This week’s question in Insider’s look back at the absolute best-of-the-best in National Lacrosse League history, the NLL celebrating their 25th birthday this winter, again gave us a select few contenders and a battle for the top spot that was even closer than Dallas Eliuk and Bob Watson’s war for all-time best goalie honours.
We asked our esteemed panel of past and current players, coaches and media, “Who is the best fighter in National Lacrosse League history?” Only four names of the close to 50 votes cast this week were sent back to us. Who are the four greatest enforcers in NLL history? Find out after the jump and let us know who you think deserves the top spot in our weekly fan poll at the bottom of the page.
38% of votes
Rochester Knighthawks (2000), New York Saints (02-03), Albany Attack (2003), Toronto Rock (05-07), Orlando Titans (2010), Toronto Rock (2011)
Considered the Bob Probert (RIP) of pro lacrosse, Tim O’Brien has taken on all comers during his NLL (and MSL) career, rarely turning down a chance to dance, many feeling his NLL fight record over the better part of the last decade to be squeaky clean. Nicknamed “The Surgeon” for his ability to carve up his opponents’ face with his sharp, abnormally peaking knuckles, O’Brien has left many mopping up tears, blood, egos and other miscellaneous discharge in the sin bin. Just like Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley did for the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and others during the Edmonton Oilers’ hay day, O’Brien did the same with the Toronto Rock, an intimidating presence that protected his teammates no matter the situation, winning a Champion’s Cup in Toronto during the 2005 season. O’Brien studied hockey fight tapes & highlights, was as strong as anyone that has played the sport, never tossed a cheap shot in his life, and was the guy everyone knew they had to beat if they were going to be considered the best fighter in the game. After a short-lived NLL retirement, O’Brien came back to the league last year with the Orlando Titans, picked up by the Rock during the off-season and likely an ideal body to fit into teams’ two new gameday roster spots. The former champ is back and playing for a coaching staff that has used his expertise en route to Cup wins before. He probably wants his belt back too.
“There are very few things more difficult for a competitive athlete to admit then when someone is tougher then you. In my many years playing lacrosse, there is only one name which doesn’t inspire resent or jealousy within me on the topic, and that ‘s Timmy O’Brien. He was the first ever to bring a Royce Gracie like arsenal of jersey gripping techniques to the turf ring. Timmy will tie you up in a bow with no apparent panic to deliver punches until you’re immobilized. Unlike most NLL scrappers, he’s fully aware that nobody’s keeping a point count like in boxing. His chin roll and patented “duck-a-roo” make you feel like you’re in the fight but it’s almost impossible to connect on a clean shot when he baits you with them. Timmy doesn’t waste any movements for appearance, when he’s not punching you it’s because he’s setting you up for a knock out bomb! He’s never raised his arms in victory after a punch up, he merely runs to the box and prepares for the next opponent crazy enough to mess with one of his teammates. I had the honour of going toe-to-toe with “The Surgeon” and I have to admit I was outclassed and felt outnumbered when his final combo landed square on my noodle. I like the way young Rory Smith has come onto the scene, but in order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best and Timmy O is without question the best NLL fighter of our time.” – Pat Campbell
Note: O’Brien and Campbell fought in a bout many feel was one of the greatest dustups in box lacrosse history. Campbell, a full-time goalie, dressed as a runner specifically with the intent to fight O’Brien during a game between Timmy’s Brampton Excelsiors and Paddy’s Six Nations Chiefs. It was a marathon back-and-forth war that O’Brien edged out at the end, both players going for broke and absolutely exhausted when it was finally done. Classic fight by two class acts that could actually end up as teammates with the Rock this winter.
“Tim O’Brien, no question! Hands down, gloves off, Timmy always did it the right way, did it for his team and teammates, to give each of them more room on the floor. Maybe helped them play bigger, which isn’t a bad thing. Timmy never seemed for his own personal glory. I was never a teammate of Tim’s but every player that ever played with him should and would say, ‘Thanks Timmy, you made a lot nights a lot easier just with your presence.’ ” – Neil Doddridge
“While many have tried challenging someone like Geoff Snider in recent seasons, very, very rarely did a player ask to fight Tim O’Brien. He was truly feared, which in a sport as tough and hard nosed as lacrosse isn’t necessarily easy to pull off. He may search for some uninterested or unwilling soul on the floor, but it’s never for personal reasons with Timmy, it’s almost always to undo a wrong he saw against one of his own.” – Paul Tutka
35% of votes
Philadelphia Wings (07-10), Calgary Roughnecks (2011)
Known equally as much for his sublime face-offs skills and two-way play, Geoff Snider has been considered by many to be the best fighter in the sport since taking down the previously undefeated Chris Kinnear in the WLA (twice in one summer), transferring that title to the NLL with high profile wins against the likes of Troy Bonterre, Drew Candy, Rory Smith and Paul Dawson over his four-year pro career. Not your typical heavyweight, Snider only standing at 5′11″, but the current Fight Club king can give and take a punch better than almost anyone in the sport’s history, known for edging out TKO wins at the tail end of cardio killer scraps. Snider and O’Brien have danced only once, far from a classic, but with both playing for Canadian based NLL rosters now, 2011 may finally see them throwdown like we’ve all been waiting for. Separated by only a few votes in today’s poll, a decisive win during the upcoming NLL season might finally crown the true champ past just speculation.
“Geoff Snider, but Rory Smith has the ability to be the best for sure with a title shot coming.” – Steve Toll
“Tough one. Geoff Snider’s near the top just because he’s so fresh in everyone’s memories. Tim O’Brien got it done in a beautiful way, Dan Ladouceur has to count because of sheer size, Rory Smith is crafty, and guys like Andy Ogilvie were just straight-up power strength. I can’t use the criteria of ‘who would I not want to face’ because I don’t wanna face any of them! There are a bunch of great fighters, so I suppose the question to ask here is, which fighter is the most fun to watch? For that, I gotta go with Snider. He’s balls to the wall when he’s not fighting, will drop his mitts to spark a fire for the team, then celebrate a victory with fans on his way to the box. Snider’s my choice as best fighter.” – Bob Chavez
“Hard to argue with Geoff Snider. He is smaller than most fighters but no question the best I have seen on a consistent basis. I remember hearing about his fight with Daryl Welsh and figured Welsh would have won with his size advantage and boxing background, but when I saw the video, it was no contest. Geoff crushed him. Tim O’Brien and Rory Smith rank right up there and if Rory and Geoff ever drop the mitts with each other again, we may have a new champ, but until that happens Snider wears the belt.” – Jeff Dowling
“I’ve got to go with Geoff Snider. I don’t remember seeing another NLL fighter with average size who has been able to regularly demolish guys twice his size.” – Brian Shanahan
Geoff Snider vs. Paul Dawson during the Wings/Blazers brawl in 2010
24% of votes
Buffalo Bandits (99-03), Vancouver Ravens (2004), Bandits (2004), Calgary Roughnecks (05-07)
A beast of a man that appeared to take pleasure in the opposition’s pain, Andy Ogilvie was a warrior in every sense of the word. He was as strong as an ox and would at times literally cripple whoever he was matched up against, once cracking the skull of then New York Saints rookie Matt McFarland when the two went buckets in ‘03. McFarland’s head injury was so bad he was not permitted by doctors to board the team’s upcoming flight. When Ogilvie danced, onlookers could hear him grunting in the stands with every blow, typically tuning up some unfortunate soul’s face, ready to take on the whole bench if need be. A bone crushing checker who has since spent time coaching in the WLA, the lax Gods don’t make ‘em like Andy Ogilvie anymore. (Insider)
“Next to Andy Ogilvie everyone else were pretenders. And with that said, Andy was a better player than a fighter. Scary!” – Bob Hamley
“How do you base this? That’s a tough question. Based on record and stats alone you’d have to say that “The Surgeon” Tim O’Brien would be the hands down best-of-the-best. But in my opinion, reputation supersedes all that. Guys like Jamie Hackel, Geoff Snider, and my favorite, Andy Ogilvie, had players shaking in their sneakers even before the game started. Like Ogie Ogilthorpe in Slap Shot, Andy Ogilvie had a reputation as the meanest, toughest and most aggressive player in the game – from hearing him grunt all over the floor to actually cracking a dude’s skull in a fight and giving the throat slash to Dan Ladouceur in the penalty box, you always knew not to mess with Oggie.” – Ted Jenner
“Although there are a few legit tough guys that are still playing like Snides, ‘The Surgeon’, and Rory, I’d have to say Ogi Ogi Torp. Stupid strong and was a man playing amongst boys. The man grunted when he hit you and had hands like bear claws. When he got mad and the vein on his forehead protruded you knew someone was gonna get hurt!” – Tracey Keluksy
3% of votes
New York Titans (2009), Orlando Titans (2010), Minnesota Swarm (2011)
If this poll were to be taken ten years from now, there’s a good chance Rory Smith could be garnering the most votes, the two-year vet exploding onto the pro scene with the Titans, already owning a classic spill with Snider during his rookie season and some legendary scraps with Paul Dawson over the past year. A solid defensive defenseman, Smith is strong, mean, and always out for blood, the definition of a pain in your ass defender that has pushed past the thug tag most try and label him with. Smith has been seething for a chance to fight with Snider again, a re-match even the most politically correct fan would give up their first born to see, his effort and arguable draw against Geoff likely the reason some on our panel already see him as the best all-time.
“An amazing fighter with fists of steel and a dome that would rank uber high on the Mohs scale…” (Insider)
Rory Smith vs. Geoff Snider in the epic first encounter between the two
Of our voted on Top/Only 4, who is the greatest fighter in NLL history?
- Geoff Snider (45%, 1,152 Votes)
- Rory Smith (41%, 1,046 Votes)
- Tim O'Brien (9%, 226 Votes)
- Andy Ogilvie (5%, 146 Votes)
Total Voters: 2,570
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