08th Apr2013

The Ten Best – MMA fighters turned actors

by Phil Wheat

The blokes who flex their muscles in Ultimate Fighting Championship and mixed martial arts events are mostly a larger-than-life blend of showmanship and brawn – which explains why they’re increasingly being snapped up by Hollywood. With more and more MMA fighters moving into the movies, I thought I’d take a look at some of the biggest names to have made the crossover.

Winner of numerous MMA trophies around the globe, Schiena flexed his acting chops in Locked Down as a framed cop who winds up in jail and is forced into cage fighting by none other than Brit hardman turned thesp Vinnie Jones. Schiena retired from sport after breaking both his ankles (ouch!) but has since found his feet on the big screen working with everyone from Pacino to Van Damme.

Famed for fierce body slams that won him the UFC light heavyweight title (a category in which he’s currently ranked third in the world), Jackson cut his TV teeth on American reality series The Ultimate Fighter and was a minor movie player until he landed the role of B.A. Baracus in the A-Team reboot. As funny as he is ferocious, he’s prone to saying things like “I like to see my hand raised at the end of the night, that’s why I shave my armpits”.

Evans is still affiliated to the UFC, is ranked as the world’s number two light heavyweight fighter (take that Rampage!) and was heavyweight champ on The Ultimate Fighter’s second season. He hasn’t done much acting yet, although he did pierce a pig carcass and crushed a gel torso’s throat using just his elbow on reality show Deadliest Warrior so you wouldn’t laugh at him if he said “I want an Oscar”. He also starred alongside Tony Schiena in Locked Down.

Another Locked Down alumni, the Bahamas-born brute made his name by posting footage of himself street-fighting on the net. Crossed paths with Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans on The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights and now mixes acting and fighting, with plans to take up both boxing and wrestling (although he recently pulled out of his sumo debut due to training injuries).

Chokehold champ Couture is a UFC Hall Of Famer and the first fighter to win both heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions. He slogged away in minor roles for the best part of a decade until The Expendables cast him as amusingly named Toll Road alongside Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham. He’s making more headway in the DTV arena with appearances in a number of straight to DVD action flicks, including taking the headlining role in Hijacked.

Named, thanks to alphabetical billing, above Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren in direct-to-video sequel Universal Soldier: Regeneration, multi-tasking Arlovski is adept at boxing, kickboxing, jui-jitsu and the Russian martial art of Sambo. The Minsk-raised heavyweight started pumping iron after being bullied at school and recently got his revenge by appearing on MTV’s Bully Beatdown, where he was paid $10,000 to bash a bully (with the latter’s consent of course).

Arlovski’s Universal Soldier: Regeneration co-star has just the one role under his jiu-jitsu belt so far but only because he’s always so busy in the ring. And he’s not someone you’d want to mess with – his opponents have been known to pass out when he gets them in a chokehold.

Having starred in his own documentary in 2003 called Sapp Time The Movie! (no ego there then) the pro American footballer turned MMA star has seen his fighting credentials questioned after a series of defeats. His biggest role is in the Conan The Barbarian remake alongside Jason Mamoa, playing the villain  Ukafa.

Saigon-born Cung’s CV is pretty impressive. The MMA star skilled in more fields than there’s space to mention here has also found time to appear opposite Channing Tatum in Fighting, Dennis Quaid in Pandorum and, er, Luke Goss in nonetheless impressive martial arts flick Tekken. Cung Le also takes the central role in the fantastic Joel Silver-produced Dragon Eyes, which co-stars king of the kickboxing flick, Jean Claude Van Damme.

There’s nothing fishing about Herring’s bid to carve a film career. He was a henchman in Salt, has starred in MMA-themed drama Never Surrender, has six other projects on his resume including the MMA-themed thriller called Havana Heat. Not bad going for a UFC stalwart formerly best known for knocking out a Japanese opponent when the latter kissed him on the lips during a fight.

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