lost the final in a penalty shootout, 3-5.
7. Phillip Wellman / Baseball / Cost of Meltdown: $40,000
This one seems like it began as a legitimate meltdown for Mississippi Braves manager Phillip Wellman, and then it appears he ended up enjoying himself so much that he turned the situation into a full-blown comedy.
The incident took place as Wellman’s minor league team was facing the Chattanooga Lookouts in June of 2007. Because Phillip disagreed with his pitcher being ejected for using a foreign substance on the ball, he started forcefully arguing his case with an umpire. Later, he proceeded to his spectacular act, part of it featuring him crawling across the infield like a soldier, then pretending to bite and hurl the rosin bag at an umpire as if it were a hand grenade.
Needless to say, Phillip was fined and suspended for his antics.
6. Oliver McCall / Boxing / Cost of Meltdown: $364,000
No one is really sure what happened to Oliver McCall during his February 7, 1997 heavyweight championship bout against Lennox Lewis. A minute before the fight, he appeared to be determined when he said, “I want my title. I’m fighting for my life.” But for some reason, during the fight itself, beginning the middle of the fourth round, he suddenly stopped fighting and instead wandered around the ring, generally ignoring Lewis, who was punching him in the face. In fact, when the bell rang to signal the end of the round, Oliver started to sob and took a long time before going to his corner. Then in the fifth round, when McCall still refused to throw punches, the referee decided that he had seen enough and promptly ended the fight.
After the encounter, McCall explained, “My strategy was — and I know it sounds kind of absurd — was kind of rope-a-dope” referring to how Muhammad Ali successfully allowed George Foreman to punch himself out in 1974. Well, if that’s what Oliver was really trying to do, it didn’t work. What his strange behavior did instead was cost him a fight and $250,000 of his fight purse.
5. Serena Williams / Tennis / Cost of Meltdown: $593,000
During her semifinal against Kim Clijsters at the 2009 US Open, Serena Williams was trailing 4-6, 5-6 (15-30) when her second serve was called a foot fault, thus giving Clijsters two match points. Serena went ballistic as she gestured with her racquet and threatened the lineswoman, “I’m going to take this ball and shove it up your f***ing a**!” That unsportsmanlike behavior resulted in a point penalty for Williams and a trip to the final for Kim, who eventually won the championship.
Having already lost a huge amount of money from losing the semifinal, Williams was later fined a total of $185,000.
4. John Bourke / Australian Football / Cost of Meltdown: $1.2 Million
Australian football is an interesting mix of football, rugby, and cricket. But if someone unfamiliar with it were to use 1985 Collingwood-Sydney reserves game to understand the sport, he might conclude that Australian football is some type of martial art.
Collingwood standout reserve John Bourke was frustrated by a Sydney player’s dirty tactics and decided to get revenge by tripping him, drawing a penalty from the field umpire. A deranged Bourke then threw the umpire to the ground and afterwards pushed a few more umpires. In fact, he also punched a teammate and knocked out a fan, too, resulting in a ten-year ban from the sport and a loss of an estimated one million dollars in income.
3. Dennis Rodman / Basketball / Cost of Meltdown: $1.46 Million
On January 15, 1997, known troublemaker Dennis Rodman was going for a rebound when he stumbled onto the sidelines and tripped on a cameraman’s foot. Inexplicably angered, Rodman proceeded to kick the cameraman in the groin.
Not only did “The Worm” have to pay the cameraman $200,000 as a settlement, but he was also suspended eleven games without pay.
2. Mike Tyson / Boxing / Cost of Meltdown: $4.37 Million
The second encounter between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield on June 28, 1997 was billed “The Sound and the Fury”. Little did boxing fans know that the fight would result in Holyfield’s ability to hear sound being threatened by Tyson’s fury.
It all happened in the third round when after the two boxers clinched, Tyson bit Holyfield’s right ear and spit the piece of flesh he had in his mouth onto the ring floor. That resulted in Iron Mike being given a two-point deduction. However, Tyson was unfazed as upon the fight’s resumption, he proceeded to bite Holyfield’s left ear, forcing the referee to end the fight and causing Mike to throw a tantrum.
Tyson was penalized with a permanent suspension from boxing, the cancellation of his fighting license, hours of community service and a $3 million fine. Later, however, he was allowed to fight again.
1. Ron Artest and 8 Other NBA Players / Cost of Meltdown: $13.8 Million
When a basketball game is given a boxing match-type billing like “Malice at the Palace”, it’s certain that something very terrible took place. Actually, tensions were already high when the Pacers visited The Palace on November 19, 2004 since the encounter was a rematch of the previous season’s Eastern Conference Finals, which the Pistons had won in six games.
With 45.9 seconds left in the game, Indiana was cruising to victory as it led 97-82, but Pacers forward Ron Artest still proceeded to give Ben Wallace a hard foul from behind while Wallace was attempting a lay-up. Ben then responded by shoving Artest with both hands, which led to a fight between several players from both teams. However, that altercation turned out to be a mere introduction to what happened next.
Artest strangely lay down on the scorer’s table while putting on a headset to pretend to speak with a radio broadcaster even though the microphone wasn’t live. That angered Wallace, who threw an armband at Ron. A spectator then got in on the action by throwing a cup of soda at Artest, who responded by running into the stands and grabbing the wrong spectator, but in the process, trampling a broadcaster who was seriously hurt. Artest’s movement into the stands also started a massive fight between players and fans that the associated press would dub “the most infamous brawl in NBA history”.
The very next day, nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games — 137 for Pacers players and 9 for Pistons players. That represented $11 million in lost salary, Artest’s being the worst at close to $5 million due to an 86-game suspension.
One would think that the stiff penalty would teach Artest, now Metta World Peace, a hard lesson, but this still happened in 2012:
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