Ah, the freak show. Where honest competition meets the insatiable human desire to see something weird, typically in Japan. In light of the events at this week’s Dream “Super Hulk” tournament, we thought we’d take a look back and count down the ten craziest, most outlandish freak show fights in MMA history. Some are bizarre enough to be fun. Some are just horrible. At least one is actually kind of good. All are totally insane. Enjoy.
Zuluzinho (real name Wagner da Conceição Martins, which explains why he goes by Zuluzinho) got his shot at Fedor for two reasons: 1) he is the son of the now legendary Zulu, the Brazilian beast of a man who should be familiar to anyone who has seen “Choke,” and 2) because at 6’7” and nearly 400 pounds, he’s a big, scary-looking fat dude. What he isn’t is quality competition for Fedor, and that’s why he got the fight on December 31. Everyone knows Fedor loves to beat a freak’s ass to ring in the New Year, the bigger and freakier the better.
Just in case there was any doubt that this was an almost criminal mismatch, Zuluzinho erased it by going down with the second punch thrown in the fight. We like to think that as he was falling time slowed down like in the movies and Zuluzinho allowed himself to wonder just for a moment, ‘Is there a chance that the Pride matchmakers haven’t been taking me seriously?’
YAMMA’s inclined pit gimmick was ridiculous enough — but the ill-fated fight club achieved true freak-show status with the inclusion of a pair of “Masters Division” fights, in which old UFC stars were trotted out for nostalgic value. UFC 6 tournament winner Oleg Taktarov (age 40) and UFC 14/15 winner Mark “The Smashing Machine” Kerr (age 39) faced off in the first of these, and though his once-proud physique had turned to middle-aged mush, Kerr showed that he could still nail a single-leg takedown. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to defend the kneebar that came just before the fight’s two-minute mark. It wasn’t exactly a marathon battle, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the two veterans, who were too exhausted to get to their feet afterwards. Since that night, Kerr has fought (and lost) three more times; Taktarov has been wise enough to leave the pit-fighting to the youngsters.
Once he was satisfied with his work grossing out the world of boxing, Eric “Butterbean” Esch headed on over to MMA just to see if anyone was making a sufficient mockery of it yet. When the nation of Japan discovered him, we assume it was love at first sight. Never one to shy away from a freak show bout, “Minowaman” lived up to his reputation as a straight-up entertainer by beginning this one with a flying dropkick. When that didn’t result in something horrible, he did it again. Ultimately he’d have to wriggle out from beneath Butterbean’s pale, soggy flesh to secure an armbar, and even then he looked confused by the dimensions of the man. You and his wife both, brother.
In terms of passing the torch from one generation to the next, Kimbo vs. Tank was like a ghetto-ass version of Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie. You had the modern-day backyard brawler, who’d gained notoriety through a new invention called the Internet, facing off against his heavy-handed ’90s precursor, who was street-fighting back when the prize was going to jail. No, this wouldn’t be a high-level display of mixed martial arts. It was just an old-school slobberknocker — a backyard brawl held inside of an arena. In the end, the fight delivered exactly what it promised. Tank took his fourth-straight loss, and Kimbo was on his way to stardom. Though he would soon discover that the fame that comes with being a street-certified sideshow is sadly fleeting…
Standing 7’2″ and sporting a droopy nest of yarn-like hair, Paulo Cesar da Silva looks like an escapee from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop — a gentle giant too weird for this world. And while it was always kind of sad to see the former pro-wrestler whaled on in his PRIDE appearances, there was something classic about this particular beating. As usual, Minowaman didn’t let his opponent’s size rattle him. Instead, he lulled Silva into a false sense of security before executing an unbelievable somersault-takedown, then moving to side-control and unleashing a barrage of knees that made the big man tap. Sadly, Silva had to be put down after this match, but his memory lives forever.
If you look up the word “whore” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Jose Canseco posing with the money he made from publishing a book accusing former teammates of steroid use then getting his ass kicked by a Korean giant. The former baseball MVP’s participation in DREAM’s Super Hulk Tournament was nothing but a desperate cash-in, which ended in a suspiciously convenient knee injury. But judging from the first 20 seconds of the fight, Canseco actually had a chance of beating Choi if he only had some MMA training before the match and a gameplan that didn’t rely so heavily on tae kwon do-style side-kicks. Sorry, Jose — you are not Japan’s Next Top Super Hulk.
Don’t ask us to explain Japanese entertainment. All we know is, the organizers of Dynamite!! 2008 thought it would be a good idea to have cartoonish super-heavyweight Bob Sapp face off against an actual cartoon character at their most recent New Year’s Eve show. Playing the role of “Kinniku Mantaro” from the beloved Kinnikuman/M.U.S.C.L.E. cartoon series and toy line was Akihito Tanaka, who’s actually a very decorated amateur wrestler. And while that gave the match some measure of legitimacy in theory, it was just a big sloppy shit-show in reality. As it turns out, fighting while in costume can be challenging. Watch Mantaro take a moment to adjust his mask at the 6:06 mark and pay dearly for it. Good times. We hear this year’s Dynamite!! New Year’s Eve show will host a superfight between Gina Carano and Dora the Explorer.
Hawaiian-born sumo wrestler Akebono definitely takes the prize for the jiggliest MMA fighter ever; the guy sneezes and it takes thirty seconds for his boobs to stop swaying. K-1 tapped him to fight Royce Gracie probably out of sheer nostalgia for the good old days when Gracie fought guys who were much, much bigger than him and also much, much more ignorant of the ground game. Instead of exploiting Akebono’s sloth-like movement on the feet, Gracie’s game plan here was to bait the big man into charging him like a bull, then sort of flop into guard. As bad an idea as that sounds, it worked. Gracie worked his way out from underneath the colossal waterbed of a man and locked on an omaplata that Akebono didn’t even bother trying to escape. The submission defeat marked his seventh career loss in non-sumo pro fighting. He would go on to lose five more, finishing with a career record of 1-12. So fuck you, Nobuaki Kakuda.
#2: (tie) Hong Man Choi vs. Fedor/Cro Cop
Yarennoka!, 12/31/07 & K-1 Dynamite 2008, 12/31/08
(The more interesting/quicker of the two bouts.)
As far as ratio of freak show fights to total fights, it’s hard to beat Hong Man Choi. His size, hair, fighting style, and even his comical aspirations as a hip-hop artist all make him a guaranteed freak show attraction no matter who you put across from him. That said, his encounters with the world’s greatest heavyweight and that Croatian guy who once also fought the world’s greatest heavyweight stand out as moments of rare freakish glory even for Choi.
Against Fedor he actually managed to escape one armbar before being caught in another, which is now considered a genuine highlight for him. Against Cro Cop he managed to do exactly dick before giving up due to leg kicks. But a Hong Man Choi fight is like a donkey show. You don’t go because you’re curious what the ending is going to look like. You really already know. You go for the sheer spectacle of it all, and to feel gross and sad afterwards.
#1: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp
Pride Shockwave, 8/28/02
(The slightly abridged version.)
This is perhaps the only freak show fight in MMA history that later served as a testament to what a bad-ass the non-freak participant was. Outweighed by more than 150 pounds, Nogueira got manhandled in the early going of this fight. Sapp spiked him into the mat with a piledriver, pounded his face with hammer fists, and jumped up and down on Big Nog like a spoiled eight-year-old on a trampoline before finally succumbing to the armbar/terrible cardio combination that we have since come to expect from him.
The Sapp fight went a long way toward establishing what we’ll call The Legend of Nogueira. The guy could take tremendous punishment and yet somehow he’d keep climbing out of the fire and coming after you. Though successive outings would teach us that Sapp isn’t quite the monster he appears to be, at the time he was 2-0 and a win over him despite his size advantage was significant. If only we could have known that one day he’d be fighting dudes in masks and possibly working fights. We would have been mildly surprised.