Apr 17 2014

Getting to Know Your Big Screen Mixed Martial Arts Stars

Published by at 11:00 am under Lists,Movies

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It’s funny that while politicians are still trying to convince the public that mixed martial arts is akin to “human cockfighting”, the stars of the sport are creeping into the mainstream more and more. Say what you want about the virtues (or lack thereof) of having two trained fighters test their skills against one another in sanctioned competition for our entertainment, but one thing that is undisputable is that MMA has some of the most colorful personalities of any sport in any era.

With so much of our onscreen entertainment being dedicated to people attacking one another, it’s only natural that the casting directors of the world look to some of the biggest badasses in the world to see if they can translate those skills from the ring/cage to the silver screen. With the magnetic personalities of leading actors and the physical skills of the best stuntmen, it’s only logical. So far, the results have been pretty positive.

The MMA scene features a lot of people with really entertaining dispositions, so expect the word “charisma” to come up a lot.  Beyond their skills as real life action stars, a lot of these people were chosen for their roles based on their endearing or outrageous personalities and the potential crossover appeal that represents. Let’s answer some questions about some of the most prominent mixed martial artists to make the jump to the big screen.

 

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Who’s this guy?

Georges “Rush” St-Pierre

How much ass does he kick?

He’s a consensus top five pound-for-pound of all time UFC champion who retired at the top having only lost twice (the last time being seven years ago) so he’s done alright for himself. He demolished legends, smashed and smothered contenders, and made it look easy. He became the absolute dominant force in his division for most of a decade with a rare combination of physicality, scientific intelligence, discipline, and the flawless technique you’d expect from a man with several martial arts black belts.

GSP got a lot of criticism in the latter half of his career for not finishing his opponents and choosing to fight for points. To me, that means that this guy assured victory against the best fighters his size on the planet by choosing to utterly dominate them for 25 minutes straight rather than taking the chance to knock them out or submit them. If you can frustrate and completely undo a UFC number one contender for 25 minutes, you are pretty damn hardcore. He once broke a man’s FACE using jabs without bothering to finish him and he made bonafide legend BJ Penn quit on the stool in between rounds after he claimed he would fight “to the death”.

What’s he been in?

He just made his feature film debut as Marvel supervillain/jobber extraordinaire Batroc the Leaper in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where he got to go head to head with the star and show off his insane physical skills in a great fight scene.

Is he actually any good?

Fight fans know that the very last thing you’d expect from GSP would be to play a Marvel villain. Outside of the cage, the man is made out of adorableness. His charm, boyish good looks, and classy professionalism made him the best ambassador the UFC ever had and his French-Canadian accent and ridiculous build make him a candidate for a cheesy Arnold/JCVD-esque action hero role if anything. But he managed to play Batroc with legit menace, his accent was circumvented by allowing him to speak his native French, and obviously his insane physicals made for a killer fight scene so no complaints.

 

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Who’s this guy?

Cung Le

How much ass does he kick?

Stylistically, he’s the closest thing we’ll ever get to seeing Bruce Lee in MMA competition. He outclassed most of his opponents in Strikeforce, where his mastery of kicks made him look like a silver screen kung-fu hero even when fighting in a cage for real. Prior to that, he was a world class kickboxer with zero professional losses and a crapload of US and world titles to his name. In the UFC he’s 2-1 and earned Fight of the Night and Knockout of the Night honors in that brief window. Not bad for the oldest guy in his weight class.

What’s he been in?

He played Marshall Law in the Tekken movie, had supporting roles in Pandorum and Fighting, had one of the most badass fight scenes ever with Donnie Yen in Bodyguards and Assassins, costarred with JCVD himself in Dragon Eyes, and most notably played a villain in RZA’s classic kung-fu homage The Man with the Iron Fists. He also got a starring role with Dolph Lungren in the recently-released Puncture Wounds.

Is he any good?

Well, obviously he has the physical skills to deliver amazing action, but the films I’ve seen him in tend to shy away from giving him much in the way of lines and he mostly sticks to the cheesiest of action flicks so I’m going to say he’s not the best actor. Reviews of Dragon Eyes and Puncture Wounds appear to confirm this. Bodyguards and Assassins was great, though.

 

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Who’s this guy?

Bas “El Guapo” Rutten

How much ass does he kick?

Rutten is a rare old school virtuoso who competed in the 90’s dark ages of MMA, mostly in Pancrase. He has a pair of UFC wins that saw him earn the heavyweight title, but only fought once since 1999. He hasn’t lost since 1995 and three of his four career losses were to the legendary Shamrock brothers Frank and Ken, who are household names even to the most casual of MMA fans.

His specialty was finishing opponents with a liver kick, which is pretty much the most painful possible way to legally win a fight. He also has a reputation for getting into barfights and has plenty of anecdotes to share along those lines. But as far as actual mixed martial arts goes, Bas is the guy that everyone wants to be.

What’s he been in?

He’s been a lot of movies and even had his own television show, Punk Payback. He played a villain in Sinners and Saints and was in Backlash as well as some other low grade action flicks. But in spite of his fighting background, his forte is without a doubt comedy. He played a drill sergeant in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and had a great co-starring role with Kevin James in the UFC-themed Here Comes the Boom.

Is he actually any good?

His action stuff is so-so, but Rutten’s strength of personality is where he shines. People arguably know him more for his role as color commentator for Pride and all-around hilarious guy than for his actual fights due to his low number of appearances in large organizations. Punk Payback was a ridiculous concept for a show (he reenacts videos of actual crimes where he steps in and beats up the criminals) but it was insanely entertaining because Rutten is an absolute riot to watch. The only film I’ve seen where he really gets a chance to do what he does best in a film was in Here Comes the Boom. He practically made that entire movie for me.

 

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Who’s this girl?

Gina Carano

How much ass does she kick?

Quite a bit in her day. She was the first female mixed martial artist to threaten the mainstream, and it wasn’t just because she is one of the hottest women on the planet. This beauty was a beast in the cage. She made her bones in muay thai competitions in Thailand, and if you know much about martial arts, you know that’s a brutal scene.

She blasted through the competition in Elite FC before being handed her only loss in WMMA’s first big time fight by Cris “Cyborg” Santos. They say she’s called Cyborg because she’s half man, half machine (psst…she also got caught for steroids), and while there’s no shame in losing to a genetic freak most men would get clobbered by, the loss wrecked her confidence and she hasn’t fought since.

What’s she been in?

She starred in Haywire, which was a serviceable “secret agent gets set up by her own people and goes rogue” action flick where she looked good and kicked ass. She was also seen in The Fast and the Furious 6 and has signed up for an unnamed film referred to as a “female Expendables”.

Is she actually any good?

She’s not bad. A friend of mine once said it’s easier to teach a martial artist to act than to teach an actor martial arts. I’m surprised Carano hasn’t been used in more films given her natural athleticism and charisma, but I guess the way things are done in Hollywood is less focused on the actual physical skills of the performers. A woman like Gina could make big waves in the Asian action film scene. I hope she gets more chances to show us what she’s got.

 

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Who’s this guy?

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

How much ass does he kick?

As a fan favorite in the Japanese Pride organization, he demolished the UFC’s poster boy Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell -causing his corner to throw in the towel- while he was considered the guy to beat. Later, he came to the UFC and crushed him again effortlessly, ending his legendary run of title defenses with a loss so devastating that he never returned to form. So a lot.

What’s he been in?

He had a small role in Ryuhei Kitamura’s criminally underrated adaptation of Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train that made me laugh louder than most comedies can manage. He was also offered a starring role in The A-Team, replacing the incomparable Mr. T as BA Baracus.

Is he actually any good?

When I heard they were remaking the A-Team, I couldn’t imagine who could take that role on. Then I heard Rampage got the role and it made an insane amount of sense to me. The man is every bit as cartoonishly endearing as Mr. T and obviously he has the physical presence as well so nobody else could have done it in my mind. I don’t know that he could make a legit career as an actor, but for that role he was clearly the man for the job.

 

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Who’s this guy?

Randy “The Natural” Couture

How much ass does he kick?

Well he was a title contender until the day he retired at the incredible age of 48, a five time UFC champion across two divisions, an Olympic wrestler, one of the true pioneers and faces of the sport, and was the fourth person inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He’s a cerebral fighter who specialized in wearing down and breaking an opponents’ will to fight, which is to say he was pretty much a nightmare for anybody.

What’s he been in?

He landed a large role in The Expendables among the legends of action cinema after small roles in other films, a spot in The Scorpion King 2 (which I didn’t even know was a thing), and an appearance as a commentator in the MMA-themed Redbelt.  He seems poised to be a generically-titled action flick mainstay, working alongside Bruce Willis in Setup and taking the lead role in Hijacked.

Is he actually any good?

He does what he does. Being a grizzled veteran of the sport definitely gives him that no-nonsense swagger that made him perfect as a side man in the Expendables films, but I don’t know that he has the charisma to make a convincing leading man. He can look like a badass and definitely deliver some bone-crushing takedowns, but his personality is not what one would call “memorable”

 

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Who’s this girl?

“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey

How much ass does she kick?

As much as is humanly possible for a woman her size. She’s the daughter of martial arts legend “Judo” Gene Lebell, an Olympic silver medalist judoka, an undefeated UFC champion who has yet to really break a sweat in MMA competition, and an irrepressible badass.  She defeats every single opponent with an armbar, usually within a minute or so. That is to say that everyone she fights knows exactly what she is going to do to them and are powerless to stop her anyways. She’s almost single-handedly responsible for the UFC creating a women’s division.

The UFC has done their best to use her good looks and unparalleled skills to make Rousey into their poster girl, but she ain’t having it. She trains with Cesar Gracies’ legendary Central Cali-based Skrap Pack which includes some of the nastiest personalities in the sport, and she fits right in with her fondness for awkwardly standoffish interviews, scowling, and throwing her middle fingers around.  But being the most skilled woman in the sport by a mile with cover girl looks to boot pretty much lets her get away with anything.

What’s she been in?

Ronda’s all set to make a splash in the next installments of The Fast and the Furious and The Expendables. She’s got the looks, skills, and charisma to make it as an action heroine and having shared the set with the late Paul Walker, there are going to be a lot of eyes on her next year when The Fast and the Furious 7 comes out. But if you can’t wait until then to see some epic judo throws on the big screen, The Expendables 3 will be out this summer.

Is she actually any good?

We’ll have to wait and see on that one. Being a real life badass couldn’t hurt, and there’s always room on the screen for a pretty lady so I’m betting she does alright as long as she sticks to cheesy action flicks.





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2 responses so far

  • Andy

    I left a comment on this yesterday, but it didn’t post, possibly because I included a link to a youtube video…

    I forget exactly what I wrote, but the gist of it was that I never thought I’d see an MMA post on this website, especially one written by someone who obviously knows what they’re talking about.

    Included was a link to the Command and Conquer Red Alert 3: Remix video, which briefly featured both Gina Carano and Randy Couture.

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      This isn’t exactly a sports website, but with so many MMA stars becoming action heroes, I thought I’d sneak it in. Thanks for reading.

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