What comes to mind when you think of an MMA fighter? If the answer is Conor McGregor, then you’re not to blame. Although he was never cast in a movie, he has undeniably become the face of mixed martial arts and the sport of kickboxing, especially for the UFC. Most of the martial arts actors who dominate the Hollywood action movie genre today have little to no long-term experience inside a fighting ring. Sure, they may have committed to learning various styles of martial arts training, but very few actually made a living beating up stupid people and then moving into acting, like Mike Tyson. But it’s not about boxers. Let’s take a look at 10 MMA fighters who made the jump to acting.
ten Randy Couture
Before his successful acting career, Randy Couture discovered a passion for wrestling while in high school in Washington and was so skilled that he won a state championship in his senior year. He also served in the US Army for a time, where he wrestled for the US Army Freestyle Wrestling Team until his discharge in 1988. With Army discipline and a natural skill in wrestling and in boxing, he made his professional mixed career. Martial arts debut in 1997. During his UFC fighting sports career, he fought and defeated tough opponents such as Vitor Belfort, Maurice Smith and Chuck Liddell. Upon his retirement from the UFC, he co-starred with actors such as Steven Segal, Tim Allen, Alice Braga, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Some of his biggest roles were alongside Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li in The Expendables and installation with 50 Cent and Bruce Willis.
9 Gina Carano
Who doesn’t admire a woman who can defend herself in any situation? Born in Texas in 1982, Gina Carano showed athleticism from an early age playing basketball, volleyball and netball in high school. She was first introduced to Muay Thai through professional fighter, Kevin Ross, and won her first fight in the first round by knockout. Out of a total of eight fights throughout her professional MMA career, she suffered only one loss. After being pulled from a fight in 2011, she revealed on the Arsenio Hall Show that she was scheduled to fight Ronda Rousey in 2014, but it never materialized. Seemingly flawless in feature films despite her fighting career, she turned to acting and has since appeared in several movies and TV shows, such as Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018) alongside Jean Claude Van Damme, Mike Tyson and Alain Moussi; Fast and Furious 6 (2013), almost human with Karl Urban and Michael Ealy, and In the Blood (2016) with Danny Trejo and Cam Gigandet.
8 Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is another highly competitive, successful, and often controversial fighter. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Rampage didn’t have the best childhood and started fighting and dealing drugs at an early age. However, it would all work out for his good after he was introduced to the combat sport of wrestling at age 17. After learning mixed martial arts, he quickly made a name for himself with 10 wins and only one loss. To date, he has a record of 52 fights, 38 wins and 14 losses. He fought for the UFC and Bellator promotions and faced fighters such as Chuck Liddell, Rashad Evans and Jon Jones. After his career as a professional fighter, he followed a busy film career, starring in films such as Never Back Down: No Giving Up (2016), starring Michael Jai White, and Fire by fire (2011) with Bruce Willis.
7 Ronda Rousey
Here’s another pretty face you don’t want to let go of! Born in 1987, Ronda Rousey began training judo with her mother at the age of 12 and won gold and bronze medals at the judo championships. Realizing that she would rather have a fighting career than a mundane job, she began to pursue her MMA career. Rousey fought professionally from 2010 to 2016 and after her first loss to Holly Holm, revealing she had suicidal thoughts following her loss. She has also appeared on WWE Wrestling as well as a number of films including The Expendables 3 (2014), Furious 7 (2015), and charlie’s angels (2019).
6 Chuck Liddell
If you follow the MMA community, especially the UFC, for a long time Chuck Liddell’s name would have been mentioned quite a bit. Before the younger generation of Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz took over the face of the UFC, Liddell and Tito Ortiz were the posters. He wasted no time getting into the UFC and fighting, beating heavyweights like Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz and Wanderlei Silva. He would then retire in 2010, only to return in 2014 for a rematch with Ortiz, who won by knockout. Lidell then announced his permanent retirement in 2020. Throughout his MMA career, he has also made appearances in films such as How high (2001) with Redman and Method Man, Cradle 2 the grave (2003) with DMX and Jet Li, and War Pigs (2015) among many others.
5 Tito Ortiz
Tito Ortiz is one of the most dynamic UFC fighters in all of UFC sport. Considered by some to be the next Vin Diesel, Ortiz found his way into the UFC wrestling in college. While still in college he made his debut in 1997 and after losing a few matches he defeated big name fighters like Ken Shamrock, Elvis Sinosic and Evan Tanner. Outside of the octagon he continued acting and starred in films such as Valley of Crows: Iraq (2006) opposite Billy Zane and Gary Busey; Cradle 2 The Grave (2003) alongside DMX, Jet Li and Gabrielle Union, and trauma center (2019) with Bruce Willis, Steve Guttenberg and Lala Kent.
4 Bob Sapp
Bob Sapp’s size is enough to intimidate any opponent. Before entering the ring, he took his massive height for the contact sport of football, where he received a scholarship to the University of Washington. He was also drafted to the Chicago Bears in 1997, then to the Minnesota Vikings. His time in the NFL was cut short, however, as he was suspected of using steroids. This would mark the start of his wrestling career with World Champion Wrestling (WCW), which was purchased by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). He then moved on to kickboxing and MMA, fighting for K1 Promotions, Cage Rage and Strike Force. His acting titles consist of Electra (2005) with Jennifer Garner; blood and bone (2009) with Michael Jai White; Conan the Barbarian (2011) with Jason Momoa, and The longest yard (2005) with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and rapper Nelly.
3 Anderson Silva
2 Cung Le
Born in South Vietnam in 1972, Cung Le’s success story is one of struggle, pain and triumph. He left with his mother a few days before the Fall of Saigonalso known as Liberation of Saigon, in 1975. A few months later, he would move to San Jose, California, where bullying and discrimination prompted him to learn martial arts, starting with Tae Kown Do, and then competitive wrestling. His kickboxing record is flawless, with 17 wins and no losses. After retiring from MMA in 2015, he moved into acting and starred in the 2009 martial arts film, tekken, alongside Luke Goss and Kelly Overton. His other films include Wild dog (2017) with Scott Adkins; Fight (2009) alongside Channing Tatum and Terrence Howard; true leader (2010); The man with the iron fists (2012) with Russel Crowe, Lucy Liu and RZA; and many other successful attempts as well as TV show appearances.
1 Slice of Kimbo
In memory of the late and great MMA fighter and actor, Kimbo Ferguson, better known as Kimbo Slice. Born in Nassau, Bahamas in 1974, he moved to Florida as a child and later attended the University of Miami, where he studied criminal justice on an athletic scholarship. He would then work as a bouncer, limo driver and bodyguard for Reality Kings (RK Media), a Miami-based adult film production/promotion company before training in mixed martial arts. During his legendary fighting career, he fought for the UFC, Elite XC and Bellator MMA in addition to a successful boxing and wrestling career. Highlights of his acting career include blood and bone with Michael Jai White and The Scorpion King 3: Battle for redemption (2012) alongside Temuera Morrison, Dave Bautista and Ron Perlman. Sadly, Kimbo Slice’s untimely death came in 2016 with heart failure as the cause of death. His legacy as a fighter and actor continues to be remembered by the MMA community.
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Sources: espn.com, worldfilmgeek.com, filmjabber.com, themoviedb.org, rogerebert.com
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