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When a fight lasts a long time, often a very long time, things can get a bit...different. Elaborate sword duels can turn into bar brawls. A gunfight becomes a fistfight. Improvised Weapons start appearing. Things get brutal, or just plain silly, or just plain wrong.

A common comedy variation is for a brawl between two grown men to devolve into a childish slap fight. When played for drama, use of this trope can evoke feelings of desperation and/or savagery as arsenals get depleted, weapons broken, and yet the combatants only tear into each other even harder with their bare hands.

Kind of the opposite of the videogame trope of starting off with a weak weapon and picking up more and more dangerous ones as you progress.

Destructo-Nookie is one possible outcome. Contrast Interesting Situation Duel - a fight that is as complicated as Combat Breakdown is simple.

Examples of Combat Breakdown include:


Anime and Manga

  • Hayao Miyazaki's Porco Rosso, several times during the same fight, no less. The dogfight starts out with machineguns, then devolves into using handguns, then throwing various tools, debries, and pieces of garbage at each other, and finally degenerates completely into a fist fight on the ground with both just brutally gut punching each other in succession with neither of them making an effort to block. To say it looked silly would be an understatement.
  • Likewise for Blue Submarine No. 6: Mayumi and Hayami having just killed Zorndijk, and the Blue Fleet having already destroyed his entire empire, his son Verg goes out in murderous rage against Hayami and they both end up in a very brutal fight.
    • Not really a fight per se. Hiyami is just letting Verg beat the crap out of him because Zorndyke said that humanity needed to learn to talk out its problems. It was more like a voluntary No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, with Hiyami as the beaten and Verg as the beater.
  • In the Desert Punk anime, the titular hero and his rival, both Gadgeteer Geniuses have a duel that lasts an entire day- but it results in truly Epic Fail as they abandon their usual tactics and have a Blast Out with shotguns, the handguns, followed by running out of ammo and throwing rocks at each other. Eventually, they run out of loose rocks, and flip rubber bands at each other. The watching townspeople get bored and go home, and eventually they punch each other out.
  • The Final Battle between Suzaku and Kallen in Code Geass starts with both of their Knightmare Frames flying with energy wings and armed with powerful beam weapons. In the process of the fight, they lose the wings, wear each other's weapons down one by one, and eventually end up slugging it out with punches and kicks in a sequence that many fans declared the best fight of the entire series (and certainly the best one since the Lensman Arms Race took effect early in the second season, leading to battles decided by technological prowess rather than strategy).
  • The Final Battle of S-Cry-ed starts out as a fight between alter-powers and then gradually breaks down to a simple slug fest.
    • And a special kind of brutal one at that.
  • The Simon vs Lordgenome battle in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. By the end, both the Gurren and Lazengann have been trashed, and the fight continues with Simon's Lagann and Lordgenome's bare fists. When Lordgenome actually wins that one, he pulls Simon out of the cockpit to gloat -- and Simon stabs him with his car keys, with explosive results.
    • In the last episode Gurren-Lagann ejects layer-by-layer from the titular mecha, starting from Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann, to Super Galaxy Gurren-Lagann, to Arc Gurren-Lagann, slowly but surely closing in on the Anti-Spiral homeworld, a component of their own super-mecha, Grand Zamboa, upon which their central hive-mind stands, and culminating in Viral manually ejecting Lagann from Gurren and throwing Lagann at the Anti-Spiral, which drills a massive hole in him. Woah...
      • And then in The Movie, it's taken yet another step further by having Lagann literally throw Simon at the Anti-Spiral. Epic fistfight ensues, where simon reuses sort of the same method like he defeated lord genonme, except that the core drill turns into a miniature giga drill.
  • Chars Counterattack has Amuro and Char whittle each others' Mobile Suits down bit by bit, turning from an epic duel into a bare-knuckle slugfest that is fondly remembered by fans decades later; many of the attacks from the latter part of the fight are considered iconic enough to be used in games such as Super Robot Wars.
    • Before that, in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro and Char destroy each other's mobile suits, and continue their duel with guns, and then swords.
  • In a most memorable scene from Gundam Seed, Athrun and Kira duke it out in a free for all death match that made them both forget that their Gundams had any kind of specialty in mind and just go at it against each other. Involved lost limbs, broken cockpits and bashed heads. Eventually would have ended in Athrun's victory had he not ran out of power to fire the Scylla cannon after grabbing Kira. Of course this also results in him winning anyway since he self destructs the Gundam to attempt to kill Kira.
  • At the end of the second season of Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Setsuna gets his Gundam, the 00 Raiser, pretty much destroyed by Ribbons Almarck. Ribbons's Gundam, however, is also heavily damaged, so he takes the GN Drive he stole from the 00 Raiser and installs it on his old Mobile Suit, the 0 Gundam, that was drifting nearby. But then he gets attacked by Setsuna, who has installed the other GN Drive from the 00 on his old Gundam, the Exia. And they proceed to fight with their outdated Gundams. Gotta be the only mecha series when the hero got a Last Episode Downgrade.
    • It also happens in the first season's finale. Setsuna and Lasse start off piloting the GN-Armour Type-E against Alejandro's Alvatore, then the main bodies of those two are destroyed, leaving Setsuna's Gundam Exia that was inside the GN-Armour against the Alvalon that was inside the Alvatore, which Setsuna defeats by throwing six of swords at it. Then Graham Aker comes in a custom "GN-Flag", and they fight with Exia's one last weapon - his GN Sword/Rifle - against Graham's beam saber. By the end of the fight, neither machine is destroyed, but both of them are essentially floating wrecks with Exia's cockpit simply torn open.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team had this towards the end, with a battle between Shiro and an enemy devolving to the point where he ends up beating the enemy with the severed arm of his own mobile suit.
  • Revy and Roberta's first duel in Black Lagoon begins with a car chase across the city, then becomes a deadly game of hide-and-go-seek at the docks, then finally ends up as a no holds barred fist fight that lasts all night. Roberta wins, just.
  • The absurdly epic battle between Negi and Rakan in Mahou Sensei Negima eventually ends with just the two of them slugging it out... for fun.
  • In Yu Yu Hakusho Yusuke's battle with Chu ends with a stand-up slugging match with each of them having a knife at their heel to keep them from moving away.
  • Terry's rematch with Krauser in the second Fatal Fury OAV ends this way after the two of them have exhausted each other with their ultimate attacks.
  • Most fights in Blade of the Immortal are bloody, messy and... rather clumsy looking affairs. Clean Cuts are few and far between.
  • One of the most brutal fights of Pokémon had Ash's Bulbasaur and an opposing trainer's Meganium start off the fight with Razor Leafs, Body Slams, and Vine Whips that also included a lot of moving. As the fight dragged on, it eventually got to the point where neither one of the combatants was even trying to dodge attacks, causing them to just be in a Vine Whip slug-fest that ended with a cross-counter that knocked both to the ground. The fight didn't end there, however, but stopped almost immediately after with a double Solar Beam.
    • The clones vs. originals in Pokémon the First Movie. It's especially notable with the two Pikachu, as the clone starts crying while it keeps slapping Ash's Pikachu, who is just standing there sadly.
  • The most recent chapter of "Fairy Tail" has this happen. Erza and her Edoras counterpart destroy the floating island they were fighting on, each other's weapons, EACH OTHER'S CLOTHES, and use up all their magic in the process so their battle eventually breaks down to a fist fight, and finally leaves them both too exhausted to move. Earthland Erza still technically wins due to convincing Edoras Erza that stealing magic at the cost of lives is wrong.
  • Goku in Dragon Ball before becoming a Super Saiyan tended to end up his fights in such a way, particullary against King Piccolo, Piccolo and Vegeta: In the first one, Goku ended up crippled, and the fight ended when he propelled himself against Piccolo, bursting clean through his torso and killing him. Against Piccolo, Goku ended up with a hole the size of a fist in his shoulder, and won by dropping from the sky against Piccolo and knocking him out of the ring (they were still on a tournament fight). The fight against Vegeta, it started quite even and Goku quickly gained the upper hand... Then Vegeta turned into a giant ape. Goku ended the fight lying in the ground with all his bones broken, while Vegeta lost because a giant 5-year old wereape fell on him.
  • The final battle in GaoGaiGar, against the Zonuda Robot ends up being a particularly memorable example of this. GaoGaiGar's Stock Footage attacks, the Broken Phantom, Goldion Hammer, and Hell and Heaven, all prove to be ineffectual against this enemy, and his Phantom Rings and Space Boosters are quickly destroyed. So then it gets into a brutal slugfest with the enemy robot, smashing in its head with its bare hands and legs and tearing off limbs before ripping its hands through it to pull out the core.


Comics

  • The end of Infinite Crisis. After flying through a red sun and a field of Kryptonite, the series ends with Superman and Earth-2 Superman whaling on Superboy-Prime on a planet.


Film

  • The fight between the bandit and the husband in the fourth story in Rashomon goes from a swordfight to a literal knock-down-drag-out where one of them ends up just throwing dirt in the other's face.
  • The famous fight scene from They Live is all breakdown. They fight like they're stone drunk, and it gets worse from there. And it works.
    • Recreated largely shot for shot in the South Park episode "Cripple Fight".
  • Subverted in Kill Bill Volume 2. The Bride is about to hit Pai Mei with a rock, and he will have none of that.
    • But played straight later on, when the battle between Elle and The Bride starts out broken down, including wrestling, brawling, wall-bashing, and improvised weapon use. There's a spot that looks like there'll be a swordfight...but then Beatrix just plucks Elle's eye out.
  • Played for Laughs in Robin Hood: Men in Tights with Robin and Little John's fight over the creek. It starts off as a staff fight, and eventually it becomes a strange version of Bloody Knuckles/Quarters.
    • Possibly the purest example here; the weapons were actually breaking down.
  • A variation in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Jen Yu fights Yu Shu Lien with the Green Destiny sword, with Shu Lien using a wide variety of different weapons against her as the sword whittles down everything she tries.
  • James Bond vs. Janus in Goldeneye.
  • The big fight scene in The Matrix Reloaded starts as a weapon brawl, and eventually traverses car chase into a fist v. sword fight on the back of a speeding semi, and ends with a game of chicken...
    • Burly Brawl for that matter starts out as a typical one-against-many fight scene and gradually turns into a Looney Tunes short on crack.
  • In the final battle of Serenity, Mal and the Operative start by fighting with pistols, but rapidly lose their respective firearms, resorting to melee combat with sword and screwdriver, before finally resorting to a blunt bare-handed fistfight.
  • The Roman Polanski film version of Macbeth has the final fight between Macbeth and Macduff turn into a protracted anything-goes match including punches, kicks, and Macduff swinging at Macbeth with a piece of firewood when he's been disarmed.
  • The fight between Mr. and Mrs. Smith starts with guns, then progresses to everything in the entire house being used as a weapon, from the dishes to the couch. And ends in Destructo-Nookie.
  • The final shown battle in Kingdom of Heaven has the Saracens breaching Jerusalem's walls. The battle goes from a stereotypical fight to what seems like the two sides pushing back and forth.
  • The ending duel in House of Flying Daggers has the two male leads fighting one another with their swords. Eventually the fight devolves from them fighting skillfully to them just slashing each other.
  • The final duel in Robot Jox begins with two giant mecha fighting each other until both mechs are utterly destroyed, at which point the "jox" jump out and start swinging broken parts at each other.
  • The third Sword Fight in The Duellists goes on for so long the duellists are gasping for breath, propping themselves up on their swords, and occasionally mustering the strength to make wild roundhouse swings at each other. The duel is ended by their seconds when they discard their swords and just start having at each other.
  • Oldboy. Hallway. Hammer. Very tiring.
  • Several times in We Were Soldiers, but particularly one engagement between the North Vietnamese forces and the Lost Platoon. At one point, an American soldier can be seen bludgeoning a Vietnamese troop to death with his helmet.
  • Towards the end of the climactic battle in Saving Private Ryan, both sides are reduced to using sidearms, tossing helmets, and bludgeoning each other with rifle butts.


Live Action TV

  • Several of the Terminator duels in The Sarah Connor Chronicles start out with both combatants shooting at each other. Considering that doesn't work too often against Terminators, the battles rapidly devolve into environmentally-destructive fisticuffs.
  • The Monkees episode "Fairy Tale" climaxed with a battle between Peter Tork and Knight Harold. They fought with swords and somehow lost them, they continued fighting with daggers, and then Harold said, "You know, I'm really a non-violent sort." Peter replied, "That's very refreshing," and they put away their daggers and arm-wrestled.
  • The final battle between Kamen Rider Kuuga and N-Daguba-Zeba progresses thusly: Kuuga Ultimate Form vs. Daguba, brutally assaulting each other until they shatter each other's Transformation Trinkets and revert to their human forms, still punching each other. However it starts and ends as a fistfight, albeit initially one between two super-powered beings.
  • When Master Ping recounts his epic battle with the greatest Luchadore in history during the second episode of The Middleman, their combat starts with martial arts fisticuffs but eventually branches into Bi Plane dogfights, machine gun duels, and swordplay before his opponent finally dies of a heart attack during a Rock'em Sock'em Robots game.
  • In Firefly Mal starts fighting Atherton Wing in a swordfight. As he's never touched a sword before, this goes poorly. But when things get down to the punching, he has a definite advantage.


Literature

  • In Starfighters of Adumar, Wes Janson participates in a blastsword duel only to turn it into a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown - knowing that he can't beat the other guy in a fair duel, he goads him into making a wild swing, then punches him half to death. The other guy tries to punch back, but he's not trained in Good Old Fisticuffs.
  • In Max Barry's Machine Man, the final fight between Man in the Machine Dr. Charles Neumann and crazed Cyborg Carl sees them deal a *great* deal of damage to each other before Neumann blasts Carl to smithereens with his BFG Arm Cannon.


Video Games

  • In any game emphasising resource management or item hoarding players can be brought down to this if they run out of MP/Items/Ammo or can't afford to use any more, leaving them forced to remove a boss's last HP/enemies with their weakest weapons and abilities.
  • This trope is nearly universal in Tower Defense Games, when experts aren't playing. It is a consequence of the difficultycurve and the fact they are EndlessGames.
  • If you drag a gunfight out for too long in Deus Ex, your foes will run out of ammo and try to stab you.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots, the final battle between Old Snake and Ocelot starts as an over-the-top cutscene brawl before entering into a three-stage fight (each stage reminiscent of the previous three Metal Gear Solid games), and degenerates into two exhausted old men slugging it out with each other.
  • Speaking of Super Robot Wars, one particular level ends with Duel Boss battle between Sanger and Wodan. Both of their machines get severely damaged in the cutscene beforehand, and you have three turns to defeat Wodan before the level ends anyways. To get the Bragging Rights Reward, you will have to throw everything at Wodan, and by fight's end, Sanger's machine will be stripped of pretty much all energy, Spirit, and be on its last legs.
  • Fallout 3 requires that you maintain your weapon and armor conditions so that you can equip and use them effectively. A similar effect can be inflicted on enemies, as shooting their weapon enough time will cause it to have a 0% CND rating, making it unusable to them. Interestingly enough, the weapons can still be used for repair despite the damage.
    • That's a result of condition being more a rating of functionality rather than material cohesion. E.G. If you slice through the hose or puncture the fuel tank of a flamer you could still salvage the trigger mechanism and the nozel to fix one that's been bent in a melee.
  • Battlefield 3 ends after a chase through the New York subway system, followed by a Press X to Not Die sequence that ends with you bashing the Big Bad in the face with a rock.
  • God of War 2 has Kratos inflict this on Perseus, constantly wrecking all his divine gadgets until he is forced to take Kratos seriously.
  • The Dominion Tower's Climber Mode in Runescape can have this effect. Instead of limiting storage access like Endurance Mode, before every fight you get a handicap (Such as lower attack accuracy, no prayers, monsters start out unable to attack, etc). While it starts out rather easy, by the time you get to F15 you'll affected by so many handicaps that you'll constantly be dazed, dropping your weapons, unable to eat, drink or even wear armour while fighting some of the toughest bosses in the game.
  • A Pokémon that runs out of PP for all of its moves will resort to the move Struggle, which does moderate damage and also damages itself.
  • Most fights in Condemned 2 become this due to melee weapons breaking. Which often leads to the player using their fists to fight or running around in hope of grabbing a new weapon.
  • Competing online with other players in Fight Night: Champion for many rounds can result in this, as both players will have reduced stamina by that point. Even more so when there are two players that have been spamming punches and wasting stamina.


Webcomics

  • The Bun-Bun vs. Oasis fight from Sluggy Freelance started out as a pure knife fight, but quickly turned into a chase scene involving grenades, handguns, and eventually Oasis revealing she can start fires with her mind.


Western Animation

  • in the final episode of the Battletech cartoon has Adam Steiner (our protagonist) and Nicolai Malthus going against each other in Fresh BattleMechs in a duel of sorts for the planet Somerset. Nicolai Malthus wins the mech duel, but then loses his own mech to a cliff face after Adam jumps into his cockpit; the ensuing struggle sending the mech out of control. Steiner and Malthus end up duking it out man-to-man on the remains of Malthus's mech.
  • When Dexter and Mandark's dads throw down (ironic considering Mandark's father is a peace loving hippie), it starts out as a flat-out fist fight, then degrades into a wrestling match. Then they start throwing food and stray animals at each other. Then they just jump into their cars and ram each other for the rest of the day. The episode ends with Mandark and Dexter arguing over whose mom is tougher.


Web Original

  • Subverted in Ryan vs. Dorkman 2. Both combatants lose their lightsabers and begin to menace each other with fists... and then think better of it and make a mutual dive for their weapons.


Real Life

  • Occasional Truth in Television. For example:
    • During the battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, Joshua Chamberlain's 20th Maine regiment had to hold a vital hill on the flank of the Union Army. They repelled several enemy attacks, but ran out of bullets. In desperation, Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge, which saved the Union Army and got him the Medal of Honor.
      • Several battles in that war had soldiers throwing rocks at each other.
    • In World War One, soldiers who could expect to wind up doing a lot of trench fighting often had customized melee weapons (mostly knives and clubs) that saw just as much use as their rifles, if not more. The wicked trench spike (think brass knuckles welded to railroad spike) was pretty much invented in this war.
    • During the legendary Battle of Thermoplyae, the Greek soldiers who fought the Persians reportedly kept battling their enemies even after their spears and swords were broken, battering them with their shields, eventually being forced to use their teeth and fingernails as weapons.
      • Deadliest Warrior suggests that a Spartan shield punch, while obviously not a move to be used in heavy combat, was as or more lethal than the spears or swords. That's a lot of weight coming at you.
    • Standard procedure during mass aerial combat. Faced with too many aircraft moving too quickly for a human properly track, combat breaks down rapidly into smaller and smaller fights. The stories of pilots who began the fight as part of a large formation, then looked around at the end and saw a whole bunch of empty sky are numerous, while one of the best ways to score kills is to realize somebody doesn't think you're part of their fight and kill them before they realize you are.
  • Also, Mixed Martial Arts bouts also tend to go this way. The first round can be fast paced and exciting, but after 10 minutes of trying (and mostly succeeding) in beating the crap out of each other, the fighters noticeably slow down in the final round.
  • A verbal example comes from William F Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal's debates during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1968. What began as a debate on the Republican candidates quickly turned into a one-up contest, with both participants trying to make the other one look stupid. By the end of the debates, they were just insulting one another, and it looked like they were going to actually hit each other at some points.
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