Prior to his appearance on season six, Ian McShane incited the wrath of the web by claiming that Game of Thrones had little more going for it than “t*ts and dragons.” With all due respect to Hot Rod’s dad, I think it’s safe to say that the globally-celebrated world created by George R.R. Martin and HBO is much more than that. It’s t*ts and dragons and fighting.
Truly, there’s nary an episode of The Throne Zone that goes by without at least one character being beaten down, bludgeoned, choked, stomped, shellacked, cold-cocked, hammer-fisted, or physically assaulted in one way or another. The more you think about it, the more the battle for the Iron Throne really resembles a high stakes version of an old school UFC tournament (or better yet, a Mortal Kombat tournament), wherein fighters from entirely different cultures with entirely different skill sets are pitted against one another in a winner-take-all battle for supremacy. But if the swords and dragons and black magic demon babies were set aside in favor of some good ol’ fashioned fisticuffs, just who do you think would kick the most Westerosi ass of them all?
It’s a question that has been asked literally TENS of times in the past, and one that we finally plan to answer following last night’s seventh season premiere. Over the next 10 weeks, we’ll be rolling out a March Madness-style tournament consisting of four divisions — The Winterfell Division, The King’s Landing Division, The Narrow Sea Division, and The Wild Card Division — in which 32 of the greatest/most beloved fighters in the Game of Thrones universe have been placed and randomly paired (even our favorite dead ones, because TO HELL with canon).
We shall kick things off with The Winterfell Division. Scroll down, pick your winners, and then spend the next 70ish days arguing about it until the whole thing is no fun for anyone. Got it? Good!
Matchup 1: The Night King vs. Ned Stark
Eddard “Ned” Stark is about as meat and potatoes a fighter as you can get in the Game of Thrones universe — the kind of guy who Mike Goldberg would describe as a “grinder” or “blue collar worker” or some other cliche that basically means “white guy.” Though Stark’s heart led him to many a victory while fighting in Robert Baratheon’s rebellion, it was his stubborn commitment to ideals like “honor” and “dignity” (neither of which have any place in MMA or Game of Thrones) which saw him suffer key losses to Jamie Lannister (leg injury) and Joffrey Baratheon (beheading) in his last outings. Clearly, this is not a man who will heed the advice of his cornermen while down a couple rounds, and don’t even get me started on his ABSOLUTELY ABYSMAL head movement when fighting in the pocket.
Bob and weave, Ned! Bob and weave!
The Night King, on the other hand, is the ultimate embodiment of evil: a once great man made a monster who brings the snow with him wherever he goes. In other words, he’s the Jon Jones of Game of Thrones. Though he should give up a significant size and reach advantage to Stark, one simply cannot look past the Night King’s undefeated record when weighing the options here … even if he had to do little more than raise a finger to earn it.
Benjen Stark aka Coldhands vs. Mance Rayder
A first ranger of the Night’s Watch, Benjen Stark‘s skills as a fighter were pretty bankable even before he was transformed into the half-man, half-wight hybrid known in some circles as Coldhands. He should be a dark horse favorite to win this entire tournament IMO, even if he has split a pair of contests to the White Walkers and the armies of the undead, respectively.
A former ranger of the Night’s Watch himself, Mance Rayder has seen countless battles with the Night’s Watch and various Wildling tribes alike in his years as King Beyond the Wall. But as anyone who witnessed the final fights of guys like Antonio Nogueira and Matt Hughes will tell you, there’s a tipping point between experience and resilience that Rayder has long since passed. The man has repeatedly shown an inability to do so much as bend at the knee when asked to, and brother, that kind of inflexibility usually leads to you getting subbed 10 times out of 10. But who knows, maybe a one-on-one fight with a loyal Crow will light a fire beneath Rayder that he’s long overdue for.
Jon Snow vs. Ramsey Bolton
Like many a Stark man, Jon Snow‘s biggest detriment as a fighter is his lack of anything even resembling fight IQ. He knows less about game planning for an opponent than he does about kissing girls, and to top it off, he’s willing to let said opponents get far too close to him before springing into action. After starting off his career with a pair of strong victories over Qhorin Halfhand and Karl Tanner, Snow was nearly forced into an early retirement in 2015 after suffering seven straight defeats at the hands of the Night’s Watch, including a particularly brutal loss to an unheralded newcomer named Olly.
That said, Snow showed some real promise in his TKO victory over Ramsey Bolton last year. Just look at this picture perfect ground n’ pound, folks.
He may have shown a near non-existent ground game in their previous encounter, but the word around town is that Ramsey Bolton has been training his ass off for this hotly-anticipated rematch. Fighting out of the prestigious Kennel Klub MMA gym, Bolton established himself as a master of the mind game with his one-sided victory over Theon Greyjoy via Keith Hackney-esque penile annihilation. Problem is, Bolton has always shown a lack of urgency when it comes to finishing his opponents off (see the Greyjoy fight), which is playing with fire against a KO artist like Snow.
Tormund Giantsbane vs. Robb Stark
An obvious pick to win this bracket, Tormund Giantsbane has already enjoyed a series of hard fought victories over Smalljon Umber (KO), the King of Bones (KO), and a bear (Submission). He’ll enjoy a massive size advantage over pretty much any man he faces in the Winterfell Division, and it’s worth repeating once humped a bear into submission in an unsanctioned fight. In MMA, that actually counts as a victory over Roy Nelson.
A highly-regarded fighter in his own right, Robb Stark will be competing for the first time since his abysmal performance at the Red Wedding in 2013, wherein he and everyone he loved was soundly defeated by an undersized, withered old man with no known fighting skills named Walder Frey. To say that this will be an uphill battle for “The Young Wolf” is an understatement, to say the least.