Top 10 Freak Show Fighters In MMA History

Top 10 Freak Show Fighters In MMA History

The age old tradition of ‘freak show’ fights in combat sports did not skip a generation with MMA (mixed martial arts), in fact it seems to have flourished in the young sport. Since time began for mainstream MMA, even during the dark ages, fighters of little-to-no chance have been pitted either against each other, or a heavy favorite for the delight of the baying masses. JMMA (Japanese mixed martial arts) has seen a large percentage of these freak show fighters over the decades, but the buck also stops with their Western cousins, even as far up in the sport as the Zuffa banner.

Much like last night’s (Friday June 19th, 2015) Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice-led Bellator 138 card, major promotions have been putting circuis-type matchings ahead of legitimate contenders and titles for years, and there (easily) 10 usual suspects that are synonymous with freak shows.

Without further ado, a profile of the 10 biggest freak show fighters in MMA history.

10. Hong Man Choi

Hong Man Choi
Name:Hong Man Choi
Date of Birth:October 30, 1980
Place of Birth:Jeju, South Korea
Age: 42
Nicknames:The Techno Goliath, Korean Colossus, Che Man
Height: 7’1″
Weight: 315 pounds (143 KG)
MMA Record: 2-3

I don’t want to take anything away from Choi as a man, or even as a fighter, but he has been involved in some of the crustiest circus acts in MMA history. His K-1 record of 12-6 is pretty respectable overall, but even that includes a pointless trilogy of fights with 1-8 Sumo wrestler Akibono Taro. ”Che Man’s’ record in mixed martial arts includes losses to Minuwa, Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Cro Cop. What makes the giant ex-soldier’s placing at number 10 so obvious actually come from his wins. Bobby Ologun and Jose Canseco. Enough said. Choi will return to face Carlos Toyota at Road FC 24 this July 25th, returning from a six-year MMA hiatus against the 6’3″ middleweight.

Also worth mentioning he has fought Bob Sapp.

9. Eric ‘Butterbean’ Esch

Eric 'Butterbean' Esch
Name:Eric Esch
Date of Birth:August 3, 1966
Place of Birth:Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Age: 57
Nickname:Butterbean
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 425 pounds (193 KG)
MMA record: 17-10

Now before we get in to it with Eric Esch, it should be noted that he has a crazy 77-10 pro boxing record, albeit against mostly cans, and is above a 1500 average in his mixed martial arts career. Arguably the most successful MMA fighter on the list, Esch has also been party to some seriously silly fights. Two bouts against 0-8 Tom Howard, a submission to punches loss against roid monster-turned fighter Mariusz Pudzianowski, and losses to men a fifth of his size in the form of Genki Sudo and Ikuhisa Minuwa.

What makes this savage striker, with legitimate and scary knockout power, a staple at number nine on the list is his bout with ‘Zuluzinho’. Butterbean‘ squared off with Wagner Martins (real name) at Pride 34, remembering that Pride was still the premier MMA organization on the planet at the time, in a fight that required a reinforced canvas due to their over-800 pound combined weight. The fact that it turned to a grappling match, that Esch won in the first round, made it all the more freakishly fun.

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8. Akihito Tanaka AKA Kinniku Mantaro

Akihito Tanaka
Name:Akihito Tanaka
Date of Birth:March 9th 1983
Place of Birth:Japan
Nickname:Wrestling Ubermensch
Age:40
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 205 pounds (92.99 KG)
MMA record: 2-2

Akihito Tanaka is an interesting character to say the least. After an odd promotion of his K-1 Dynamite!! 2008 fight with Bob Sapp, the whole of which Tanaka spent dressed as super hero ‘Kinniku Mantaro’, the Japanese ‘Wrestling Ubermench’ actually showed up to fight Sapp (we’ll deal with him a lot later) in full fancy dress. Not only did he look a complete tool, he got knocked out by the cumbersome American, who didn’t need any sort of costume to be considered a freak show.

Moving swiftly on.

7. Emmanuel Yarborough

Emmanuel Yarborough
Name:Emmanuel Yarborough
Date of Birth:September 5, 1964
Place of Birth:Rahway, New Jersey, U.S.
Age: 59
Nickname:Manny
Height: 6’7″
Weight: 600 pounds (270 KG)
MMA Record: 1-2

Another addition to the circus that deserves some credit before we slate his dark side: Yarborogh was a NCAA Division I All-American in wrestling and football, and has a sizeable amateur career in Sumo wresting. On the other hand, this guys was not cut out for mixed martial arts even during the dark ages. First competing at UFC 3, the first big league offender on the list, ‘Manny’ got destroyed by Keith Hackney in a one-sided and retrospectively laughable affair.

His sole win came at ‘Shoot The Shooto XX’ (no, seriously) against Tatsuaki Nakano, in the form of a submission win by smothering. He would later go on to get pounded on at Pride 3 by Daiju Takase. Enjoy Yarborough’s most famous achievement in MMA, as he smothers a small Asian man to submission:

6. James Toney

James Toney
Name:James Toney
Date of Birth:August 24, 1968
Place of Birth:Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.
Age: 54
Nicknames:Lights Out, The Dark Emperor
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 220 pounds (100 KG)
MMA Record: 0-1

Former three-weight world champion and likely future boxing hall of famer James ‘Lights Out’ Toney is truly unique in comparison to the rest of the list. He is a tried and tested pugilist with wins over such legends as Evander Holyfield, Iran Barkley, Fres Oquendo, Reggie Williams and countless others. His brutal power mixed with sugar-sweet defense is simply bloody poetry to watch. On to the meat on the bone, ‘The Dark Emperor’ thought it would be a good idea to troll Dana White for most of 2010, even turning up at the UFC president’s house to relentlessly harass White in to giving him a shot in the UFC.

What he got was former two-weight UFC champion and hall of famer Randy Couture, lest to say it didn’t end well for Toney. Couture got a hold of the boxing brawler in the opening round of their UFC 118 ‘superfight’ and proceeded to land some ground and pound before submitting an exhausted Toney with an arm triangle. It was a pure squash match, absolutely unnecessary, and happened in 2010. That’s only five years ago for those of you who don’t believe in calenders. Shame on you Dana!

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What a top 5 we have lined up for you…..

5. Kimbo Slice

Kimbo Slice
Name:Kevin Ferguson
Date of Birth:February 8, 1974
Place of Birth:Nassau, Bahamas
Age: Died June 6, 2016 (aged 42)
Nickname:Kimbo Slice
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 234 pounds (106 KG)
MMA Record: 7-2

In terms of his bread and butter as a street brawler and youtube sensation, Kevin ‘Kimbo Slice’ Ferguson is a legitimate beast. What we’ve learned over the years though, is that it takes more than the ability to punch people in the face to become a professional MMA fighter. After a professional debut in an ‘exhibition’ match against Ray Mercer in 2007, Slice went on to fight in the totally legitimate Elite XC promotion, scoring wins over a 300 year old Tank Abbot, a deaf James Thompson and Bo Cantrell, whoever the hell that is.

His follow up fight with Seth Petruzelli was not suspicious at all, as Slice went down like a tree in under a minute and got paid a serious butt-load of money for doing so. Obviously the UFC saw the potential in Slice, allowing him to not only compete on the Ultimate Fighter where he would get suffocated by Roy Nelson’s gut, but also giving him two fights in the UFC where he would go 1-1 against Houston Alexander and Matt Mitirone respectively. The fact he actually has wins is what keeps Kimbo from being in the upper echelons of the list.

Watch Kimbo get ruined by Petruzelli, a lot like how he dealt with the 51 year-old Ken Shamrock at Bellator 138….

4. Jose Canseco

Jose Canseco
Name:Jose Canseco
Date of Birth:July 2, 1964 
Place of Birth:Havana, Cuba
Age: 59
Nicknames:Parkway Jose, Mr. 40-40 and El Cañonero Cubano
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 250 pounds (113 KG)
MMA Record: 0-1

Former Baseball superstar, then disgraced admitted steroid user Jose Canseco made a brief cross over in to the world of MMA, but it was packed full of reasons for him to make such a lofty position on the list. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knew that Canseco had zero fighting skills. He did not belong in the ring or cage with anyone, and his clearly still roided physique would never get licensed except from a place far away from the United States. Enter Dream 9 in 2009, and an unmissable fight against Hong Man Choi.

Watch for Canseco’s side-splittingly funny karate moves, I’ll let the video do the talking on this one. Just classic:

3. Art Jimmerson

Art Jimmerson
Name:Arthur Jimmerson
Date of Birth:August 4, 1963
Place of Birth:St. Louis, Missouri.
Age: 51
Nickname:One Glove
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 196 pounds (89  KG)
MMA Record: 0-1

Another demi-legit athlete from the boxing world, Art Jimmerson is not a name known by too many modern mixed martial arts fans. Touting a professional boxing record of 29-5 and a former Golden Gloves champ, ‘One Glove’ as he would later become known decided to try his hand at the whole ‘UFC thing’ at the promotion’s first event in 1993. Entering the one-night tournament, Jimmerson had possibly the worst luck anyone could have had that night, facing the tournament’s eventual winner and future hall of famer Royce Gracie in the opening round.

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Insisting on wearing a single boxing glove so not to hurt his jab hand, AJ faced a bare knuckled Jiu Jitsu black belt in what would turn out to be a humiliating affair for the pro boxer. He was taken down quickly and tapped out once the grappling master got to mount. One of the very few submissions to position, and the only ever fighter to wear a single boxing glove in the UFC octagon makes Art Jimmerson one of the original and most poignant freak show fighters ever.

He would never go on to fight in MMA again, but he went on to become the current boxing coach at the UFC gym in Torrance, Canada after retiring from boxing in 2002 with a 33-18 record. He has also recently expressed interest in fighting Kimbo Slice, so get ready for a shoot up to first place if that ever happens for Jimmerson.

2. Akebono Taro

Akebono Taro
Name:Chadwick Haheo Rowan
Date of Birth:8 May 1969
Place of Birth:Waimānalo, Hawaii, United States
Age: 54
Height: 6’8″
Weight: 514 pounds (233 KG)
MMA Record: 0-4

American-born Sumo wrestling Yokozuna ‘Akebono’, real name Chad Rowan, was never meant for the legitimate world of MMA. He was a force to reckon with as a Sumo, and even crossed over in to pro wrestling where he still competes today in Zero 1 and AJPW in Japan, but his foray in to the world of pugilistic-based sports was ill-fated. Aside from a single win from nine K-1 fights, Akebono did not have a good time, going 0-4 in mixed martial arts between 2004 and 2006.

The fact that he fought Royce Gracie is ironic in a sense, more understandable were his bouts against Bobby Olugun, Don Frye and another classic freak show fighter Giant Silva. Having been submitted in three of his losses in MMA, and knocked out three times in a row by Hong Man Choi in K-1, Rowan left the ring in 2006 and has competed exclusively as a pro wrestler since.

He is one of the most recognizable faces in the murky underwaters of the MMA freak show parade, seconded only by the man that knocked him out cold in 2003. Enjoy this absolutely classic highlight of Akebono’s catalogue of brutal losses, and prepare yourself for the only man that could top such a horrific list….

1. Bob Sapp

Bob Sapp
Name:Robert Malcolm Sapp
Date of Birth:September 22, 1973
Place of Birth:Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.
Age: 49
Nickname:The Beast
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 350 pounds (160 KG)
MMA Record: 11-18-1

It’s crazy to think that once upon a time Bob Sapp had a reasonable fight record. Up until 2006 in K-1 he had amassed a 10-4 record, and in MMA up to 2008 a similar 10-4-1 record. In the kickboxing ring he had defeated living legend Ernesto Hoost by TKO in back-to-back fights. ‘The Beast’ had also bested Cyril Abidi and Kimo Leopoldo among others. His MMA career had seen Sapp win over mediocre-to-poor competition, but he was a big draw especially in the Japanese market, and had knockout power due to his insane size and strength.

After an American football career marred by steroid allegations in the late 90’s, fighting seemed the only logical career path for a man of his stature, and could well have led to at least a legitimate career with how he’d started out. This would not be the case though, as Sapp became the biggest tomato can in the sport’s history. He had experienced back-to-back losses for the first time in his MMA career between May and October of 2009, all of which were soft to say the least. Then after submitting Sascha Weinpolter in 2010, ‘The Beast’ would go on a blatantly theatrical and disgraceful 12-fight losing skid.

Fighting mainly in Eastern European promotions, the diving machine would spend around 14 minutes of total fighting time in his last 12 outings over the span of two years between 2011-13. Rolles Gracie, Soa Palelei, Aleksander Emelianenko and Mariusz Pudzianowski were all among the men that ‘beat’ the now comical, and somewhat annoying Bob Sapp.

Sapp’s retirement couldn’t come quick enough, as ‘The Beast’ announced he had over $10 million in earnings and had paid off all his medical bills. He never made it to the UFC, but Strikeforce did have their one date with Sapp in 2008.

Here’s some interesting footage of Sapp, tune in to the next page for the honorable mentions list!

Honorable mentions

Big shout outs to Giant Silva, Ikuhisa Minuwa for fighting all the freak show usuals, Bam Bam Bigelow, Tim Sylvia (the later years), Mariusz Pudzianowski, Alberto Del Rio and Zuluzinho.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if there’s any I missed from the 10 Biggest Freak Show Fighters in MMA History!