Josh Swain of Arizona was, of course, joshing. He never really intended to fight anyone who shared his name, but what was he supposed to do? Every time Mr. Swain went to register for a social media account under his name, he was foiled. “It’s always been taken,” Mr. Swain said. What’s even more bizarre: “I have never met a Josh Swain.”
That left Mr. Swain, a 22-year-old civil engineering student at the University of Arizona, with a deep sense of curiosity that naturally turned into a bit of mischief amid a severe case of self-diagnosed “pandemic boredom.” So, last year, he found nine other Josh Swains and invited them to a group chat to settle the matter.
“You’re probably wondering why I’ve gathered you all here today,” he wrote one morning to a group of strangers. “Precisely, 4/24/2021, 12:00 PM, meet at these coordinates” he instructed. “[W]e fight, whoever wins gets to keep the name, everyone else has to change their name, you have a year to prepare, good luck.”
Another Josh Swain replied, “Because we all share the same names….?”
Mr. Swain, the real one, took a screen shot of the message and posted it on Twitter on April 24, 2020 (reluctantly using his full name and the suffix AZ). With it, he wrote, simply, “there can be only one.”
The message was liked and shared more than 85,000 times. Then, something curious happened. The internet loved it. It became a genuine source of humor amid a very grim year of pandemic losses.
Since posting the tweet, Mr. Swain’s friends would occasionally send him messages saying they saw people talking about his challenge as if it were a real upcoming event. And why not? People were getting vaccinated. Pandemic restrictions were lifting. Even harsh winter gave way to a brisk spring.
Someone even set up a website counting down to the fight.
At one point, he decided to turn the attention the event was gaining to good use. He created a fund-raising page titled, “Support Legal Fees to Help Josh Swains Change Their Names*”
The *, he wrote, included a promise that donated money would not go to any Josh Swain, but rather, to the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Foundation, which operates facilities near the designated battle ground in Lincoln, Neb. After one too many questions about what the heck this page was for, he wrote a less funny, more straightforward pitch for donations to the hospital. Money began to pour in.
Mr. Swain was becoming convinced that somebody else named Josh Swain might actually show up. And he didn’t want to be the kind of Josh Swain who invited people to a fight and didn’t show up himself. So, he bought an airplane ticket about a month ago and flew on Friday to Lincoln, Neb. On Saturday, he went to the designated location: Air Park Green Area. He arrived at the park around 11 a.m. to scope out the location. By noon, the others had arrived.
By Mr. Swain’s estimation, about 1,000 people turned out, all prepared for a good-humored romp. About 950 were spectators, and 50 people had the first name Josh. But only one of those Joshes was a Josh Swain — the name doppelgänger whom Mr. Swain had initially set out to meet.
So, on Saturday, there was not one Josh Fight, but two.
The Josh Swain battled The Other Josh Swain in rock, paper, scissors. The Josh Swain wore a gray T-shirt and dark jeans. The Other Josh Swain wore a black jacket with no sleeves and metal studs. It was a one-game, winner-take-all fight. They tied the first round. And the second round. And the third. In the fourth round, The Josh Swain threw a rock, The Other Josh Swain threw scissors. Winner: The Josh Swain!
“Everybody erupted,” The Josh Swain recalled. Graciously, he spared his rival the harshest of all punishments. “As my first decree as the official Josh Swain, I think he shouldn’t have to change his name.”
But The Josh Swain was not prepared for what came next. The other Joshes had their own battle, complete with pool noodles, those long, colorful foam tubes that are nearly impossible to cause injury. The play fighting was intense.
The Josh Swain said he saw people collapsing (humorously) amid the mayhem. Many, he said, were cut down by a 4-year-old named “Little” Josh Vinson Jr., whom The Josh Swain declared the winner of the Josh Fight. Little Josh’s father, Josh Sr. (no, seriously), told The Lincoln Journal Star that his son had suffered a series of seizures when he was around 2, and was treated at the children’s hospital the event was raising money for.
The Josh Swain said on Twitter the story “is making me sob.” By Sunday evening, more than 230 people donated a little more than $11,000 to the foundation. Attendees also brought more than 100 pounds of food, which was donated to the Food Bank of Lincoln, he said.
After all the Joshes had fought, the hundreds of other spectators got in on the action, joyously bashing each other with colorful foam noodles.
Despite the hourslong battle (and bruised egos), Mr. Swain never imagined this would really settle once and for all Josh supremacy. After all, neither his nor Little Josh’s victories were formally recognized by other notable Joshes. Messages sent to publicists for Josh Brolin, the actor who played Thanos, the universe-ending villain in the Marvel movies, and Josh Gad, the actor who starred in the “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway and both “Frozen” and “Frozen II,” were not returned Sunday night.
Still, The Josh Swain said he thinks of his name differently now.
“I’m a Josh,” he used to think to himself. “After this, no no no. I am a Josh. I’m not just Josh. We’re all proud to be this moniker. And proud to represent it. Now it means something.”