8 Great Fighters Who Became Kickass Actors (And 3 Who Sucked)

They’re forces to be reckoned with in the ring and on camera.

They’re forces to be reckoned with in the ring and on camera.

Hot on the heels of the DVD and Blu-ray release of Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, the world can’t get enough of female MMA fighter Gina Carano. Plucked from the top of the female fighting world, Carano stars as Mallory Kane, a kickass, revenge-seeking black ops soldier in her very first big screen role. Since Carano is so awesome in Haywire, her star turn got us thinking about some other great fighters who have become kickass actors… and a few who sucked.

The 8 Great…

8. Cung Le

Cung Le may not be a great actor—most of his roles are non-speaking—but he makes the list solely based on the amount of roles he’s had in Hollywood and the fact he’s been a tremendous fighter – first as a champion kickboxer and then as a champion MMA fighter. His kickboxing record is an unblemished 17-0 (with twelve KOs) and he’s 7-2 as a mixed martial artist with his last fight being a loss at UFC 139 to Brazilian legend Wanderlei Silva. That’s pretty damn impressive, especially if you count the time he’s taken off for roles in everything from Walker, Texas Ranger and Fighting to Pandorum and Tekken. Cung Le may not be a star, but he certainly fits his “Human Highlight Reel” nickname.

Courtesy of Constantin Film Produktion | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

7. Antonio Tarver

Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver racked up several championship titles on his way to an impressive 29-6 record (19 KOs) as a professional boxer. He’s held WBC, WBA, IBF and The Ring championships and even earned a bronze medal for the United States in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. What’s maybe more impressive, however, is that he was handed a starring role as heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon in the 2006 film Rocky Balboa by none other than Sylvester Stallone himself. It’s a meaty part that Tarver handles like a pro and proves that “The Italian Stallone” was right when he thought it’d be easier to teach a boxer to act than to teach an actor to box.

Courtesy of MGM | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

6. Jack Dempsey

Jack “The Manassa Mauler” Dempsey is often referred to as one of the greatest heavyweights, and one of the most popular boxers, of all time. Known for his astonishing punching power and his aggressive style, Dempsey quickly won the hearts of boxing fans everywhere en route to the heavyweight championship and a career record of 66 wins (51 TKOs), six losses and eleven draws. Between 1920 and 1958, Dempsey also appeared in nearly 20 films. He even acted alongside his silent film star wife Estelle Taylor in the Broadway play The Big Fight and the 1925 film Manhattan Madness. The guy is a boxing legend with an amazing record who still found time to make some memorable movies. All George Foreman did was make a measly grill.

Courtesy of Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

5. Randy Couture

Randy “The Natural” Couture has achieved nearly every milestone a fighter could possibly attain in the MMA world. He is the first fighter to hold two UFC championships in two different divisions, has competed in a record 15 title fights, is the oldest title holder ever—in both the UFC and all of MMA—and is the only fighter in UFC history to win a championship after being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame (of which he was one of the first members). He’s also one of the fighters that helped bring MMA to the American mainstream and his legacy easily outshines his 19-11 career record. Add in the fact that Couture has become an action film staple over the past few years and you’ve got yourself a certified legend. He’s had significant roles in films such as Redbelt, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior and, most recently, The Expendables (he’s currently filming The Expendables 2).

Courtesy of Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

4. Gina Carano

Gina “Conviction” Carano was a bit of a wildcard casting call for Haywire, but she quickly proved to be the Jason Bourne of ladies when the movie hit theaters. As far as fighting is concerned, she certainly has the pedigree. She started on the Muay Thai circuit and quickly racked up a 12-1-1 record there before participating in the first ever sanctioned female MMA fight in Nevada against Leiticia Pestova, which she won by first round KO. Carano then built up a 7-1 female MMA record and became widely regarded as the “Face of Women’s MMA.” In the past few years, she’s not only starred as Crush on TV’s American Gladiators reboot, but has also garnered roles in the 2008 video game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 and 2009’s Blood and Bone. Now, she’s kicking ass and taking names in Haywire. Oh, and did we mention that Carano is absolutely beautiful? Yeah, there’s that too.

Courtesy of Five Continents Imports, LLC | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

3. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson could probably swap places with Randy Couture on this list, but we think his starring role as B.A. Baracus in the 2010 film version of The A-Team is enough to catapult him to the third spot. His turn as the character formerly played by the legendary Mr. T is charming, funny and simply badass. His 32-9 career record is impressive even before you add in the Pride and UFC championships he’s won. Most stunning, though, are some of the insane slams on his highlight reel (most notably his bout-winning slam of Ricardo Arona at 2004’s Pride Critical Countdown). Known as much for his signature heavy chain and howl upon entering the arena as he is for his sometimes-brash and sometimes-jovial attitude, it’s not doubt that “Rampage” is a legend of the sport.

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

2. Chuck Norris

The Internet has turned Chuck Norris into something even greater than he was as both a martial artist and an actor:  A meme that can seemingly do just about anything (even, apparently, win a game of Connect Four in three moves and slam a revolving door). While he doesn’t own any UFC or boxing championships, you’d have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t think Norris is a badass. He served in the United States Air Force before starting his martial arts career and eventually went on to win the professional middleweight championship, rising to the rank of 8th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He created his own martial art called Chun Kuk Do, amassed an amazing 183-10-2 career record and received the Golden Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Karate Union Hall of Fame. Acting-wise, Norris has been working steadily since 1968, with some of his most famous roles coming in Delta Force, Missing in Action and the long-running series Walker, Texas Ranger. He’s set to light the big screen on fire again in 2012 with a role in The Expendables 2.

Courtesy of Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

1. Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is not only a much-revered actor and performer, but he’s also widely regarded as the most influential martial artist of all time. He’s probably inspired more famous fighters to become fighters than anyone else in existence. He was also a philosopher, director, producer and screenwriter who founded the martial arts philosophy of Jeet Kune Do. All this before dying at the young age of 32. Lee made the traditional martial arts film an event and created such classics as Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon and Game of Death. He also famously portrayed the role of Kato on the 1966 series The Green Hornet and Batman. They’ve even erected sculptures of the man in Hong Kong. Simply put, he’s a genuine legend and it’s a shame he died so young. Don’t think we’re not onto you, secret society assassins.

Courtesy of Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

… And 3 Who Sucked

Keith Jardine

This one is a bit borderline, as calling Jardine a “great” fighter is up for discussion. To say that he’s a “good” or “mediocre” fighter would probably be more accurate. He has, however, defeated some truly great fighters (most famously Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin), and amassed a career 17-10-2 record with key victories coming during his UFC days. Less impressive, however, are Jardine’s acting chops. His hokey performances have graced the screen with roles in Crank: High Voltage, Gamer, Tactical Force and a season three episode of Breaking Bad. Rather than show any nuance, Jardine prefers to mean mug the camera and growl barely intelligibly. Stick to fighting, Keith!

Courtesy of Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Chuck Liddell

Chuck Liddell is a UFC Hall of Famer with a career MMA record of 21-8 (13 KOs) and, for a long time, was the UFC’s main draw. Fans loved to watch Liddell throw haymakers and knock people out cold. His career fizzled a bit at the end with “The Iceman” losing five of his last six bouts, but it hardly diminishes the amazing string of wins he had as UFC light heavyweight champion. Sadly, that fighting prowess didn’t exactly carry over to his acting skills. He’s recently (and forgettably) played himself in several TV series including Hawaii Five-O, Entourage and Blue MountainState and he’s played characters just as forgettable in films like How High, Cradle 2 the Grave, Bachelor Party Vegas and Drillbit Taylor. Now entrenched as vice president of business development for the UFC, we hope Liddell will focus on staying behind the desk and less on being in front of the camera.

Courtesy of HBO | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Mike Tyson

“Iron” Mike Tyson is arguably the second most famous boxer of all time, right behind Muhammad Ali. During the late 1980s and very early 1990s, “Kid Dynamite” was the boxing star that nearly everyone in the world wanted to see fight. A former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson holds the record for being the youngest boxer to win the IBF, WBC and WBA heavyweight titles. He didn’t just beat his opponents – he destroyed them. He won his first 19 professional fights by knockout (12 of them in the first round) en route to a 50-6 (two no contests) career record, and is credited with being one of the best heavyweight boxers of all time. It’s a shame that his controversial lifestyle and criminal behavior tarnished his legacy, but it also doesn’t help that Tyson decided to try his hand at acting. He’s not only a bad actor, but he’s bad at playing himself in films like Black and White, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, MADtv and The Hangover. If you can, try to remember “Kid Dynamite” as that ferocious young boxer that nearly knocked his opponents’ heads off in a matter of minutes…not the dude whose appearance in The Hangover Part II was equally as uncomfortable as Ed Helms getting railed by a tranny stripper.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012


Find out how Gina Carano landed her breakout role in this making-of-the-movie clip. And don’t forget to check out Haywire, out on DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and On Demand now!