Strange Sports Pre-Match Rituals & Superstitions

Lucky Horseshoe and CloverIn the early hours of Sunday morning, Tyson Fury will look to rip the WBC heavyweight championship of the world away from the present holder, Deontay Wilder, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The giant Brit is no stranger to visiting an opposition fighter’s backyard and getting the job done; he famously took four belts from Wladimir Klitschko in a counter-punching masterclass back in 2015.

This is your classic boxer vs puncher bout, with the technical skills of Fury up against the devastating power of Wilder, who has won 39 of his 40 fights by KO or TKO.

Do brains beat brawn? It’s the age-old question in boxing, but Fury has been well backed by the market – he’s in from 13/10 to 11/10, and still going – after Wilder lost his cool in a pre-fight press conference. It was a sign, perhaps, the champion is rather restless ahead of the sternest test of his credentials thus far.

Whether this has influenced punters’ decision making remains unclear, but Fury has admitted that has abstained from sex for more than 12 weeks in preparation for his tear-up with Wilder.

Abstinence from carnal activity was documented in the first Rocky film, with Sly Stallone’s coach Mickey telling him that women ‘weaken the knees’. In Raging Bull, Robert De Niro, as Jake LaMotta, poured ice down his pants to help cool down his natural urges.

There is no medical evidence to suggest that sex before a fight or a match has any detrimental impact upon performance. Dr Ian Shrirer, the former Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine president, said: “The night before has no effect on strength or endurance or any of the physical abilities of the athletes. A lot of people think it has to do with the psychological effects.”

Whether it’s a placebo effect or otherwise, Fury will not be gong weak at the knees on Sunday morning; unless Wilder catches him clean with one of his trademark overhand rights, of course.

So what other bizarre pre-event rituals have athletes revelled in?

Toure Takes a Step Too Far

Football Tunnel

Some rituals are just harmless superstition; others are borderline OCD.

And that’s exactly the case for Kolo Toure, the former Arsenal and Celtic defender who had to be the last player to take to the field in his own sado-masochistic ritual.

It’s fairly harmless, you might think, but when it actually costs you a decisive yellow card you really ought to be rethinking your movements.

In a Champions League clash with Roma, Toure’s defensive partner William Gallas had to take a quick trip to the toilet as the players were returning up the tunnel following half time.

Kolo being Kolo, he had to wait for Gallas to return so that he could come onto the pitch last, but he didn’t have the permission of the referee to do so. When the Frenchman eventually reappeared and Toure jogged onto the pitch after him, he was immediately shown a yellow for being late back onto the field of play.

“I was waiting for William to come out,” he said afterwards. “I’m always the last to come on the pitch. It’s just superstition. I didn’t know the rule, and the good thing is that I have learnt a new rule.”

A Kiss of Luck

On home soil, France were one of the favourites to win World Cup ’98.

They had a supremely talented squad of players, although even that didn’t stop them looking to ritual and superstition for an extra lift.

Quite what the genesis of it was, but defender Laurent Blanc took to kissing the bald head of goalkeeper Fabian Barthez prior to each match.

It must have worked, because Les Bleus won all three of their group games to fly through to the knockout phase.

Then it just started getting weird, with more players and even coaching staff planting a smacker on the shop-stopper’s bonce with each passing game.

Did it work? Well, they blitzed Brazil 3-0 in the final, so there might just have been something to it!

McKenzie Caught on Tape

Duct TapeWith some of the rituals of sports stars, you can almost see the logic to what they’re doing.

But with others, explanation remains elusive.

Take Neil McKenzie, for example. The former South African international was known for his OCD tendencies while playing cricket internationally and for Hampshire, and these behaviours soon became ritualistic in nature.

There was one incident where a teammate hid McKenzie’s bat on the dressing room roof for a laugh, and after eventually tracking it down the South African went out to the middle and made a century.

And so guess what? He would tape his bat to the ceiling before every innings in one of the more curious pre-match rituals.

McKenzie was renowned for his unusual quirks, and he would also insist that all toilet seats were down and that all lights in the changing room were flicked on and off eight times before he went out to bat. Answers on a postcard about those ones….