Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, is when two men or two women enter into an octagon-shaped cage and beat the tar out of each other until someone is declared the winner. Critics of the sport call it bloody and barbaric, while its fans claim to admire the purity of its “two enter, one leaves” approach, while also criticizing the implementation of so-called “safety measures” as being detrimental to the health of its fighters. The addition of padded gloves meant the matches gradually shifted away from grappling and wrestling towards boxing matches on crack, which seriously increased the risk of debilitating brain damage in combatants. That right there is what we like to call “irony.”
Regardless of anyone’s feelings on the sport, there’s no denying the fact that MMA is turning into an excellent breeding ground for future Hollywood stars. Just like how the WWF/WWE gave us action heroes like Dwayne Johnson, John Cena, and Steve Austin, we have no doubt that MMA fighters are going to be the next generation of big-screen tough guys (and girls!).
Here are our picks for the 10 Best MMA Fighters-Turned-Actors
10. Chuck Liddell
Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, along with Randy Couture (more on him later), is one of the original American MMA superstars. With twenty-two wins and only two losses, he’s not one we’d ever want to pick a fight with, unless we were diagnosed with an incurable illness and wanted a creative way to go out on our own terms.
Chuck’s been around the television circuit, appearing on series like Bones and Hawaii Five-0, usually playing himself, a role which he also inhabited in 2013’s wonderful Kick-Ass 2. In addition, Liddell competed in the ninth season of Dancing With The Stars, but didn’t make it far enough to justify the fact that appeared on Dancing With the Stars (But he went further than Randy Couture on season 19, so that’s something).
More recently, Liddell appeared in 2015’s War Pigs opposite action legend Dolph Lundgren and the great Mickey Rourke. It’s low-budget direct-to-video fare, but fairly entertaining, at least for Lundgren’s surprisingly good French accent.
9. Anderson Silva
His personal hero is Spider-Man, so of course Anderson “The Spider” Silva deserves some kind of role in the upcoming Spider-Man reboot. Until then, it’s unfortunately mostly straight-to-DVD fare for the man who is universally accepted as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time.
He had a small role in the DTV schlockfest Hell’s Chain, he also co-starred in several MMA-themed martial arts films like Never Surrender and Tapped Out. More importantly, he was the subject of the 2011 documentary, Like Water, which explored the sport and Silva’s status as one of the best fighters in the world. Coming up, he has a role in the drama Monday Nights at Seven, with Edward James Olmos, which might just turn out to be his big acting break. Time will tell.
8. Bob Sapp
The intimidating figure and weirdly adorable face of Super Heavyweight (350 pounds of muscle and grit!) Bob Sapp make him ripe to play mega tough guys. Bob “The Beast” Sapp had a small role in the Adam Sandler prison comedy remake The Longest Yard, as well as the uncharacteristically watchable Rob Schneider prison comedy Big Stan.
By now, Sapp is pretty much an expert at prison comedy. On to more brutal roles, Sapp stood head and shoulders above his co stars in the little-seen 2011 Conan reboot, in which he played the lieutenant to Stephen Lang’s big bad Khalar Zym, as well as the 2009 Michael Jai White vehicle, Blood and Bone. Also in 2009, Sapp played the reanimated Frankie in Frankenhood.
7. Cung Le
After being falsely accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, Cung Le retired from MMA in 2015, though he has not ruled out a return to his first martial art, Kickboxing. Regardless, we’re happy to follow his burgeoning career as an actor. He appeared as Marshall Law in the big screen adaptation of Tekken, the popular fighting game by Namco.
It’s not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hard not to feel elation at his fairly accurate portrayal of such a fan favorite character. He also had a fight scene with international superstar Donnie Yen in 2009’s Bodyguards and Assassins.
In 2012, Le starred opposite the legendary Jean-Claude Van Damme in Dragon Eyes, as well as having a role in RZA’s bizarrely refreshing The Man with the Iron Fists, in which he received considerable praise for his role as a boss of the criminal underworld. He may still be a fairly underground presence to mainstream audiences, but Cung Le is definitely one to watch.
6. Georges St-Pierre
With his stunning fight record (only two losses in 27 fights) and universal fandom, Georges St-Pierre is one of the most successful and beloved MMA fighters of all time. Though the official word is only that he is currently “taking time off” from the sport, many fans are unsure if he will ever return to The Octagon, especially if his budding Hollywood career takes off.
St-Pierre first came to the attention of mainstream audiences with his performance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which he plays Batroc the Leaper, who is able to hold his own (for a little while, at least) in hand-to-hand combat with Cap himself. Georges’s next big test will come in the eagerly anticipated martial arts reboot Kickboxer: Vengeance, in which he will co-star alongside big names like Dave Bautista, Gina Carano (more on her later), and the late Darren Shahlavi.
5. Quinton Jackson
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is a serious fighter, with an impressive 36/11 win/loss record, but, to a legion of fans, he is B.A. Baracus in the film adaptation of The A-Team by Joe Carnahan. A seriously underrated action-adventure movie, the film updates the cartoon sensibilities of the original series to a somewhat more mature tone, while still never losing its focus on fun setpieces and snappy dialogue.
While Jackson’s Baracus is still “the muscle” of the team who leaves most of the acting to Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, and Sharlto Copley, he nonetheless has a strong rapport with the rest of the wonderful ensemble. Also, when he mule kicks a guy ten feet across the room and through a window, we simply believe it, and when it comes to B.A. Baracus, that’s all we ask.
4. Oleg Taktarov
Oleg Taktarov grew up in the old Soviet Union. He went AWOL from the Soviet military and got his appendix removed. These are all factors which bestow upon him way greater toughness than we’ll even know. He even competed in a charity boxing match with Dolph Ludgren and won by split decision, which we are pretty sure makes him canonically stronger than Ivan Drago.
Taktarov moved to the United States in hope of becoming an actor, and earned small roles and bit parts here in there, in movies like Air Force One (as Prison Guard #1) and Miami Vice (Russian Security), but his most beloved turn was as Nikolai in 2010’s little-seen but much-appreciated Predators. Nikolai is an affable, yet tough-as-nails, member of Spetsnaz armed with a minigun. His character is a throwback to the testosterone and muscle mass of the cast of the 1987 original, only Russian instead of American. It’s a very clever movie, and if you skipped it in theaters, it’s worth checking out now.
3. Ronda Rousey
“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey made her bones kicking ass in The Octagon and only recently lost her first fight, against Holly Holm, but recently has expanded her quest for world domination towards conquering the big screen. Ronda played a supporting role as herself in the underwhelming Expendables 3, as well as small roles in Entourage and Furious 7, in which she fought Turtle and Michelle Rodriguez, respectively.
After her decent performance hosting Saturday Night Live this year, she’s locked down the first true test of her acting chops in director Nick Cassavetes’s upcoming remake of Road House, in which she will play the toughest bar bouncer this side of… Well, Patrick Swayze in Road House.
2. Randy Couture
WWE, or MMA? That is the question debated around certain office watercoolers and many internet message boards. Some people like the colorful characters and theatrics of World Wrestling Entertainment, while others prefer the vicious aggression and legitimate combat of Mixed Martial Arts. But the question was answered, fairly definitively, in Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 testosterone-fueled action epic, The Expendables, in which Steve “Stone Cold” Austin, one of the biggest names in the WWE, having just beaten Stallone’s Barney Ross in a melee skirmish, goes toe-to-toe with Randy Couture’s character, Toll Road.
After an all-too-brief, but very exciting scuffle, Austin gets set on fire and (presumably) killed. MMA wins. Although he’s a household name among MMA devotees, Couture’s acting chops came as a surprise to many action fans, as he gives an entertaining and very watchable performance in The Expendables, and is a delight to watch alongside Terry Crews, Jason Statham, and Stallone himself.
1. Gina Carano
Probably the most successful MMA fighter-turned-actor so far, Gina Carano branched out from Kickboxing and MMA to star in Steven Soderbergh’s critically-acclaimed action film, Haywire, in which she plays a covert operative on the run, and engages in a killer fight scene with Michael Fassbender. From there, she landed a key supporting role in Fast & Furious 6, in which she fights Michelle Rodriguez, and headlined In the Blood, in which she goes all Liam Neeson in Taken on the gang who kidnaps her husband.
Most recently, she earned the approval of a legion of comic book fans when she went toe-to-toe with Colossus in Deadpool, one of the highest-grossing R-rated movies ever. If Carano can keep up this pace, she’ll be the next Stallone in no time.
So, what do you think? Which of these athletes is your favorite? What’s your favorite MMA-based movie? Sound off in the comments below!