Rumblr: The Real Value of a Fake App

Brad Pitt is photographed boxing with Scott Welch during the filming of the Guy Ritchie film "Snatch." Daniel Smith/Getty Images

It sounded just crazy enough to be true. One of the hottest trending topics on Twitter this week was an app called Rumblr, an unholy mashup of Tinder and Fight Club that allows perfect strangers to hook up for some casual face-punching. Simply swipe through profile pics of local thugs and click “pass” or “fight” to launch a chat session — “Bro, your face is p***ing me off. Wanna throw down?” — and it's on.

As social media buzzed with a fertile mix of handwringing and giddy anticipation, the creators of Rumblr told the New York Daily News that the app was “100% serious.” But when users were finally able to log in, they were chatted up by a robo-fighter before getting the bad news: Rumblr was a publicity stunt. Almost makes you want to punch somebody.

Reached by email, the Rumblr creators told HowStuffWorks that the original idea was just to see what “Tinder for people who want to fight” would look and feel like. “As the satirical app got more and more press, we realized that we had the opportunity to work on the entire marketing side of it as well.”

Rumblr's press release admitting the hoax went on to say, "If you still are truly wishing to release some built-up angst, consider fighting more pressing issues such as gang violence, domestic abuse, and at-risk youth culture."

But not everyone saw this possible app as having only negative appeal. Eugene Robinson, a journalist/pugilist and author of Fight: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ass-Kicking but Were Afraid You'd Get Your Ass Kicked for Asking was actually excited about Rumblr.

“I, for one, think that people should be allowed to beat up people who are willing to be beaten up by people they meet on the Internet,” Robinson says.

Somebody sent me a text. Then I had to show up to a pay phone. Then they shot me up to an apartment, where you drop down to a basement fight ring,
Eugene Robinson, Deputy Editor, OZY

Robinson is no stranger to punching strangers. A lifelong martial artist, he was swept up in the mania that followed the 1999 release of “Fight Club,” in which bored office-dwellers discover their inner warriors in underground bare-knuckles brawls. Robinson remembers the subversive thrill of his first real fight-club experience in San Francisco. 

“Somebody sent me a text. Then I had to show up to a pay phone. Then they shot me up to an apartment, where you drop down to a basement fight ring,”says Robinson, lead singer of the band Oxbow and deputy editor at OZY.  A lot of unschooled fighters came to the SF Fight Club ready to answer the central question of the movie: How much can you really know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?

And what do most amateur fighters learn from squaring off shirtless? They learn what it feels like to get their butts whooped, for starters. But Robinson believes a consensual beatdown can be one of the best ways to get hooked on the true beauty of brawling. And that's why he wanted Rumblr to be real.

“I'm hoping it's a gateway drug for people to become more serious about training,” says Robinson. “My hope is that people see fighting for what it is, a beautiful, artful and physically sensible way to know how to defend yourself.”

Robinson admits that most amateur fights you see online at sites like Worldstar Fights or Felony Fights have no redeeming social value and only encourage people to make terrible choices.

“Some things are not worth fighting over. If somebody cuts in front of you in line, let it go. Get your burger 30 seconds later,” says Robinson. “But to me, there are some worth fighting over, like if you meet another consenting adult who wants to fight with you. That's a prime situation when you say, ‘All right, good, let's fight!'”