Few athletes are as kind and polite as Georges St-Pierre.
St-Pierre, a UFC Hall of Famer and two-division champion at welterweight and middleweight, is regarded as an icon in MMA. Few were surprised with the news that the bona fide bilingual superstar from Montreal was crossing over into the cinematic world to play Batroc the Leaper in the 2014 film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which led to the streaming miniseries “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”
For St-Pierre, it allowed him to be something outside of himself.
“He’s a villain,” St-Pierre said to Men’s Health in 2020. “I try to be a role model in everyday life, so when I play a villain, I can unleash. It’s a lot more fun.”
GSP isn’t the only fighter who has taken their talents from the Octagon to the silver screen, as many stars from MMA have found their way into blockbuster films and iconic streaming franchises. While some essentially played a version of themselves, others displayed a bit of range and versatility, like a pound-for-pound elite fighter would.
Let’s look at the fighters who took the leap, starting with the former UFC middleweight champion that inspired this list.
Usman visualized himself being a part of the “Black Panther” franchise as soon as it hit the big screen in 2018. But for Usman, the thought was a bit more literal.
“It’s something I kind of spoke into existence,” said Usman. “After the first one, I’m like, I need to be in this! This got to happen. I don’t care who I got to beat up, they gotta make this happen. Years later I get the call and I was ecstatic.
The first Nigerian-born champion in the history of the UFC got his wish with a role in the newly released “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Although the fighter-slash-actor only has “just a couple of lines” to give in his role as Naval Officer No. 1, the weight of being on the stage with high-profile actors like Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya got to him on set.
“As a fighter you don’t realize how hard this is. It’s very hard,” he continued. “I have newfound respect for these actors and actresses. This is a tough, tough business.”
Few have consistently found the spotlight more than Rousey.
Rousey, the first American woman to medal as an Olympian in judo, has been on the big stage for nearly 15 years. Rousey eventually found her way to the UFC, fighting for the inaugural women’s bantamweight title, which she won. After a distinguished MMA career, she found her way to WWE, where she’s been the SmackDown women’s champion twice and the Raw women’s titleholder once.
Athletically, she’s always made her way to the mountaintop. And as an actress, and in many ways, as an action star … she can steal a scene.
The two moments that stand out are her appearances in “Entourage” and “Furious 7,” as both films premiered in 2015 at the height of Rousey’s reign as UFC champion. “Rowdy” defended her title twice that year before being dethroned by Holly Holm in November 2015 at UFC 193.
In “Entourage,” Rousey’s appearance on the big screen was a precursor of what she could ultimately be as a professional wrestler. She had presence, she could talk trash with the best of them, and she fit right in with the other actors in the film.
Meanwhile, in “Furious 7,” she was simply a kick-ass machine. For two minutes, her character engaged in a brawl while wearing a formal gown and heels, and it’s incredible. It’s impossible to look away until she crashes into a DJ booth table, which is totally normal for the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.
Sapp, one of the most recognizable figures in MMA history due to his physique and personality, fought over 60 times professionally in major kickboxing and MMA promotions in the 2000s.
Because of his physical stature and charisma, Sapp landed opportunities in professional wrestling and as an actor. After briefly developing with World Championship Wrestling in the United States, Sapp made a mark in Asia with New Japan Pro Wrestling, carving out a solid career in the squared circle.
His ability to shine as a wrestler created opportunities for him to act. Sapp was eventually cast in major films like “Elektra” and the 2011 “Conan the Barbarian.” However, his comedic relief in the remake of “The Longest Yard” stands out the most. With comedians like Adam Sandler and Chris Rock on the screen throughout the film, Sapp’s performance as Switowski consistently generated big laughs, including picking up Rock and spinning him around like a kid with a teddy bear.
Jackson, one of the most prominent personalities in the history of the UFC, always seemed destined for bigger things beyond the Octagon.
The fighter known as “Rampage” would eventually take on the iconic character B.A. Baracus in the remake of “The A-Team,” a 2010 action film based on the 1980s television series of the same name. Jackson would star next to Hollywood stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Jessica Biel, and generally held his own in the movie.
The Baracus character was initially played by Mr. T in the ’80s, and Jackson almost had an opportunity to act alongside him during the film as the producers offered the actor who played Clubber Lang in “Rocky III” a cameo in the movie, but he turned it down. This was a letdown for fight fans, as we would’ve had the opportunity to debate which star could rock the mohawk best.
Couture believes in the power of three. “The Natural” had an iconic career in MMA, as he’s the only three-time champion in two divisions in the history of the UFC. However, his trilogy run in “The Expendables” as Toll Road might be nearly as impressive.
Couture’s performance as a demolitions expert in the movie franchise has been like his nickname, natural, partially due to his time spent in the U.S. Army, where he ultimately achieved the rank of sergeant.
Many remember the iconic fight scene from the first film between Couture and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, as it pitted the best of the UFC against the best of WWE. Unfortunately for Stone Cold, Austin’s character would lose and die off from the franchise.
Now there’s word that “The Expendables 4” will be released in 2023 and will once again star Couture alongside martial artist and actor, Tony Jaa, and rapper and actor, 50 Cent. Could we see a fight scene with “The Natural” facing off against Mr. Ip Man or Mr. Curtis Jackson next year?
Liddell is one of the trailblazers in the sport of MMA and was inducted into the UFC’s Hall of Fame in the “Pioneers Wing.” Liddell is one of the UFC’s more iconic light heavyweight champions and is viewed by many as helping MMA go mainstream to a broader audience.
So it’s no surprise that “The Iceman” would eventually also become one of the first fighters to turn into a star on the big screen. Liddell landed roles in TV series like “Blade” and “Entourage” and movies like “How High,” “Drillbit Taylor” and “Kick-Ass 2.”
However, his scene with Turtle and Johnny Drama in “Entourage,” where they argue over a parking spot, takes the cake. Liddell — acting as himself in the scene — is tardy to claiming the spot in the lot and begins confronting the show’s main characters. Drama, oblivious to who Liddell is, rings out with “what’s a Chuck Liddell?” and “Chuckie” during the scene. Liddell’s daughter intervenes right before a butt-whipping is about to commence, with Liddell looking ready to snap Drama in half, and it is high-quality entertainment.