With a decade-long career that has included pro-wrestling, MMA, kickboxing, and acting, Bob Sapp is one of the most iconic entertainers in combat sports. Sapp returns to the big screen in the new remake of Conan the Barbarian — which hits theaters today — as the villainous tribal leader Ukafa. We caught up with the Beast last night to discuss everything from Conan to Mike Tyson to Beast-endorsed sex toys. Enjoy…
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Hey Bob, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Where are you right now?
BOB SAPP: I’m in Dubai, doing some training for my next WKA kickboxing fight, August 26th in Germany. My opponent is Florian “Faust” Pavic. I am 100% healthy, so you’ll see me going old-school with a lot of big punches.
Tell me a little about the character you play in Conan the Barbarian.
Ukafa is basically a big, brute, bully guy. He’s a non-talkative guy, because he’d rather talk with actions than words. You can see how strong he is, especially at the beginning when he actually tackles a real horse. I didn’t do any comedy in this one — it’s strictly a serious role, straight action and adventure. So I consider this role to be very similar to the one I played in Elektra with Jennifer Garner a few years back.
Being in these action films seems like such a natural fit for you, because your career in the fight business straddled the line of sport and entertainment. When you were fighting in Japan for PRIDE and K-1, did you view yourself more as an athlete or as an entertainer?
I guess it would kind of depend on what I was doing. It started to blur the lines a little bit. I think it’s safe to say that I viewed myself more as an entertainer than a pure athletic fighter. Because even during my fights I would make them entertaining on purpose. We actually had a couple fighters who were doing that — you remember Sudo Genki was doing some of that with his entrances.
Your first foray into combat sports after your pro football career was your Toughman match against William “Refrigerator” Perry. How did that come about?
I was with WCW, they went bankrupt, and they ended up calling a friend of mine, Steve Emtman, and asked him to box Refrigerator Perry. Steve had no interest in boxing, but he thought a better story line would be, former Chicago Bear who worships Refrigerator Perry and ended up getting released his first year, would like to go back and get revenge on the team, and in order to get revenge on the team, he will have to take out America’s Cutest Big Man. [Perry] was my idol, too, I had his jersey number in high school. It was hard to fight him. I was like, “Man, I can’t believe I’m beating up the guy, and he’s the reason why I played football.” It was crazy.
I’m guessing that’s not the the first time you had to beat somebody’s ass. Was fighting a regular occurrence when you were growing up in Colorado?
When I played football, I was the one who would be getting in all these fights during practice. One time, I actually got so angry that I took my right hand up and ripped my face-mask off of my helmet. I’ve always been pretty big and strong. I can remember the coach saying, “Well that’s good because now you gotta play like that and it’s gonna be pretty scary,” and it sure was. So, I didn’t do that anymore.
At the height of your success, there seemed to be an entire industry devoted to you and your merchandise. How crazy did that get for you? Were you ready for that kind of fame?
I guess I was as ready as you ever can be. Of course nobody can be ready for over 400+ products made with your name, likeness, and image, and hundreds of commercials. When I was in the NFL I ended up being a bad investor and lost all my money, but I was able to make some better choices the second time around. So when I saw the big money coming in again, I knew exactly what to do. I paid off my home and concentrated on paying off every bill that I had. I’m completely debt-free at this point.
What was your favorite piece of Bob Sapp merchandise?
The most unique piece of course is the Bob Sapp women’s vibrator, and they actually asked me if I’d come back and do another one — this time they want to use my head. That was the most unusual piece, but the one that I thought was really cool was the Casio watch, where my entire face would light up.
How aggressive did the fans get in Japan?
One time a bunch of girls took their clothes off and jumped on top of my taxi cab. That was pretty funny. Another time, there was a huge mob of fans who wanted to get at me, and they ran all the way over to me and pushed over this guy who was physically challenged. I thought he was in trouble so I went over to pick him up, and he said “thank you very much.” And as I picked him up he took my picture. That was the funniest thing I’d seen in a long time.
How upset were you that you never got to fight Mike Tyson?
Oh, extremely. I thought that was a great storyline, traditional boxing vs. kickboxing. The problem is, sometimes with K-1, they’d find one thing that works and they want that same thing to work with everyone. So then you later saw that they were stating, “Hong Man Choi‘s gonna fight Mike Tyson, Jerome Lebanner’s gonna fight Mike Tyson, Mirko Cro Cop’s gonna fight Mike Tyson.” It ended up getting a bit crazy, and they were never able to concentrate and remain focused on one thing. They just confused everybody. And unfortunately Mike Tyson was unable to get into Japan because of the things he’d done in his past.
You were supposed to appear in the last K-1 Dynamite!! New Year’s Eve show, but pulled out after a money dispute. The story went that you showed up and they tried to give you half of what they originally offered you. Has Japanese MMA always been corrupt?
It’s never been corrupt. I can remember when they were really honorable. I fought Mirko Cro Cop, and although I didn’t have any time to relax, because I was working 24/7, it was wonderful to see — they basically picked up my entire tab for the injury. How wonderful is that? Fast forward to the present, and you have somebody who goes in there and gets injured, their insurance forms tell them that if they get injured they’ll be taken care of, and as soon as they get injured, K-1 tells them that’s a pre-existing injury and you don’t have to treat them. There was some really naughty, nasty, disgusting stuff.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to listen to Mr. Tanikawa when he says “K-1′s gonna be fine, we’re gonna be fine,” and then the next day he’s like “we need investors, we need investors,” and the next day later, “we will hold events, we will hold events,” and after that, “we need investors, we need investors” — you start to think, well, which is it? If you’re holding events, why don’t you pay all your debts to these fighters who haven’t gotten paid?
The sad part is, you have some guys who are 20-year veterans in there fighting, and they haven’t gotten paid for fighting five or six times. In the fight game, you’re going to end up receiving some damage in a fight. So it’s really disappointing when you look online and see so many keyboard warriors speaking ill of the fighters, and knowing that they’re giving and receiving brain damage for your sakes, and the only thing they get out of it is disrespect. They gotta deal with that, and then they gotta turn around and get hit with the fact that they aren’t getting paid any money? That really stings, it really hurts.
After nine years in the fight game, do you have any regrets?
No, I have no regrets, I would do it all over again. And hey, I’m still running around here and kicking. Now, it’s just in an entirely wholesome way.
— Ben Goldstein