From a college basketball player turned sumo star to an ageless brawler, we present half a dozen athletes who decided to get a little more physical
1) Brock Lesnar, college wrestling to MMA
Can you imagine if they hadnt taken a chunk out of his colon? If Mixed Martial Arts has a modern Bo Jackson, it might very well be Lesnar, the World Wrestling Enterprises champion who turned the same trick inside the octagon, his star burning hot and bright before ultimately burning out.
Ultimately, many fans are left to wonder what could have been, what might have happened if diverticulitis and mononucleosis hadnt undermined a promising run in the UFC. The All-American bad-ass son of a dairy farmer, NCAA wrestling champ at the University of Minnesota, the youngest champ in WWE history first strapped on a set of 4XL gloves in 2008, and within 18 months was heavyweight champion, stopping Randy Couture in a second-round TKO during UFC 91 and Frank Mir, also by TKO in the second round, at UFC 100. The latter was the circuits highest-ever buy-in, with 1.6 million subscribing via pay-per-view.
As it turned out, his worst enemy was neither Mir nor challenger Shane Carwin, but Lesnars intestines, which required surgery to close a perforation that reportedly had been leaking fecal matter into his abdomen. The midwestern giant 6ft 3in, 286lbs of angry defended his title by submitting Carwin, but more surgeries and a December 2011 loss to Alistair Overeem led Lesnar to announce his retirement from MMA after just eight events and five victories.
Health permitting, Lesnar was rarely afraid to chase his muse. At the height of his WWE ascent in 2004, Lesnar had walked away to tackle another dream, trying out for the NFLs Minnesota Vikings at age 27, despite not having played organized football since he was a high schooler in Webster, South Dakota. Skeptics rolled their eyes, but fans ate it up. Although Lesnar didnt stick he got into a scuffle in his first scrimmage against the Kansas City Chiefs, and made one tackle in preseason before being cut even Vikings defensive line coach Brian Baker came away impressed.
I definitely was upset at first, but the thing about Brock is he flat-out earned my respect the past four weeks, Baker told reporters that summer. I dont know how else to put it.
And the converted have a hard time letting go, even if Lesnar can. The wrestler said in March 2015 that hed turned down an offer to return to the UFC worth 10 times what hed made during his original tenure to re-sign with the WWE.
It was a very hard decision at this stage of my career, said Lesnar. The fighter inside me wants to compete. The father and husband Im an older caveman now. I make wiser caveman decisions. So, Im here to say my legacy in the octagon is over.
2) Herschel Walker, NFL to MMA
Walker, meanwhile, never seems to quite shut the door on anything, anywhere, anytime. Last summer, the former NFL running back the first player to gain 4,000 career yards in rushing, receiving and kickoff returns and Winter Olympian raised a few eyebrows when he suggested he could still strap the pads on for a few carries.
At age 53.
There is not a doubt in my mind, if I played today [I could] contribute to a team, Walker told the Boomer & Carton radio show in June
And you laugh at your peril. Walker has become the poster child for the ageless male athlete, singlehandedly pounding 50 into the new 35. Renowned for a physique honed by a reported routine of 1,500 push-ups and 2,500 sit-ups per day, Walker had dabbled in other sports in the past, earning a fifth-degree black belt in taekwando and competing with the US Olympic bobsled team at the 1992 Winter Games, placing seventh as a brakeman in Albertville.
But the legend took on another level in November 2007, when Walker went on the television show Inside MMA to announce that he was joining a mixed martial arts reality show. Strikeforce signed the 47-year-old less than two years later to compete in its heavyweight division; he debuted in Miami against 26-year-old Greg Nagy in January 2010, recording a third-round TKO on punches. Walker would fight again for the promotion almost exactly a year later, recording a first-round TKO of Scott Carson.
While some critics scoffed, branding Walkers MMA appearances as a cash grab, Javier Mendez of the American Kickboxing Academy, Walkers trainer for 12 weeks leading up to his Strikeforce debut, told the Los Angeles Times that the former Heisman Trophy winner was the best student Ive ever had.
He never lost a sparring session and was outdoing the younger guys, added Mendez. He loves to compete. And Im not concerned about his age. At the beginning, I was skeptical myself, but this guys still a phenomenal athlete and still has the explosiveness, the cardio and the desire to be the best. Hes a great athlete who still has some of that greatness in him.
And maybe, just maybe, one more bout left in the tank. Id still fight because I still train, Walker told MMAFighting.com last June. Id step back in the cage and fight a little bit.
3) Charlie Powell, NFL to boxing
If Lesnar was the Bo Jackson of combat sports, then Powell was its Deion Sanders, balancing football and boxing in an era when the latter held more mainstream mojo than the former.
Although the 6ft 3in, 230lbs end could have taken any number of paths in the early 1950s, and excelled. A standout in football, basketball, baseball and track and field where he reportedly ran the 100 yards in 9.6 seconds at San Diego High School, the Californian apparently turned down an offer for a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters and was renowned for hitting baseballs out of San Diego Balboa Stadium.
His baseball skills led to a contract with the St Louis Browns, then owned by Bill Veeck, and a short stint with the minor-league Stockton Ports in the summer of 1952. Powell eschewed baseball for the NFL not long after, signing with the San Francisco 49ers and making his debut at the age of 20. It was an auspicious start: witnesses say Powell sacked Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne as many as 10 times in his first NFL appearance, but the league didnt make the sack an official statistic until 1982 (the late Derrick Thomas holds the official single-game sack record with seven for the Kansas City Chiefs against Seattle in November 1990).
But even the greats needed an off-season job to pay the bills, and Powells was boxing. Hed taken up the sport as a youth, having trained with a neighbor and competed at the local boys club, making his pro debut in 1953. With the help of trainer William Jones and manager Suey Welch, Powell would go on to knock out second-ranked Nino Valdes in March 1959 and place as high as No4 in Ring Magazines heavyweight rankings.
He was a serious fighter, his brother Art Powell told the Los Angeles Times in 2014, after Charlie passed away at age 82. And if the people handled him right, he mightve been a champion. In boxing, its about knowing the fights to make and not make. You shouldnt pick your opponent until you get to the place you want. And you need good sparring partners. I always felt they cut him short on those things.
He wasnt short on quality match-ups, having fought Muhammad Ali then Cassius Clay in January 1963, two fights before the former bested Sonny Liston. Powell lost to Floyd Patterson in Puerto Rico in December 1964. In 39 bouts, the California native posted a record of 25-11-3 with 17 knockouts. Powell played five seasons with the 49ers (1952-53 and 1955-57) and two with the Oakland Raiders of the new American Football League (1960-61) before putting away the cleats.
A lot of people told me I was making a mistake playing in the NFL, Powell told the Times in 2000. And they were right in the sense you dont need the same muscles in boxing you use in football. I believe I could have been champion if Id stuck to it I had a lot of hand injuries, too, and that slowed me down.
4) Anthony Mundine, rugby to boxing
Mundines personal narrative, on the surface, comes off as something of a combination of Ndamukong Suh and Ali. The Australian multi-sport standout, who walked away from rugby league at the age of 25 to enter the ring, would cite the former. Mundine found a spiritual and career beacon in Ali, converting to Islam in 1999 and disappearing for more than a week the next year, only to resurface while reportedly holding a copy of the American boxing legends autobiography.
People dont like me for speaking out and being my own man, Mundine once told the Canberra Times, but it doesnt matter. To be totally honest, I really feel that we live in a society that wants to dictate the person: Become a certain type of man, tell you what to do. Im an Aboriginal man that speaks out and if I see something, I speak the truth.
Not that speaking out was always the best thing to do. Shortly after the 9/11 he said America had brought the attacks on itself, but later said his comments had been taken out of context and it breaks my heart that people think I would even have that line of thought about being happy about people dying.
The son of boxing great Tony Mundine and a gifted basketball player, Anthony had made his rugby league debut at the age of 18, becoming a key cog in the lineup of St George-Illawarra Dragons. But concerned over racism in rugby and inspired by Ali, Mundine was poised to become the highest-paid player in the NRL when he elected to take up the family trade instead. He would go on to win the WBA super-middleweight title twice, the IBO middleweight crown, and the WBA Interim, international, and WBC silver light-middleweight titles.
With a record of 47-7 and 27 knockouts, Mundine is still one of Australias most outspoken and, at times, controversial athletes at age 40. Last July, he even penned an open letter to Floyd Mayweather, calling out the welterweight king while declaring himself the uncrowned best athlete of all time Ive got attributes that none of these cats got! You want show time I am show time! Ill give you a way better go than youve been getting.
Mayweather has yet to take the bait.
5) Akebono Taro (Chad Rowan), basketball to sumo wrestling
One of the iconic careers in sumo was born at, of all places, a funeral. Legend has it that Chad Rowan and his brother George were honoring a fallen family member where they were spotted by Larry Aweau, who was a cousin of sumo magnate Jesse Kuhaulua.
Aweau broached the subject to Rowan, a native of Oahu, Hawaii, who was bound for Hawaiian Pacific University on a basketball scholarship.
Basketball didnt take and Rowan dropped out of school, finding himself pulling weeds for $4.25 an hour. But Aweau stayed in touch and the teenage Rowan would become reborn in another sport, sumo, in another land. At the start of training during which he was subjected to a myriad of abuses, both mental and physical, including strikes from a bamboo pole the American teen knew little of the Japanese language or culture, the biggest man in the room at the lowest end of the totem pole.
When I joined [the stable], I was 18 and I had 15- and 16-year-old kids tell me to scrub the toilet and cook the rice, he told the Seattle Times in 1993.
It was on the mat where his legacy took off. Taking on the ring name Akebono, he reached the ozeki rank in just 26 tournaments then the fastest climb in the history of the sport.
In January 1993, his win over Takanohana was reportedly watched by 62.5% of the population of greater Tokyo. A giant at 6ft 8in and 500lbs, the US-born wrestler reached yokozuna, sumos highest rank, in 1993, becoming the first foreign-born competitor to do so.
He won 11 championships and posted a record of 654-232 in upper-division matches before retiring from the sport in 2001 after a series of back problems. Akebono turned to K-1 kickboxing and mixed martial arts in 2003, partially for financial reasons, with diminishing returns (kickboxing record: 1-9, MMA record: 0-4). He transitioned to a more successful pro wrestling career in 2005.
6) Curtis Woodhouse, football/soccer to boxing
Actions speak louder than words, and few let their actions say more than Woodhouse, a former England Under 21 midfielder who would make 347 appearances from 1997-2012, mostly with Sheffield United. Despite his footballing acumen, the Yorkshire native grew up idolizing boxers such as Mike Tyson and Nigel Benn.
I went from scrapping in the street and at school to fighting at the boxing ring at the age of 12, Woodhouse told the Daily Telegraph in 2008. I was called a few names due to the color of my skin, but with a quick smack on the mouth they soon backed off.
He made his pro boxing debut in September 2006, topping welterweight Dean Marcantonio on points. Woodhouse would post a career mark of 22-7 with 13 knockouts, winning the English light-welterweight crown in 2012.
But the former footballer and current Hull United manager mightve scored an even more notable victory in 2013 when he drove to meet a Twitter troll.
After Woodhouse lost his title on points to Shane Singleton that February, a Twitter user by the handle of Jimmyob88 called the boxer a disgrace. Woodhouse subsequently offered £1,000 to anyone whod help track the user down. Eventually, Woodhouse tweeted out a picture of a street sign on the road where his troll lived, tweeting, Someone tell me what number he lives at or do I have to knock on every door #itsshowtime.
At which point Jimmyob88 drew a hasty Tweet retreat. I am sorry its getting a bit out of hand, the user wrote. I am in the wrong. I accept that.
Getting a troll to throw in the towel? On this list, that mightve been the most impressive knockout of all without even throwing a single punch.
Read more: www.theguardian.com