Notice in this profile, the Tiger is not significantly bigger than a lion despite having possibly several hundred pounds more weight.. This is important because it indicates the strength of the Tiger is much greater due to higher muscle density. Denser muscle is also stronger muscle. Also notice the width of the legs on the tiger and his lower center of gravity. This makes it easier for the Tiger to remain low and avoid attack.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.Similarly, a chimpanzee is roughly the size of a man, but a full grown chimp is three to five times as strong as a human because his muscles are denser and stronger, and the ligaments are engaged to get better leverage. Chimps, though not any bigger than a human, are much more deadly due to their increased strength and leverage.
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.
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.
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.