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Presidential Knife Fight


Which U.S. president wins in a knife fight? The rules:

To begin, here were the original conditions of the hypothetical, as suggested by the redditor Xineph:

Every president is in the best physical and mental condition they were ever in throughout the course of their presidency. Fatal maladies have been cured, but any lifelong conditions or chronic illnesses (e.g. FDR’s polio) remain.
The presidents are fighting in an ovular arena 287 feet long and 180 feet wide (the dimensions of the [1] Roman Colosseum). The floor is concrete. Assume that weather is not a factor.
Each president has been given one standard-issue [2] Gerber LHR Combat Knife , the knife [3] presented to each graduate of the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course. Assume the presidents have no training outside any combat experiences they may have had in their own lives.
There is no penalty for avoiding combat for an extended period of time. Hiding and/or playing dead could be valid strategies, but there can be only one winner. The melee will go on as long as it needs to.
FDR has been outfitted with a [4] Bound Plus H-Frame Power Wheelchair, and can travel at a maximum speed of around 11.5 MPH. The wheelchair has been customized so that he is holding his knife with his dominant hand. This is to compensate for his almost certain and immediate defeat in the face of an overwhelming disadvantage.
Each president will be deposited in the arena regardless of their own will to fight, however, personal ethics, leadership ability, tactical expertise etc., should all be taken into account. Alliances are allowed.

I expect everyone to have obvious answers here. But is the result so obvious as to feature TR, Jackson, and Washington? I don’t know that things would go this way. Personally, I might put some money down on Lyndon Johnson. And Zachary Taylor was a tough, tough man.

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  • bobbyp

    What is this? Survivor or Gilligan’s Island? Ginger is the winner, hands down.

  • Americanadian

    I like Washington and Lincoln, just because of their huge size and (anecdotal) freakish strength. They could endure quite a bit of blood loss, compared to everyone else. Carter’s modern military training would make him a bit of a dark horse. But as clichéd as it sounds by now, Andrew Jackson was unkillable in life and would triumph through sheer cussedness.

  • firefall

    Nixon would surely be the most dangerous – for sheer treachery if nothing else.

    • We have a winner!

    • Murray Jay

      I have to go with Nixon as well. The only other President to rival him on sheer ruthlessness was Jackson, and I think he’d make himself less of a target. More Michael Corelone than Sonny (Jackson). That and even if he got hit, he’d play dead, he’d probably take the knives off of dead bodies and use them as throwing instruments. Nixon has a very strong claim as a darkhorse.

    • Randy

      Nixon would waste too much time going after JFK, but I wouldn’t rule him out completely.

  • Wrye

    If Jefferson Davis is on the field, then I expect David Rice Atchison to be there too, and I suspect Nixon is behind it with some sort of rules chicanery.

    • Greg

      If we’re going that route, Dick Cheney would be in for a few hours under the 25th Amendment.

  • heckblazer

    In addition to the obvious war-time generals who became presidents of Jackson, Eisenhower, Washington, and Grant you also have Pierce, Garfield, Taylor, Hayes, and both Harrisons. Throw in guys who saw combat at lower levels like Monroe, JFK, Teddy R., Truman, Ford and Bush Sr. and have war veterans making up a third of the presidents, albeit of varying degrees of physical prowess. I’d probably favor the lower grade officers, since a knife fight strikes me as something where you want the skills of a hard-ass sergeant over those of a high-ranking general.

    I’m curious what rules enforcement procedures there are. That’s because I can see the possibility of Washington taking command, saying screw you to the rules and working to get everyone out of the arena alive.

    The lack of terrain and such is too bad, I rather like the idea of Garfield, Jefferson Hoover and Carter teaming up to deploy improvised weapons a la Kirk vs. the Gorn.

    Oh, and the whole setup reminds me of “The Great Outdoor Fight” storyline from the online comic Achewood. Which is worth reading on its own merits.

    • allium

      “Hoover, you fool! We don’t have time to build a dam out of Taft!”

      “But we can use him to channel our opponents into the kill zone and…hkkkkkkk….” (thump)

      “Blast, Madison got him.”

      “Jemmy could be very sneaky when he wanted to. That’s why I made him Secretary of State. Now grab his knife and give it to Garfield! If he can write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other at the same time, he can bloody well shank with the both of ’em!”

  • ajay

    I’m sure the more erudite Brits often engage in speculation about knife fights between their various sovereign kings and queens. Ethelred the Unready always dies in the early rounds. William the Bastard does quite well.

    “Pitt the Elder!”
    “Lord Palmerston!”
    “Pitt the Elder!”
    “Lord Palmerston!”
    (fight breaks out)

    I suspect Aethelred Unrede would do quite well, being a healthy Anglo Saxon type.

  • Manju

    George W. Bush wins. He goes awol during the battle. Then, all the remaining Presidents kill each other. At that very moment, W moseys back onto the battlefield to collect the trophy.

    • Dana

      Dressed in a flight suit, no doubt.

    • Bill Murray

      I think somewhere in there his dad’s friends buy him a knife, which he sells for millions, then he has the knife stadium declared his, under eminent domain, then has any remaining contestants removed for the win

  • Bexley

    I suspect Aethelred Unrede would do quite well, being a healthy Anglo Saxon type.

    Maybe, but a bad coaching team would count against him.

  • Michael

    Abraham Lincoln


    1) Reach. He was the tallest President, and IIRC an armspan greater than his height.

    2) Legendary athleticism. People forget about this, but Lincoln was famously robust. There are Paul-Bunyan-level stories about his strength and power.

    3) Force of will. I don’t ascribe to the Green Lantern Theory of Political Science, but the Green Lantern Theory of Mortal Kombat has a little more merit.

    • None of that will stop that little bastard Madison from running between his legs and hamstringing him.

      • JMU Grad

        Lit – tle Jemmy
        clap clap clapclapclap

    • Halloween Jack

      There’s also the likelihood that Lincoln may have actually been in a knife fight or two, having spent his childhood and young adulthood on the American frontier (or the just-barely-minted state of Illinois, which was still pretty rough-and-tumble at that point). IIRC, he was good at wrestling, and since grappling isn’t specifically disallowed by the rules, it’s allowed. TR studied judo, but judo has rules, and he might have tossed Lincoln once only to find a knife in his ribs directly afterward.

  • Roger McCarthy

    The key is not physique but motivation – the willingness to maim and kill without a moment’s hesitation.

    So has to be Jackson who actually did kill multiple people in duels and would not have flinched for a second.

    And Lincoln may have had the reach and the strength but was so legendarily clumsy that academic papers have been written on his condition – and while a big clumsy man can kill you with a club a knife is a very different proposition.

    TR’s physical prowess was also largely his own propaganda – he was actually at his most lethal shooting large inoffensive herbivores from a safe distance.

    However put all the presidents in an Oz-style prison yard and the crazy rat-fink bastard you’d really need to worry about would be Nixon….

  • Roger McCarthy

    Hadn’t really thought through the implications of all the presidents fighting it out in a last man standing melee though.

    Here tactics, agility and stamina would probably trump brute strength and viciousness (even the stone killer Jackson only ever slaughtered his enemies one at a time and was too old by the time of his presidency to keep it up for long – ditto for Taylor who while indeed a mean mofo was 65 at his inauguration and actually killed in office by an attack of bilious diarrhea – which hardly points to an iron constitution).

    And on cool tactical thinking, agility and stamina wouldn’t Obama be the man? (Kennedy’s relative youth counts for nothing given his busted back) – assuming of course that he survived the berserk united onslaught of all the slaveholder presidents at the beginning.

    Come to think of it you could easily design a Skyrim or Fallout mod to simulate this Battle Royale.

    • If Taylor could aim his diarrhea, it changes the whole dynamic of the fight.

      • Bill Murray

        He’s not The Spleen

    • ThatPirateGuy

      Another point for obama he is left handed. While there have been freakishly many lefty presidents they have an advantage vs righties.

    • ajay

      tactics, agility and stamina would probably trump brute strength and viciousness

      It’s got elements of the truel. Even if we agree that, say, Lincoln is the best knife fighter by far, he might not win, because by the time he comes up against (say) Grant he’s already bleeding heavily from wounds sustained in his hard-fought victories over Washington, Taylor and Carter. Grant, meanwhile, has picked his fights carefully, and is almost unscathed after his rapid victories over Madison and Buchanan.

      • ajay

        As I see someone pointed out in the initial post, you might even get a situation where Nixon pretends to ally with, say, Truman and Eisenhower in order to use them as cannon fodder against Grant or Lincoln; an unharmed Nixon could take a wounded Lincoln, I reckon. (Though not a wounded Grant. That’d just make him mad. Like Mongo.)

      • TheStone

        Are you saying that Grant was given to bloodless victories? There are some men here from the Army of the Potomac who beg to differ, sir.

        • ajay

          Good point, well made. Grant would just pick the strongest looking opponent and go full-bore after him.

          • Pseudonym

            Grant’s willing to sacrifice blood when he has reserves to spare. Don’t mistake that for strategic incompetence.

      • Barry Freed

        Not to mention that Honest Abe, despite his superior reach, didn’t fare too well in his last hand-to-hand encounter against Genghis Khan, Colonel Phillip Green, and Kahless.

        • Kordo

          Original Star Trek reference! Barry Freed rawks!

          Kahless is probably a bad comparison, though; the the back-up heart & multiple physical redundancies give him a lot of Edge. As for Genghis Khan, not sure how tough he’d be without 100,000 trained killers behind him.

          • Heron

            Or just on foot. Mongols were a terrible danger horsed, but they were so bow-legged that they’d be at a disadvantage against a life-time walker.

  • Hurling Dervish

    A proven general, such as Grant or Eisenhower, would commandeer the respect of a few others, so that he could rally them into formation, Gladiator-style. “Phalanx, right!Truman to the center!”

    First to spill blood on the ground: Taft, Adams and JFK (back problems).

    • Alex

      I think Taft cuts FDR before he goes down.

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  • Aaron

    I think we’re all forgetting Obama’s status as Al Qaeda sleeper agent/Manchurian candidate. All that would have to happen is for one of his handlers to shout the secret code word and he’d go all Jason Bourne on everyone.

    Also, my money is on Aaron Burr sitting in the stands, picking them off one by one with a pistol.

  • Bert Chadick

    Knife fight? Obama would be the fastest and could have the best moves, but could he close the deal?

  • Quercus

    Well, I do have to point out that as far as documented hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity goes, and ability to react, Obama has far more than any other President.

    (Not really a fair comparison, since there’s a lot more documentation of him than of Millard Filmore, but worth mentioning.)

  • Kordo

    1st guess: Nixon. Seems like a guy who’d enjoy a bit of knife-work. But, he’d be too busy chasing Kennedy and someone would get him first.

    2nd guess: LBJ. Never underestimate the ferocity of a pissed-off redneck. Bit past his prime by the time he got the job, though, so not a lock bet.

    3rd guess: Obama. Intelligence, speed, & tends to really focus on the job at hand. Grew up as a Black man in America, the equivalent of Advanced Combat Training in most armies. He went toe-to-toe with Hillary, and lived to tell about it; after that, a Colosseum full of Spetznaz troopers would prolly seem like a light workout at the White House gym.

    Can we include future presidents?

    Hillary would carve the lot of them up like Halloween pumpkins. I can’t think of anyone who deserves the chance to chop out a few White Male Republicans than her…

    • AuRevoirGopher

      Obama would be the first to go. He’d try to get them all together, saying, “We are all Americans, we are all Presidents, and the dignity of our office requires . . .”
      Andy Jackson: “DIE YOU MOHAMMEDAN DEVIL! DIE!” (Stab)

      • Kordo

        Yeah, good point; Obama can fight like a demon once his blood is up, but he takes a bit too long to get to that point for a fight like this…

  • If we can include near-misses, let me point out that Aaron Burr had no problem with killing, and rose through the ranks in the Revolution on skill.

  • Tracy

    I think Ford is being vastly underrated here. All-American football player as a lineman and Navy veteran, so he’s got training, strength and coordination going for him.

    Problem is, he’d likely pardon Nixon, who’d promptly shiv him when he turns his back.

  • Mayur

    I go with obvious choice here. Either TR or Jackson, both of whom would actually KNOW how to fight with a knife and both of whom survived getting shot. (Hell, anyone who could deliver the second half hour of his speech with a bullet in his chest seems kinda unstoppable.)

    This: “Death had to take him sleeping, for if [Theodore] Roosevelt had been awake there would have been a fight.”

    • Cody

      That’s a hilarious quote.

  • One thing to consider: historically early presidents might have a serious advantage over later presidents, just because of their ignorance of American history after their deaths.

    I can imagine almost any of these guys (maybe not Carter) being ruthless enough to kill another man in an all-or-nothing, kill-or-be-killed fight. But which of the twentieth-century presidents has the stones to say, “I am the man who will now kill Abraham Lincoln“?

    Nixon, maybe.

    And could even Lincoln stab The Father of his Country?

    • John R.

      On the other hand, the later presidents would know more about the earlier ones than vice-versa, giving them valuable tactical data.

      Given how much American English has changed over time, later presidents would also have an easier time understanding and making themselves understood by the other participants, since they’d already be somewhat familiar with 18th and 19th Century English.The ability to communicate effectively with allies across cultural barriers has been known to influence the outcome of a knife fight.

    • ajay

      But which of the twentieth-century presidents has the stones to say, “I am the man who will now kill Abraham Lincoln“?

      Wilson? Anyone else with Southern sympathies?

  • Cody

    Just have to tell Clinton the winner gets 63 virgins…

    • Kordo

      …and he’d turn into a killing machine! I did not consider that angle…

  • Number Three

    Gerry Ford is, as others have said, a good pick, as he demonstrated real physical courage in WWII and was a great athlete . . . but probably not skilled with a knife.
    This is difficult to model b/c of the uncertainty of the early “rounds” . . . like the fight at the cornucopia, someone might badly miscalculate . . . and then there are the alliances.
    I’m still taking Ford, Jackson, and Obama, with GW as a fourth-round pick if available.

  • Barry Freed

    Thinking on this some more I believe that FDR would win handily, he’s already half-Dalek (look closely, that’s no cigarette holder, it’s a Dalek beam gunstick).

  • Patrick

    Protracted knife fights are exactly the sort of situation where the competitors with superior capabilities may end up losing by sheer dumb luck. Much more so than something like a sport tournament. If you take a survivable cut and go on to defeat the dude who cut you early on, it may still weaken you enough to take you out later. Plus of course temporary alliances can allow the most dangerous opponents to get teamed up on.

    So I would place a small wager on “the field” if betting was horse racing style, or Milard Filmore and Polk if it just be individual. With no sentimental and few “logical” bets being placed on them they should have long odds indeed with bookmakers. I still probably lose, but I presume they are undervalued and so if I do win, I win well indeed.

  • Andreas Baumann

    Why, Nixon. After all, he is our gargantuan cyborg overlord.

  • Andreas Baumann

    Link for some reason went missing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s46jNfA9iMw

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  • TB12

    Jackson, Tyler, Taylor and Wilson would all die of heart attacks when they saw future president Obama.

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