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Top 5 Freakshow Fights in PRIDE History

Celebrate this PRIDE month by taking a look at the greatest freakshows the PRIDE movement had to offer!

Hey all, it's been a while. Your friendly neighbourhood ranter hasn't been in the writing mood lately, but of course nothing can stop us all from celebrating the most wonderful time of the year.


No, I'm not referring to the magic of the holiday season - I'm talking about PRIDE month of course!


Every year, the world comes together to celebrate and remember the beloved, now-defunct mixed martial arts promotion from Japan - PRIDE Fighting Championships.


In true PRIDE month fashion, this year we'll be taking a look at the biggest freakshows the PRIDE movement had to offer - as I'm sure you all know, there are plenty to choose from.


What is a "Freakshow Fight, You Ask?


For the uninitiated, here's a brief introduction to the world of freakshow fights in mixed martial arts, and in particular the PRIDE organization's staging of such matches.


The beloved PRIDE FC may have sported plenty of legitimate MMA talent and put on tons of exciting fights between elite athletes over the years until its untimely demise in 2007, but everyone's favourite defunct Japanese promotion was also very fond of sideshow attractions - fights that instead of being between evenly matched opponents (on paper) of similar size, would be mismatches of size and/or skill put on purely for entertainment value.


Setting up fights between proven talent and the proven untalented to ensure a brutal beatdown is often referred to in MMA as a "squash match" - a fight in which there is little competitive value since the skill or athletic gap is so wide and evident, it's essentially a foregone conclusion what's going to happen.


Fighters who regularly take a cheque to get beat on by vastly superior opponents are typically referred to as "tomato cans", with those who have a tendency of mauling such fighters being labelled as "can crushers".


Squash matches are a somewhat different beast however - proper freakshow fights have to have a strong visual element, similar to how circus "freaks" drew in crowds with their grotesque or strange appearances back in the day.


As such, the "David vs. Goliath" fights that frequented the early days of mixed martial arts certainly qualify as freakshow fights and were a staple of PRIDE, with obese monsters such as Zuluzinho or certified giants like Paulo "Giant" Silva being paid handsomely to embarass themselves against far smaller competition. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and even though a skilled fighter shouldn't be seen as an underdog against an unskilled brute, a jarring size differential is more than enough for people's minds to automatically think the smaller fighter will get crushed.


Back in the early-to-mid-2000's when the UFC and PRIDE were dueling for MMA supremacy, the UFC prided itself (see what I did there?) on having the best fighters face off against one another on a consistent basis.


This was something that another combat sport in boxing had become increasingly criticized for failing to do, particularly in the US as overpaid superstars regularly made ridiculous demands or outright refused to fight certain opposition and protected their records at all costs.


On the other hand, PRIDE preferred a more balanced mixture of legitimate matchmaking and one-sided squash matches which often bordered on sadistic.


The UFC of course is no stranger to such sideshows itself (see fights like multi-divisional UFC champion Randy Couture versus out-of-shape punch-drunk boxing legend James Toney, or even more recently, both fights involving one "CM Punk"), but their occasional forays into bizarre bookings can't hold a candle to the madness that frequently graced PRIDE's pristine white boxing ring back in the day.


PRIDE champions like Fedor Emilianenko, Wanderlei Silva, and Takanori Gomi were regularly fed sacrificial lambs in order to bolster their highlight reels with vicious finishes.


The close bond between the organization and pro-wrestling meant pro-wrestling antics and even many pro-wrestlers regularly spilled over into the PRIDE ring to compete against legitimate fighters.


And of course, the classic "massive monstrosity vs. small but mighty martial artist" match-ups that were a novelty in the mid-90's continued being a crowd favourite right up until the promotion's Yakuza-rooted implosion in 2007.


So, now that you understand what a freakshow fight is and have a little background information, why not jump into the craziness, shall we?

5. Ikuhisa Minowa vs Giant Silva/Butterbean

@ PRIDE Bushido 10 on April 2, 2006 and @ PRIDE Bushido 12 on August 26, 2006


Japanese pro wrestling and freakshow fights go together like white on rice, and Ikuhisa Minowa is a veteran of both.


Standing at 5'9 and typically weighing in between 185 and 205 pounds, one might be confused as to how a fit, well-versed grappler may relate to the massive monstrosities that are typically associated with freakshow fights.


Of course, with most freakshow bouts, those gigantic "fighters" need a smaller (ie. regular-sized) fighter to compete against to make the "David vs. Goliath" freakshow trope work, and Ikuhisa Minowa was someone that absolutely loved playing the role of David against poor, unskilled Goliaths.


Always a showman that borrowed antics from professional wrestling, Minowa (later known as "Minowaman") had a very rough start to his MMA career as he went a dreadful 1-8-1 in his first ten bouts, competing mostly for the Pancrase promotion in Japan in the mid-to-late nineties as a light heavyweight and heavyweight.


The aspiring star would turn things around however and by the time he entered PRIDE late in 2003, his record would be a much improved 23-17-8. He even had a UFC victory to his name as he fought at UFC 25 in 2000, a local fighter added to one of the few events the UFC staged in Japan before PRIDE really established their dominance in the region.


His PRIDE run would start off much like his MMA career did, as Minowa was knocked out by Rampage Jackson and Wanderlei Silva and then proceeded to lose a close decision to the late Ryan Gracie, starting his stint with the famed promotion oh-for-three (albeit against stiff competition).


Ikuhisa was never one to quit however and turned things around with three straight victories in the promotion, including a submission win over Gilbert Yvel at heavyweight despite Minowa's small frame which was much better suited to middleweight.


Over the next year he would go 3-3, losing to Phil Baroni, Murilo Bustamante, and Kazushi Sakuraba, while picking up victories over the likes of UFC 3 veteran Kimo Leopoldo and the afforementioned Phil Baroni in a rematch.


Given his stature, Minowa was the smaller man in all of his fights up at heavyweight, but it was his next bout at PRIDE Bushido 10 that would really introduce Ikuhisa to the art of freakshow fights.


Enter Paulo Cesar da Silva, better known simply as "Giant" Silva. Standing at 7'2 and tipping the scales at 385-pounds, the former Brazilian basketball player turned professional wrestler decided to try his gigantic hand at MMA just like many other pro wrestlers in Japan did back then.


In spite of his imposing stature, Giant Silva's mixed martial arts career wasn't exactly successful, going 1-5 in his first six outings against regular heavyweights.


He had also lost to a man of roughly Minowa's size in fellow professional wrestler Takashi Suguira, who stood 5'10 and weighed in under 200 pounds (that would be Suguira's only win in MMA, as he retired in 2008 with a record of 1-3).


Ikuhisa Minowa might not have been the best fighter on the planet, and given he comfortably made 185 pounds (he would even fight at welterweight [170] later in his career) he would be at a massive size disadvantage - yet it was still a comical mismatch of skill as Minowa was at least a mid-level mixed martial artist and Silva had clearly demonstrated he was not.


The near-200 pound size difference certainly made for a bizarre viewing experience for the entire "fight", which lasted less than two-and-a-half minutes total. Poor Giant Silva was easily taken down on Minowa's first attempt after he bamboozled the goliath with a forward roll.


From there, Silva's complete lack of skill made it an easy night at the office for Minowa, who landed several knees from side control and hurt Silva with a knee to the head (which was legal back in PRIDE), prompting the giant to tap out due to strikes. It was a rather sad finish as the big man was clearly subjecting himself to pain and humiliation for a paycheck, but such is the nature of freakshow fights.


Silva could at least take solace in the fact that Minowa was utterly demolished in his next outing by the legendary Mirko Cro Cop, deliverer of karmic justice.


After an easy win on the regional circuit, Minowa was back to the freakshow match-ups, this time finding himself taking on a man that only stood two inches taller than him: Butterbean.


The rather slight height difference of course didn't factor in Eric "Butterbean" Esch's rotund 400+ pound physique that made him the bane of doorways worldwide. The Atlanta native may have looked like a caricature, but he boasted an extensive boxing background that had gained him international stardom as "The King of the Four Rounders" thanks to his devastating power.


The super heavyweight knockout artist had unsuccessfully dabbled in K-1 kickboxing but more recently had found success in mixed martial arts while competing in openweight or "super heavyweight" fights, posting a respectable 6-1-1 record by the time he made his way to PRIDE for their Bushido 12 event in 2006.


Butterbean made up for his lack of skill with pure punching power and that alone made him a far more dangerous match-up than Giant Silva, but once again even a 400-pound man with a crippling punch isn't much of a threat against even a mid-tier MMA fighter half their size.


Thanks to his flair for presentation however, Minowa made the freakshow fight into a proper spectacle from the opening bell, landing a flying dropkick in the opening seconds just because why not.


His second attempt at the rather dumb "technique" almost proved disastrous however as it resulted in him falling to the canvas with the 400-pound Butterbean gaining top position, which isn't exactly a comfortable place to be even for someone well-versed in jiujitsu.


Luckily, Butterbean's complete lack of positional understanding allowed Minowa to sweep the big man and end up in side control. From there, the famous super heavyweight boxer was completely helpless as Minowa landed a few shots before securing an armbar and forcing Esch to tap midway through the 10-minute opening round.


Minowa would go on to have a lengthy and mostly successful MMA career and participated in plenty more freakshow fights even long after PRIDE was dissolved, including fights with 350-pound former NFL player Bob Sapp and 7'2 Hong Man Choi; the frequency of his freakshow contests even led fans to call him the "Giant Killer".


Ironically, he lost one such freakshow fight against the 400-pound Zuluzinho at K-1's New Year's Eve show in 2007, with Zuluzinho scoring a (very) rare victory for the freaks.

4. Mirko Cro Cop vs. Dos Caras Jr.

@ PRIDE Bushido 1 on October 5, 2003


Unlike most of the freakshow matchups featured in this list, when Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic faced off against Jose Alberto Rodriguez Chicuan, then known as "Dos Caras Jr.", there wasn't a comical size disparity in the two men.


Standing 6'5 and weighing close to 240 pounds, Dos Caras Jr., who would later go on to become a WWE star stateside under the name "Alberto Del Rio", wasn't exactly an undersized heavyweight nor was he unathletic, having won several international amateur wrestling competitions. He was even selected to compete on Mexico's Olympic wrestling team, but unfortunately he never got to represent his country in the Olympics due to a lack of funding which forced Mexico to cancel sending a wrestling squad to the 2000 games.


After having his Olympic dreams dashed, Dos Caras Jr. would make a name for himself as a popular rising star on the professional wrestling circuit in Japan, and just like so many other pro wrestlers during that era, the man of many names would dabble in the world of mixed martial arts.


Though one might think his athleticism and wrestling background would make Dos Caras Jr. a solid heavyweight prospect, his results in non-staged bouts were incredibly dismal - he went 3-2 against low-level fighters on the Japanese circuit, his "biggest" win coming against UFC 22 vet Brad Kohler as the result of a shoulder injury less than 90 seconds into their bout. The loss marked Kohler's seventh straight defeat as his record hit an atrocious 11-11; not exactly a name to be proud of on your resume, and that was the best fighter Alberto beat.


Thanks to his star power on the pro wrestling scene, Dos Caras Jr. was nevertheless picked up by PRIDE and slotted into a headlining gig at PRIDE Bushido 1 opposite rising MMA star Mirko Filipovic.


The 6'2 235-pound Croation sensation had made a name for himself in the kickboxing world thanks to his impressive run in K-1, where he boasted wins over legends like Jerome Le Banner, Peter Aerts, Mark Hunt, and Remy Bonjasky, compiling a 19-7 record with 12 knockouts and becoming feared for his snapping southpaw left hand and vicious head kicks.


While he continued his kickboxing career, Mirko dabbled in the world of MMA with bouts in PRIDE, where he scored victories over the likes of Kazuyuki Fujita and the undersized Kazushi Sakuraba, and he also competed in two special rules bouts (which were not scored) against grappler Nobuhiko Takada and PRIDE light heavyweight champion Wanderlei Silva, the latter of which resulted in an epic back and forth affair.


Following a quick trouncing of the 350-pound wall of muscle Bob Sapp in a kickboxing ring which saw the bigger man's orbital bone shattered, Mirko opted to dedicate himself fully to his budding MMA career and left kickboxing in the rear-view in 2003 - which ended up not being a good thing for PRIDE's heavyweights.


That same year Cro Cop would demolish legitimate contenders in Heath Herring and then Igor Vovchanchyn, the latter of which he would execute with his trademark left high kick.


Improving his MMA record to 7-0-2 (the two draws were due to the unscored special rules bouts), Mirko had established himself as one of the top contenders in PRIDE's stacked heavyweight division and was eying a title shot.


So who did PRIDE match him up with next, you ask?


Why the 3-2 pro wrestler Dos Caras Jr., of course!


The two men might have been similar in weight and size, but in terms of skill level and ability, this was essentially a live execution staged in front of over 20,000 people in the Saitama Super Arena.


To make matters worse, Dos Caras Jr. thought it would be cool to wear his lucha libre mask into the ring, which PRIDE allowed. In reality, it just made him look even more silly for stepping into the ring against the great Mirko Cro Cop.


It also provided the visual spectacle that elevated this blatant squash match into a certified freakshow fight.


Cro Cop took just 46-seconds to behead his hapless victim, his left shin clanging off the top of Dos Caras Jr.'s skull and sending the poor wrestler to a lifeless squat against the ring ropes.


Mirko followed up with a completely unneccessary and brutal left hand to his unconscious foe before the referee managed to step in, no doubt punishment for having the audacity to think he belonged in the ring with a real killer - or perhaps he just really didn't like Alberto's choice of mask.


It may have ended exactly how anyone who knew anything about fighting would have expected, but thanks to the beauty of Mirko's head kicks and the odd sight of seeing someone get knocked dead while wearing a lucha libre mask, this freakshow fight has lived on in the minds and highlight reels of MMA fans for the last two decades.

3. Fedor Emilianenko vs. Zuluzinho

@ PRIDE Shockwave 2005 on December 31, 2005


If you're a fan of mixed martial arts, you've likely heard the name Fedor Emilianenko at some point - the Russian legend is still regarded today as one of the greatest heavyweights in mixed martial arts history and was PRIDE's longstanding heavyweight champion.


He made a name for himself as a small heavyweight who could batter much larger opponents through his elite boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and vicious ground and pound, making him an extremely well-rounded fighter during an era of one-note big men.


His unassuming figure belied the explosive athleticism and power his frame could deliver, and despite being on the wrong end of the size equation in nearly all of his fights, he was known for being insanely durable.


Fedor was also the owner of one of the most insane unbeaten streaks in the sport's history; after a controversial 17-second stoppage due to a cut in his fifth pro-fight, the dominant heavyweight would go nearly a decade and a whopping 28 fights before suffering his first "real" defeat at the hands of Fabricio Werdum in 2010.


By late 2005, Fedor was at the height of his powers in PRIDE, his record standing at an astounding 23-1 with his lone loss being the afforementioned early cut stoppage. He was also coming off of an epic war with Mirko Cro Cop that many would later dub the "Fight of the Decade", which he won handily on the scorecards in a legendary back-and-forth battle of attrition.


Though PRIDE lobbed him some softballs along the way, Emilianenko proved his worth with dominant victories over the likes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Heath Herring, and Kazuyuki Fujita alongside the afforementioned Mirko Cro Cop.


After his hard-fought victory over Mirko in August of 2005, Fedor was due for an easier match-up and what better time than on PRIDE's New Year's Eve event? New Year's is a pretty major celebration in Japan and combat sports promotions in the country had a history of staging big shows at the end of every year, with PRIDE being no exception.


It was an especially good date to put on events filled with spectacle, making freakshow fights a particularly welcome sight in Japan at that time of year.


It made perfect sense then to have their heavyweight champion face off with a hyped-up Brazilian super-heavyweight in Zuluzinho.


Born Wagner da Conceicao Martins, the 6'7 slugger tipped the scales at nearly 400 pounds and while he did sport a broad set of shoulders, he wasn't exactly in peak athletic shape.


Despite his rotund physique, he claimed a 38-0 record in vale tudo ("no holds barred") matches in Brazil, though only five of those bouts were actually confirmed to have taken place (this was still in the early days of the sport remember, and records weren't always well-kept, especially in places like Brazil).


Regardless of the authenticity of his prior record, the super heavyweight would record a KO victory outside of Brazil in 2005 fighting for Cage Warriors in England before being signed to PRIDE, where he would awkwardly finish the 5'9 300-pound former Sumo wrestler Henry Sentoryu Miller in just 91 seconds.


The stage was set for a massive freakshow fight at PRIDE's monumental Shockwave 2005 event, which also featured the finals to PRIDE's welterweight and lightweight tournaments alongside Wanderlei Silva's title defense against Ricardo Arona and several other highly anticipated match-ups.


Though his MMA record was a (confirmed) 7-0, Zuluzinho had fought less-than-stellar opposition and one could tell simply by looking at him move that he would not fare well against an elite heavyweight let alone "The Last Emperor" Fedor Emilianenko, even if he stood some seven inches taller and weighed roughly 160 pounds more than the Russian champion.


The spectacle nonetheless proceeded in front of a packed Saitama Super Arena, with the entire circus act lasting a total of just 26 seconds.


Fedor closed the distance with a faked right hand and instead followed through with a cracking left which his far slower opponent had no chance of being able to react to.


400 pounds of meat collapsed in a heap in the middle of the arena, but the dazed Brazilian fought valiantly to get back to his feet as Fedor tried to land a devastating soccer kick to his downed prey (which was perfectly legal in PRIDE remember).


He was sent back to the floor less than a second later by a blistering right hand and Fedor once again swarmed his bewildered opponent, pounding away at Zuluzinho's oversized head until the big man turtled and tapped on the mat to beg for mercy.


It was a whole lot of ass kicking for such a short fight and Fedor really pounded home how silly it was for a man with the figure of a hippo to take on a legitimately world-class heavyweight.


Despite the epic mauling and ridiculous size difference, it was arguably not the biggest freakshow fight Fedor would have in his career - that honour went to his bout with Hong-man Choi, the 7'2 350+ pound giant whom he armbarred in under two minutes in a visual that looks too bizarre to be real (see picture below).


That fight however didn't occur in PRIDE (though many former PRIDE executives were involved in the event) - instead it happened in a one-off event called Yarennoka! that was held on New Year's Eve exactly two years after Fedor's drubbing of Zuluzinho, and as such isn't eligible for this list, but is still worth a mention anyway.

2. Butterbean vs. Zuluzinho

@ PRIDE 34 on April 8, 2007


As we've seen, PRIDE loved to put fights together between gargantuan humans and regular sized men, but the last event the beloved promotion ever held was made extra special thanks to whatever match-maker decided pitting two of the roundest fighters to ever enter the ring would be a great idea.


Because it was a great idea.

On one side of the ring stood Eric Esch, better known as "Butterbean", who is arguably the most famous super heavyweight in combat sports history (and probably the only one that's ever reached mainstream recognition).


Butterbean began his unlikely rise to fame by competing in Toughman Contests in Texarkana, Arkansas, which essentially allowed those with no professional boxing resume to compete in amateur-style boxing bouts consisting of three two-minute rounds in a tournament format.


The 5'11 Esch actually had to put himself on a diet in order to meet the Toughman Contest's 400 pound weight limit, but after doing so he became a 5-time World Toughman Heavyweight Champion with a final record of 56-5 and 36 knockouts.


In 1994 he transitioned to the professional super-heavyweight scene and quickly gathered a cult-like following thanks to his entertaining style and knockout power, soon being dubbed the "King of the Four Rounders".


Super heavyweight bouts were contested over four three-minute rounds even at the championship level, whereas elite boxers typically fight for 10 rounds and championship bouts are 12, a length of time that of course wouldn't be desirable for the fighters or the viewers when you're dealing with 300+ pounders.


After racking up 15 wins as a professional against club fighters, Butterbean suffered his first pro defeat late in 1995 - he then went undefeated in his next 51 outings over the next five years, earning the IBA Super Heavyweight Championship and defending the belt five times in the process.


In 2002 he would participate in the lone 10-round fight of his career against heavyweight legend Larry Holmes, who would of course outbox Butterbean en route to a wide decision victory, but the big man was still somehow able to make it the full 10 rounds.


His popularity led to appearances in videogames and even roles in movies and TV shows, most famously in an hilarious segment in the first Jackass movie which saw him knock out Johnny Knoxville.


Although Butterbean is a recognized figure in pop culture, most know him as a boxer and many are unaware that he also regularly competed in MMA bouts throughout the mid- to late-2000's.


Winding down his boxing career, Esch would venture into other combat sports beginning in 2003, with some (rather unsuccessful) kickboxing bouts in K-1 along with plenty of MMA contests where he got off to a strong start, posting a solid 9-3-1 record in the sport leading up to PRIDE 34.


As an aside, Esch's ridiculous work schedule across his combat sports career shows that the big man was certainly a work horse, even if his body looked nothing of the sort.


Butterbean would eventually retire from competition entirely in 2013 with an impressive 91 pro boxing matches (he went 77-10-4 with 58 KOs), 7 kickboxing fights (3-4 with 2 KOs), and 28 MMA fights (17-10-1 with 8 KOs and 9 submissions), making for a combined 126 professional bouts over the course of less than two decades with 68 knockouts to his name; not to mention he also had 61 Toughman bouts (56-5 with 36 KOs) to his credit, bringing his total amount of fights to a whopping 187 with 104 knockouts.


In regards to MMA he was certainly not adept off of his back or with throwing kicks, but the heavy-everything slugger had the power to take anyone out with one punch and given his size was a nightmare if you happened to wind up underneath the abnormally large human.


On the other side of the ring was of course the afforementioned Zuluzinho, who following his monumental loss to the great Fedor Emilianenko, went on to be submitted by BJJ ace and MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, with PRIDE once again utilizing their elite heavyweights to embarass the largest guys they can convince to step into the ring.


Having fought two of the best heavyweights on the planet in Fedor and "Big Nog", Zuluzinho needed a serious step down in competition for his return to the ring and a fight against a similarly massive man just made perfect sense for his next outing.


The men weighed in at an earth shaking 408 pounds each, with Butterbean being the rounder of the two given his paltry 5'11 stature compared to Zuluzinho's 6'7 frame.


Fittingly for a card that featured Butterbean and Zuluzinho in the co-main event, not a single one of the fights at PRIDE 34 made it past the opening round.


The battle of the big boys began with the Brazilian being the aggressor and the two collided like a pair of hippos butting heads in the middle of the ring.


Butterbean unsurprisingly got the better of the wild boxing exchanges and quickly rocked Zuluzinho with a series of right hooks and uppercuts, forcing the Brazilian to clinch the American against the ropes.


Zuluzinho then attempted to drag the superior boxer to the floor and was momentarily successful, but Butterbean surprised everyone by using the momentum of the takedown to initiate a reversal and end up on top, in side control to boot.


Zulu's attempts to muscle his way out of the position failed when faced with a man of his own size, his lack of technique making even a "grappler" the level of Butterbean look good.


Landing the occasional short ground and pound shots, Esch then isolated Zuluzinho's left arm and cranked an americana (also called a keylock by some) to earn himself the tapout victory just over two and a half minutes into the fight.


The two big men would go on to have largely unsuccessful runs in MMA, with Esch completing his MMA career in 2011 with a 17-10-1 record (all 17 wins and 10 losses were finishes, with the lone draw being a two-round fight in his second ever MMA outing).


Zuluzinho on the other hand would post a dismal 11-8 record (with 1 No Contest stemming from him and his opponent falling through an unlocked cage door) before retiring in 2010, only to return to action in 2018 and continue his career, most recently getting knocked out in just 42-seconds in Poland to bring his record to 14-12.

1. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp

@ PRIDE Shockwave on August 28, 2002


Bob Sapp's bout with Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira at PRIDE Shockwave back in August 2002 is easily the greatest freakshow fight in PRIDE's storied history.


It earns that honour not simply because of the visual spectacle that the fight produced, but because it ended up being a thrilling, back-and-forth war.


Unlike many of the sacrificial "freaks" that have taken part in such match-ups over the years, "The Beast" Bob Sapp was actually a proper (albeit comically muscular) athlete rather than an uncoordinated giant.


The 6'5, 350-pound behemoth had a very successfuly collegiate football career playing for the University of Washington, where he would earn the Morris award for the NCAA's best lineman in 1996. Originally drafted by the Chicago Bears in the '97 draft, he ultimately played just a single game in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings before a failed steroid test put an end to his NFL hopes.


Following his failed NFL stint and being defrauded by his economic advisor, Sapp was left penniless and resorted to moving coffins for a funeral home in order to make a living - that is until his friend encouraged him to pursue a career in professional wrestling given Sapp's physique and boisterous personality.


It wouldn't take long for Sapp to make a name for himself in the WCW, but that gig was cut short when the promotion was purchased by the WWE (then called the WWF), which prompted Sapp to journey to Japan in order to continue his professional wrestling ambitions.


As with many other pro wrestlers in Japan at the time, Sapp decided to also try his hand in combat sports; thanks to his popularity in the ring under the New Japan Pro Wrestling banner, Sapp was welcomed with open arms into PRIDE, where he would first manhandle the 220-pound, 13-14-1 Yoshihisa Yamamoto for his first MMA outing.


Sapp would then continue playing his role of "The Beast" to perfection by competing against Tsuyoshi Nakasako in K-1 kickboxing, where he threw his victim to the canvas before landing several heavy blows on the downed kickboxer, apparently forgetting he signed up for a kickboxing bout and not an MMA contest. This earned him a much deserved disqualification loss, but it did wonders to promote his persona.


Venturing back to PRIDE where such antics are perfectly legal, Sapp took on fellow pro wrestler Kiyoshi Tamura, who weighed under 200 pounds but held a 23-9-3 record in the sport.


Sapp simply charged at his undersized victim, grabbing him with one hand before clubbing him with his right and sending the middleweight to the floor, finishing Tamura in just 11 seconds with ground and pound.


Despite having just two mixed martial arts fights on his ledger, his massive name value earned him a showdown against PRIDE's heavyweight champion, Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira.


"Big Nog", who was endearingly called such by fans since he is the (slightly larger) identical twin brother of PRIDE light heavyweight fighter Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, was PRIDE's inaugural heavyweight champion and sported an impressive 16-1-1 record with his lone loss coming via a split decision to Dan Henderson some two years prior (which he would later avenge just months after his fight with Sapp).


He was one of the few heavyweights in the world that could fight well off of his back thanks to his advanced Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and he sported solid fundamental boxing skills to round out his MMA game - he was also known for his incredible heart and toughness.


Although he held the PRIDE heavyweight strap, instead of having their champions defend their crown each time they competed like in the UFC, PRIDE would regularly have their champions fight in non-title bouts, thus preventing the title from shifting to an "undeserving" fighter they matched their champion with. This allowed them to put their heavyweight champion in the ring with the 350-pound Beast without their official heavyweight title being on the line for what was a freakshow bout.


Standing 6'3 and weighing just 223 pounds at the time, Nogueira was at a whopping 127-pound disadvantage when he took on Bob Sapp at PRIDE Shockwave, but his elite skills and impressive grappling ability would surely offset the size discrepancy.


At least that's what MMA fans thought before they entered the ring - once the fight began however, it was Nogueira's unbelievable toughness and heart that would end up making all the difference in an epic battle that every MMA fan should check out in its entirety.


Nogueira wasted no time shooting in for the takedown as the monstrous ball of muscle barrelled toward him, but Sapp saw it coming and sprawled on the (comparatively) small Brazilian; he then proceeded to lift Nogueira into the air as Big Nog held onto Sapp's leg for dear life, ultimately pile driving the heavyweight champion head first onto the canvas.


Somehow, Nogueira survived the terrifying spike without suffering a broken neck and was still conscious, holding on to Sapp's enormous leg as the big man tried to hammer away at Nog's noggin.


Ever stubborn, Nogueira refused to let go and managed to pull himself out of a second piledriver attempt, but on the third, Nogueira opted to pull the 350+ pound bag of muscle on top of him in half guard.


Sapp flattened the BJJ ace near the ropes and to add to the spectacle, the main lights in the arena went out (the ring was still illuminated by secondary lights) for a few seconds before returning to normal. Staying cautious as to not to give Nogueira a submission opportunity, Sapp eventually postured up and began raining down heavy shots on Nogueira.


Big Nog was able to push Sapp away and eventually the Beast backed off to allow Nogueira back to the feet, but not before he landed several more punishing shots on the undersized heavyweight champ.


On the feet, Nogueira appeared weary of exchanging strikes with the bigger man, worried no doubt about getting clipped by one of Sapp's lunchbox-sized fists, but unable to secure a takedown on the former linebacker, he once again was forced to his back with Sapp on top of him.


Working from his guard, Nogueira began fishing for an armbar, to which Sapp simply lifted him a few inches off the ground before the champ thought better of it and let go, only to get hammered by several disgusting punches before the Beast backed away and let Nogueira back to his feet once again.


This time, Nogueira began letting his hands go and landed several heavy combinations on Sapp, who was beginning to tire but still seemed unphased by the punches coming at him.


After sticking a few more punches, Nogueira once again failed to secure a double leg, but this time hooked Sapp's right arm and hit a beautiful reversal to end up on top of Sapp, quickly securing side control and taking himself virtually out of all danger in one fell swoop.


Nogueira began to land some ground and pound of his own as retribution for Sapp's earlier aggression, quickly opening up a cut on Sapp's eyebrow which prompted the ref to call in a doctor to check on it.


Though they returned to their previous position with Nogueira on top in side control, the short break Sapp received appeared to give him a second wind, as shortly after the restart he utilized his ridiculous strength to flip Nogueira over like he was wrestling with a child and gain side control for himself.


Sapp then proceeded to rain hellacious bombs down on the Brazilian as the champion momentarily gave up his back to try to stand up and then rolled to try and regain his guard, absorbing some absolutely vicious punches in the process.


Here, PRIDE's 10-minute opening round certainly began to take its toll on Sapp as although he continued to land ground and pound in spurts, he was clearly exhausting himself in the process, and even though Nogueira was absorbing terrifying shots on the ground, he was still forcing the big man to work and was able to worry Sapp enough with his submission hunting that he would soon back away and let the Brazilian up.


Back on the feet, Nogueira landed several big shots on the slow-moving target, but was once again forced to shoot when the Beast charged forward, once again failing to take down the heavy-hipped linebacker and instead forced to accept being on his back. This time however, Nogueira locked up a triangle choke, in what would normally spell the end of a fight - Sapp however, was no ordinary fighter.


Lifting Nogueira up with disturbing ease, Sapp looked to slam his way out of the submission, which Nogueira wisely let go of before he could be lifted high enough to cause serious damage on the way down (unlike one Ricardo Arona, who some two years later would find himself in a similar situation against Rampage Jackson but paid dearly for holding onto the triangle).


Shortly after Nogueira would attempt a leg lock on Sapp's enormous leg, with Sapp essentially just squishing Nogueira under his weight to force him to let go - after just months of training for MMA under the tutelage of Josh Barnett and Matt Hume, Sapp had picked up enough basic understanding of submission attempts to know how he could muscle out of them and avoid succumbing to the art that typically ruined heavy fighter's nights, particularly when applied by a master such as Nogueira.


Near the end of the opening round, Sapp unloaded another torrent of heavy ground and pound until the bell; the heavyweight champion got up and made it to his corner a tired and battered mess, surely not expecting the predicament he faced.


Following the break, Nogueira once again landed some solid punches on the feet, but found himself in the clinch for a bit too long which allowed Sapp to land a few short but damaging punches and once again the Brazilian opted to try for a takedown and ended up on the bottom. Shortly after, he locked up a triangle momentarily but was forced to abandon it mid-slam to avoid being murdered by a powerslam.


It seemed like Nogueira was simply out of options and faced a puzzle he wasn't equipped to overcome - on the feet he couldn't seem to hurt the vastly larger Sapp and didn't have the footwork to avoid him for long, while on the ground he couldn't find a submission that Sapp couldn't simply power or slam his way out of, and in between those positions he was getting hammered by fists the size of bowling balls.


His toughness and heart however kept him in the fight, and every explosive action Bob took drained his enormous lungs and made the big man more exhausted, slowing him down ever so slightly.


Nogueira used this to his advantage by trying to lock up a kimura, which would be incredibly difficult to complete against a far stronger man like Sapp, but used the submission attempt to reverse his position instead and end up on top of Sapp in full mount.


It looked like Nogueira would finally be able to punish the Beast and complete a comeback victory, but just as soon as he gained the dominant position, Sapp once again showed his inhuman strength by powering out of mount and simply pushing Nogueira off of him, ending up on top of the heavyweight king once more.


Lesser men would have seen the writing on the wall and simply resigned themselves to their fate, holding on to try to survive to see a decision read, but Big Nog was simply not one to lay down and accept defeat even after such a demoralizing moment.


Once again he fished for a triangle, then rolled for an armbar, soon finding himself on his knees in a sprawl position, where he utilized the same sweep he found earlier in the opening round to once again get on top and in side control.


This time, Nogueira would not be denied and the Brazilian warrior rained down punches on his exhausted opponent. The Beast tried to defend himself, but as he did so Big Nog grabbed a hold of Sapp's mighty arm and sat back, throwing his legs across the bigger man's upper body and face.


Nogueira pulled with all of his might and Sapp's arm extended, the armbar fully locked in and in a position Sapp couldn't simply slam himself out of. With just under a minute left in the second round, the Beast was forced to tap out to save his arm.


It was an incredible comeback that highlighted Noguiera's astounding toughness, heart, and will to win, made all the more impressive when it was revealed that Big Nog had both of his cheekbones broken by Sapp during the contest.


Nogueira would of course continue his highly successful MMA career, establishing himself as one of the best fighters in the world and later becoming the first man to win titles in both the UFC and PRIDE when he captured the interim heavyweight title in 2008; his ridiculous durability, heart, and affinity for coming back in fights he was losing, which of course were prominently showcased in his epic showdown with Sapp, would solidify the Brazilian heavyweight as a bonafide legend of the sport.


Although Sapp left the ring that night with a loss, he had nothing to be ashamed of and fought a brilliant fight - despite a vast experience and skill gap, he used his advantages to great effect and showed how terrifying a "freak" could be when they fully utilized their physique.


Sapp would continue fighting in both MMA and kickboxing for many years, and although he started out with a lot of promise and excitement, he would later become known for taking dives in smaller shows for quick payouts while he continued his pro wrestling and film career.


He would retire from combat sports in 2018 with an MMA record of 12-20 and a kickboxing record of 12-19, a far cry from the man who nearly shocked the world when he took on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2002.


None of that however can take away from the spectacle that was Nogueira vs. Sapp, the greatest freakshow fight in PRIDE (and arguably MMA as a whole) history.


PRIDE Shockwave also still holds the record for the highest attendance ever for an MMA event with over 71,000 fans attending; the event's viewership on cable TV in Japan peaked during the Sapp vs. Nogueira fight at nearly 25 million viewers, an absolutely staggering number which highlighted exactly why PRIDE never stopped putting on such match-ups.


Other Notable Freakshow Fights in PRIDE History:

6'11 kickboxing legend Semmy Schilt vs. 5'8 Akira Shoji

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira armbarring Zuluzinho in just over two minutes






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