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Halloween series: Top 10 freakshow fights in MMA

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Mariusz Pudzianowski (grey trunks) vs. Bob Sapp. Pic by SHERDOG.COM -click for source- Credit: Maciej Okraszewski

Halloween is known for it’s various freak shows. They date back to the traveling carnival freak shows to the more modern freak shows that involve haunted house attractions and theme parks decorated for Halloween.

MMA has also had it’s share of freak shows in terms of matches where extremely large fighters go against more skilled fighters. Just to clarify a fighter can only appear once on this list. So with that here we go:

~ 10 ~

Sean Gannon vs. Branden Lee Hinkle

Since the purchase of the UFC by Zuffa from Semaphore Entertainment Group, Dana White has usually avoided freak show match ups. However, there have been a few exceptions to this rule and this particular match up is one of them. Boston Police Officer Sean Gannon made a name for himself on the internet for being the only man (on camera at least) to defeat Kimbo Slice in a bare knuckles brawl.

Getting wind of this, Gannon was signed by the UFC with a legitimate 2-0 record in MMA to fight Branden Lee Hinkle at UFC 55. The fight lasted for four minutes, but in the end Gannon lost and while it seemed Dana White was done with freak show match ups, in reality it wouldn’t be the last time.

~ 9 ~ 

David “Tank” Abbott vs. John Matua

In the early days of the UFC, freak show match ups were rather common and this was no exception. Both David Abbott and John Matua were making their MMA debuts in the preliminary round of the UFC 6 tournament. Matua was billed as weighing 400 pounds with a background in the Hawaiian art of bone crushing, while Abbott was billed as about 150 pounds lighter with a street fighting background called “Pit Fighting.”

Abbott’s beer belly body was extremely deceptive as from the beginning of the 20 second match it was obvious he was the better striker and had no problem dismantling the larger Matua. Abbott went on to beat a similarly sized Paul Varelans to make it into the finals of the tournament.

~ 8 ~

Bob Sapp vs. Alexander Emelianenko

This fight has many unique distinctions on this list, including the most recent freak show and the least known freak show. Following the end of Pride FC, Alexander Emelianenko fought primarily in Eastern European shows compared to his older brother Fedor Emelianenko‘s continued success at the elite level.

Bob Sapp on the other hand became less of a legitimate fighter to a simple freak show fighter showing up to collect a pay check. Despite their lesser known status’ the Legend Fight Show promotion still saw value in the match up and booked them for May 25th of this year. Emelianenko needed about 78 seconds to beat Sapp and Emelianenko is now in talks for a rematch with Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.

~ 7 ~

Mariusz Pudzianowski vs. Tim Sylvia

Tim Sylvia may be a former two time UFC Heavyweight Champion, but it was during a different era and he has flip flopped between heavyweight and super heavyweight since being released from the UFC. It was one of these super heavyweight match ups where he looked puffy in the face and flabby in the midsection that he faced strongman turned MMA fighter Mariusz Pudzianowski or simply Pudz.

Pudz had a 2-0 record with matches set up by Polish MMA promotion KSW. The match up took place at Moosin: God of Martial Arts and while Pudz initially gave Sylvia some legitimate trouble, Sylvia was able to take down the muscular Pudz and force a submission by strikes in the second round. While Sylvia had some success before and after the fight, he’s now on hard times again while Pudz has actually had some success still fighting for KSW.

~ 6 ~

Keith Hackney vs. Emmanuel Yarborough

Another early era freak show match up, this one is most notable as a David and Goliath match. In the preliminary round of the UFC 3 tournament, karate expert Keith Hackney weighing 200 pounds faced amateur sumo wrestler Emmanuel Yarborough who has the record of the heaviest athlete at over 800 pounds at his largest. During the beginning part of the fight, Yarborough chased the smaller Hackney around the Octagon, while Hackney looked for a way to throw any kind of strike possible while trying not to be cornered.

While Yarborough almost succeeded in almost swallowing up Hackney in his rolls, Hackney was able to get out and throw punches on Yarborough until “Big” John McCarthy came in and stopped the fight. Hackney would face Joe Son at UFC 4 while Yarborough would win and loose ending in a 1-2 record.

~ 5 ~

Kimbo Slice vs. James Thompson

For some, it’s hard to believe that this was the first main event MMA fight on American network television. EliteXC had arisen quite suddenly as a rival to the UFC with fight cards on Showtime and a deal that allowed them to broadcast the first fight on basic TV appropriately called EliteXC: Primetime.

One of EliteXCs’ main draws was web brawler Kimbo Slice who went into this fight against longtime MMA vet James Thompson. Making this more of a freak show was the fact that Thompson came into the fight with a fresh cauliflower ear. The fight was by no means the most technical fight, especially because of Thompson’s exploding ear, and the questionable stoppage by Dan Mirgliotta, giving Slice the win.

~ 4 ~

Randy Couture vs. James Toney

This match is proof that when it comes to money, Dana White can and will allow freak show match ups to take place in the UFC. James Toney had made it clear that he’d wanted to crossover into MMA while still actively competing in boxing. White signed him but instead of giving him a lower level heavyweight, he jumped right into a major match up and pitted him up against longtime veteran and legend Randy Couture.

The match up was placed as the co-main event at UFC 118 and was billed as MMA versus boxing. Couture made quick work of Toney by taking Toney down with a low single (not commonly used in MMA) to take Toney down to ground n pound and submit him with an arm triangle.

~ 3 ~

Akebono Taro vs. Royce Gracie

Freak show match ups have been happening pretty recently in Japanese MMA promotions, so there is a reason why the top three on this list are from those shows as they didn’t just happen frequently but were also creative. Akebono Taro (born Chad Rowan) had gone 0-5 in K-1 and was looking to expand under the Fighting and Entertainment Group banner.

Royce Gracie since his return to MMA had gone 1-1-1 and hadn’t fought since the Pride Shockwave 2003 show. Fighting and Entertainment Group was able to lure both of them into a match up by offering Akebono a chance to give MMA a try and for Royce to essentially do a throwback to his early UFC days at the annual New Years Eve Dynamite 2004 show. Despite the 300 pound difference, Gracie made short work of Akebono with a submission at 2:13 of the first round.

~ 2 ~

Genki Sudo vs. Eric “Butterbean” Esch

In terms of size difference, this is as creative as Fighting and Entertainment Group ever got during it’s existence. Believe it or not, this fight was actually in between Genki Sudo’s fights with the UFC, but he’d had a history with FEG fighting for K-1. Likewise, Eric “Butterbean” Esch had crossed over into K-1 from boxing.

Officials at Fighting and Entertainment Group saw the draw a match up between the two would bring so they convinced the two to sign on to fight each other at the Dynamite 2003 show. The fight primarily consisted of Sudo taking a note from Keith Hackney by dancing around the ring until the second round when it went to the ground and he got a heel hook on the larger Butterbean.

~ 1 ~

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Choi Hong-man

Without a doubt, this is probably one of the greatest freak shows of all time especially in the modern era. The fight took place right after the purchase of Pride FC by Zuffa and was co-promoted by M-1 Global and Fighting and Entertainment Group at an event called Yarennoka! (roughly translates to “Do you want to fight?!” in Japanese).

The show was meant as a farewell to the Pride fans and in order to draw people, the match up between longtime Pride mainstay and M-1 Global signed fighter Fedor Emelianenko (who was still considered the number one heavyweight in the world at the time) and K-1 fighter Choi Hong-man aka the Korean Giant.

The match was extremely brief with Emelianenko submitting Choi in an arm bar within the first two minutes. While the match is forgettable the overall event is not as it inspired the former staff of Pride, who worked on it with FEG and M-1, and FEG to essentially combine the Heros and Pride staff into FEG’s Dream MMA promotion.

Can you think of any other freak show match ups that are notable in MMA? Leave a comment!

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Matthew Salzer (have 175 posts in total)
A native Californian, Matthew Salzer first fell in love with martial arts when he was introduced to wrestling at the age of 11 by his mother. Close to the same time he fell in love with Mixed Martial Arts while living in Japan when he was introduced to PRIDE FC on public Japapese TV. Matthew has experience in wrestling both as a successful athlete, graduating from Missouri Baptist University with a Bachelor's degree in Social Sciences on a partial scholarship and as a coach with high school experience at Orange Lutheran and Villa Park High Schools and at the kids club level with Team TCB and Team Crucifixtion Wrestling Clubs. In addition to success in school and in athletics, Matthew also has experience in the MMA industry, having served with the California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Association (CAMO) and is an active member on the www.mmaforum.com website. He also recently started writing for the website Funky Monkey MMA with his own column titled Matthew's Corner.