One of the many results of the growing popularity of mixed martial arts is that the fighters who make the sport what it is have been courted for opportunities outside of the cage or ring. This means commercials, sponsorships, appearances, and sometimes, even Hollywood comes calling. However, it’s hard to think of a fighter who has left fighting completely in order to pursue the supposedly plentiful opportunities available on the silver screen. Why is that?
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is just the latest fighter to be “discovered” by Hollywood, as he stars in the movie version of “The A-Team” as BA Baracus, a role formerly made famous by Mr. T himself. Of course, his foray into Hollywood kept him from fulfilling his obligation of fighting fellow TUF 10 coach Rashad Evans after the popular reality show aired, which caused major problems between Rampage and UFC head honcho Dana White.
The rest is well-known, also. Rampage took public stabs at the organization, even saying that once he fulfilled his contract, he wouldn’t do anything else to help the UFC in the future. However, in recent months, things seemed to improve, as Rampage was given a nice car for his troubles, signed to fight Rashad Evans at UFC 114, and now has signed a six-fight contract extension with the UFC.
Sure, you can’t underestimate some of the factors involved. Rampage may find the money hard to pass up, or he may still have goals that he wants to meet in the sport. However, I think that Rampage’s decision (as well as Roger Huerta’s, or even Cung Le’s) boils down to two distinctive factors. For one, the opportunities for fighters in Hollywood are not as great as they at first appear to be. The other factor is that fighters can’t just stop fighting. Why? Because they love it.
Let’s talk about what Hollywood can do for a professional MMA fighter. Now, if you are a fighter of at least marginal popularity, and you have somehow retained a portion of your good looks, you may get some offers. If you have some natural charisma, the offers may be a bit more attractive (as in Rampage’s case). However, Hollywood’s view of the sport and its fighters is not very evolved at all.
Want proof? Since the sport exploded over the last several years, the two most mainstream MMA-related movies are “Never Back Down” and “Fighting”. What do these films have in common, other than that they were awful? They both feature “fighters” who compete in unsanctioned, underground fights. We have yet to see a realistic film that portrays the life of a mixed martial artist. MMA’s “Rocky” is definitely nowhere in sight.
You may point out that MMA fighters can get roles other than playing, you know, MMA fighters. This is true, but the ignorance of the sport that is shown in the films that have been made about the sport so far pervades to the casting of fighters in other types of films, too. No one can seem to offer a talented, young mixed martial artist anything better than a role in a straight-to-video action movie with a plot straight from the 1980’s. Other than Rampage’s role in “The A-Team”, what’s the crown jewel in regards to a fighter taking on a major role in a Hollywood movie? Cung Le in the video game adaption, “Tekken”? Please.
So, you see, figthers such as Ken Shamrock, Rich Franklin, Frank Shamrock, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Le, Rampage and Huerta have all tried their hands at acting at one point or another. What did each one end up doing? Fighting again. So far at least, the typecasting of MMA fighters and overall ignorance of the sport coming from Hollywood producers, agents, casting professionals and directors is just too much to overcome in order to become a “real” actor.
Even more than that, however, fighters want to fight. It may seem like a strange and rather obvious statement, but it really says it all. Could Rampage earn enough money acting to make a living? I’m sure he could. Cung Le has had sustained success, at least monetarily, in acting. However, he continues to fight when time permits, as well. The thing is, these people love to compete, love to fight, and simply can’t quit.
For Rampage, perhaps the allure of competing, testing himself and fighting the best in the world for a lot of money was just too much. Maybe he found out that acting isn’t quite as easy as it looks. He may not have enjoyed it, or perhaps the offers haven’t come in as quickly as he had predicted. Who knows? One thing is clear, though: Rampage, for some reason, has the desire to step into a cage with other skilled professionals and fight them.
That, more than anything, is why he signed a contract extension, and that is the same reason why all of the other fighters who have acted in the past are continuing to compete. Until Hollywood can offer enough money, or at least take these athletes more seriously, movies won’t be taking our best fighters anytime soon.