In the circuses of Ancient Rome, exotic beasts were commonly pitted against each other. The contest of the lion against the tiger was a classic pairing and the betting usually favored the tiger. At the end of the 19th century, the Gaekwad of Baroda arranged a fight between a lion and tiger before an audience of thousands. The Gaekwad favored the lion, and as a result had to pay 37,000 rupees as the lion was mauled by the tiger.
The Amur or Siberian tiger is the largest subspecies of the Panthera genus, known to weigh up to 800 lbs (360 kg), while large African lions weigh up to 550 lbs (250 kg). Average weight males is 181 kg for African lion, 221.2 kg for Bengal tiger and 230 kg for Siberian tiger.
Despite being lower when going in for a leap attack or rearing up on its hind quarters, it can reach a greater distance and swipe with a bigger, heavier paw before the lion can even reach. On hind legs, the tiger has more leverage than the lion, and in a fight, both will have to rear up to both block and strike. Lions are not as good at rearing up, and rely on the teeth and mouth as a primary weapon, then make attacks of opportunity with the claws. The neck tufts on a lion do protect its neck from most attacks, but the tiger has powerful rear claws it can use to dig into the lion's belly if it can get him on the ground and can easily land potent swipes with the front paws and its three inch long claws. Lions just don't have as much leverage for such a swipe.
The tiger is a solitary hunter while the lion is a social animal, living and hunting in groups called prides. Though lions cooperate in hunting, the pride is very competitive during feeding. Weaker animals are pushed aside or chased off. The competitive nature of this social structure makes the lion more prone to fighting, especially males whose very lives depend (since the male isn't as specialized in hunting on the open plains) on getting a pride of their own. The tiger is very quick so keepers of captive tigers must take care to avoid a sudden attack.
The tiger is more used to fighting one on one than the lion. This could be a huge advantage. Also, the Tiger is a brutal and fast fighter. The Tiger regularly takes on game that is far larger and stronger than the Lion and does such alone. The Lion requires the help of the pride to take out a large animal. When a Tiger fights, he fights to kill, not just to push aside someone and get better food. The tiger does not win by intimidation and social challenge, he goes into a fight all or nothing. The lion, being social, tries to win without having to fight if he can and resorts to intimidation, wrestling, and rolling first. He does not get serious from the beginning.
Accidental fights in captivity
In historical accounts where lions and tigers have fought in captivity, the tiger often came out the victor. The most recent account happened on March 2011, where a tiger at the Ankara Zoo attacked a lion through its enclosure and killed the lion with a single paw swipe. "The tiger severed the lion's jugular vein in a single stroke with its paw, leaving the animal dying in a pool of blood", officials said. In 1857, a tiger at the Bromwich Zoo broke into the cage of a lion and a fearful scene ensued: the lion's mane saved his head and neck from being injured, but the tiger succeeded in ripping up his stomach, and within a few minutes he was dead. At the Coney Island Zoo in 1909, a male tiger killed a male lion.
While we would much prefer that people focus their thoughts on saving these magnificent animals than on who would win if a lion and tiger fight, the power of these two largest cats seems to raise this question in people's minds. While it would depend on the size, age and aggressiveness of the specific animals involved, generally tigers have a significant advantage. On average tigers are larger, but more importantly they are more capable of fighting standing on their hind legs. Some people have argued that the male lion's mane offers some advantage in protecting his neck, but this is disputed. Some reports claim that when lions and tigers were pitted against each other in the Coliseum in ancient Rome, the tigers always won. In recent centuries there are almost no opportunities for tigers and lions to cross paths in the wild because tigers are found in Asia while Lions are found in Africa except for a very small population in one area in Asia.
"The outcome of a given fight completely depends on the individuals: their history, fighting style and physiology," said Craig Saffoe, a biologist and the curator of great cats at the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, D.C.
"But if I had to put my money on it I would give the advantage to the tiger,"
"What I've seen from tigers, they seem to be more aggressive; they go for the throat, go for the kill," Saffoe said. "Whereas the lions are more, 'I will just pound you and play with you.'
The Tiger often wins. The lion does occasionally win these battles, but rarely. It would not be hands down either of them (who could make such a claim?), but all evidence seems to support that the Tiger is the one most likely to win, not the Lion. It makes no difference if this is a captive tiger and lion or wild tigers and lions. When both are captive, they both suffer and benefit from the exact same social pressures. A captive lion might not be able to practice with his brothers, but a captive tiger can't practice hunting and taking down game either. They both have an equal handicap in captivity, and yet the Tiger almost always wins. This would not significantly affect the outcome.
A stronger, faster, fiercer opponent is a stronger, faster, fiercer opponent no matter if they are both in a zoo or both in the wild. Romans would trap and fight wild tigers and lions together and the lion rarely won. Here's some video below to sum up the answer with more than just conjecture ... Just watch both animals and you tell me, who is the more fierce fighter?
Answer by Rory Young, Professional Safari Guide, Ranger, Tracker, and Writer
Asiatic lions (smaller than African lions) and tigers both occur in India. Although their ranges no longer overlap, they did once and therefore this was a very real scenario a long time ago.
I am going to specifically answer this in terms of one male tiger going up against one male lion.
Although female lions hunt as prides, male lions spend most of their lives alone. They are forced out of the pride when they reach around two years.
If they manage to take over a pride of their own they will usually only manage to keep it for a couple of years. During the time they have a pride, they will spend most of their time fighting off potential usurpers.
When they do not have a pride, they frequently fight with other solitary males that they bump into and of course pride males in their attempts to take control of a pride.
So, a male lion spends his life fighting. In fact, they spend so much time fighting and not eating properly and stressed out that they only live to about ten years old while females usually live to about fifteen.
The reason a male lion has a mane is for defense in fighting. They fight like wrestlers, facing off, gripping each other and trying to overpower each other. I have watched them fighting many times and have come across two dead males over the years. Both had been bitten through the spine. From what I have read, this is pretty much the norm.
So, the mane is a pretty effective defense in a cat-fight. To get round it requires some serious dominance in the fight as it means out wrestling the opponent to the point of being able to bite them through the spine. Tigers do not have this defense. They do not have it because they rarely fight.
Tigers are solitary animals, and although heavier than lions, they are shorter than lions at the shoulder. The weight difference is about 15%, which is significant, but not enough I believe to mean an overwhelming advantage for tiger, especially since they have a height disadvantage.
In terms of behavior, male tigers usually solve their disputes via display and intimidation, preferring to avoid each other. One of them will usually roll onto its back and expose its belly in submission. Now in terms of fighting, this lack of experience when going up against a pro IS an overwhelming disadvantage.
This is like putting a heavy inexperienced amateur fighter in ring with a taller, leaner professional with a mean history of fights under his belt.
A no-brainer. A wild lion would win hands down because the wild lion has a lifetime experience of fighting other male lions. Size really isn't everything..
However, a tiger in a zoo will more likely kill a lion because if the tiger doesn't back down, the inexperienced captive-bred lion is quite outclassed. Still, although a lion is more likely to die in a fight, it is also very likely that male tigers would submit if it got serious and the tiger realized it was dealing with a maniac who was willing to die to win...
Lions didn't get the title "King of the Jungle" for nothing.