NFL players are rarely successful when they turn to combat sports. But it’s not too surprising to see them take this step because of football’s physicality. However, cricket is a different story because there is no contact at all. Britain’s Flintoff surprised many people when he announced his professional boxing debut.
This became one of those freak shows that blew up because of his relative celebrity profile. He defeated Richard Dawson on points after a tough battle. Flintoff revealed his limitations in the bout but he enjoyed the experience. He also fought in front of a full venue because of his popularity (via TalkSport).
Gore spent 16 seasons in the NFL and fans appreciated his durability. But perhaps it wasn’t the best decision to enter the world of combat sports after he retired. He put his body through the wringer during his days as a running back. Meanwhile, he also earned a fortune from lucrative football contracts.
Nonetheless, Gore couldn’t resist the allure of the bright lights. First, he lost a decision against Deron Williams in an exhibition bout. But he won his professional debut against Olaseyinde Olorunsola as he scored a brutal knockout. Furthermore, doctors found disturbing white spots on his brain during a scan (via New York Post).
Villas-Boas was one of the hottest young managers on the planet during his days with Porto. He coached a bunch of elite soccer clubs including Chelsea and Marseille. But Villas-Boas has another passion that surprised many of his fans. He loves rally driving and even competed in the Dakar Rally.
Nobody expected that he would enter this prestigious event. In the end, Villas-Boas failed to finish after he suffered a crash. It’s very random because most soccer coaches focus entirely on their chosen profession. However, Villas-Boas likes to step into a completely different world (via AutoSport).
Liddell was one of the UFC’s first superstars and helped catapult MMA into the mainstream. The Iceman had a brutal style that saw him knock out many opponents. But his career came to an end after a miserable losing streak that saw him absorb a lot of punishment. In the end, UFC President Dana White refused to book him again because of the risk.
However, Liddell couldn’t resist the chance to fight again. Oscar De La Hoya booked Liddell to fight his old rival, Tito Ortiz. But Liddell was almost 50 at the time and couldn’t hang with his younger rival. He lost in the first round and made everybody feel sad in the process. This was one of those freak shows that left a bitter taste (via MMA Fighting).
Toney is a legendary former boxer who captured many titles during his heyday. He also became one of the first big stars to cross over into another combat sport. Toney fought Randy Couture in an infamous UFC clash that saw him lose by submission. This infuriated Toney, who didn’t expect Couture to take him down at all.
However, Couture was a wrestling specialist and everybody knew he would do exactly what he did. It was naive of Toney not to expect this but he paid the price. It’s one of those freak shows that people can’t believe happened in real life. Toney doesn’t like to talk about this event because the UFC exploited him (via Bloody Elbow).
Technically, Tebow returned to his former sport but still managed to create one of the biggest freak shows on this list. We should blame Urban Meyer because he decided to bring Tebow back to the NFL. The former quarterback failed to make the grade in Denver and became a baseball player.
But Meyer worked with Tebow in Florida and wanted to turn him into a tight end. Let’s just say that it didn’t work out but it provided a lot of unwanted attention. This was just one of the many stupid decisions that Meyer made in 2021 as he infuriated the entire Jaguars’ fanbase (via Sportsnet).
Kimbo Slice made a name for himself as one of the most popular street fighters in the U.S. He became a cult figure and eventually signed with MMA promotions. However, he didn’t achieve much as a professional when he had specific rules to follow. But this wasn’t the end of his fighting career because he made a comeback as a veteran.
That’s when he fought Dada 5000 in one of the worst freak shows ever. The two men became tired very quickly and Dada 5000 even had a minor heart attack in the cage. It was a disgrace of an event and one that became notorious. This causes many fans to shudder when they think about it today (via USA Today Sports).
The UFC built VanZant up to be their next golden girl but it didn’t work out that way. They signed her when she was 18 and instantly marketed her because of her striking good looks. However, there was no escaping the fact that she was a distinctly average fighter despite her bravery in the cage.
Finally, she left the UFC and fans expected her to enter the world of professional wrestling. But she shocked them when she signed with BKFC and agreed to fight in bare-knuckle boxing matches. She fought in two of these freak shows and brutally lost both bouts (via DAZN).
Jordan became a sporting superstar with the Chicago Bulls but he quit the team for a season in 1994. This came after his father’s death and he fell out of love with basketball. Then he decided to pursue a career in baseball and played for the White Sox’s minor league affiliate.
“Yeah… it was a freak show,” former White Sox star Frank Thomas told the White Sox Talk Podcast. “Sure, it was exciting for the team because we had so many people watching the games every day and so much fanfare, but it was a little crazy. It wasn’t a typical spring training. There were a lot of eyes on the White Sox that spring.”
Professional wrestling events are arguably the biggest freak shows on the planet. However, many professional athletes enjoy participating because they are very lucrative. Rousey left the UFC under a cloud after back-to-back defeats involving brutal knockouts. Then she signed with the WWE as she looked to maximize her brand (via Wrestling Inc.).
But many fans don’t like Rousey because they think she’s boring and doesn’t relate to the crowd. They don’t appreciate her functional MMA-based style and her personality. The reality is that Rousey entered the promotion because of her name recognition. It remains to be seen if that’s enough to maintain her place on the WWE’s roster.
Mayweather is one of the most successful boxers in history. He accumulated an undefeated 50-0 record before he retired from sanctioned bouts. But the American continues to appear in exhibition bouts and freak shows because they are so lucrative. First, he boxed Tenshin Nasukawa in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve in 2020 (via Bleacher Report).
Then he faced Logan Paul in a boxing match in 2021 at Florida’s Hard Rock Stadium. The latter was an anti-climax because Paul hung on desperately and prevented Mayweather from knocking him out. Mayweather is a brilliant businessman and will appear in these events as long as they make money.
Bol wasn’t the best NBA player ever but he remains an iconic figure because of his stature. He is the joint-tallest NBA star ever and this made him a cult hero. Bol spent a decade in the league as he bounced around with different teams. However, he also infamously competed in a boxing exhibition (via Bleacher Report).
His opponent was the equally memorable, William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry. Perry was a massive figure, even by the standards of NFL athletes. In the end, the fight didn’t go well for Bol as he suffered a savage knockout. Many professional combat sports athletes say that it’s impossible to play fight.
Ferdinand was one of the top defenders of the 2010s. He captained Manchester United and also represented the English national soccer team with great pride. The center-back enjoyed great success as he won many honors including Premier League and Champions League titles.
After he retired he decided he wanted to become a professional boxer. The then-39-year-old committed himself to train and wanted to make his debut. However, the British Board of Boxing Control refused to license him because of his age and lack of experience (via The Sun).
It’s maybe harsh to call this a freak show but Brady competed in a sport that was outside his comfort zone. He reignited his rivalry against Peyton Manning in ‘The Match’. This golf exhibition saw him play with Phil Mickelson against Manning and Tiger Woods. It was meant to be fun but Brady didn’t have a great day.
The worst moment for the NFL icon came when he bent over to pick up a ball and ripped his pants. This wasn’t in the script but it made it even better for the watching fans. Meanwhile, Manning’s ruthless sense of humor put Brady in some uncomfortable positions (via Action Network).
Peterson was an iconic NFL running back and a brilliant athlete. Many sportspeople think that this is enough to forge a career in combat sports. Often it’s not because boxing and MMA require different types of conditioning. Furthermore, it’s difficult to learn the skills in a short period (via NFL.com).
In 2022, Peterson fought fellow NFL star, Le’Veon Bell in a boxing match. But he suffered a brutal knockout loss in the fifth round of their heavyweight clash. Nobody wanted to see the future Hall of Famer absorb this type of damage after a tough career in the pro football ranks.
Perry became a cult hero during his time with the UFC. His eccentric personality and savage penchant for a brawl made him a fan favorite. Finally, he departed the promotion because he wanted to make money from freak shows. This included an appearance on a Triller card when he fought in a triangle.
The Florida native won this match before he entered the world of bare-knuckle boxing. One of the most surprising results of 2022 saw him defeat the cerebral Michael ‘Venom’ Page in a no-gloves match. Perry took to bare-knuckle boxing like a duck to water (via Fight Mag).
Manning partnered with Tiger Woods against Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson for The Match in 2021. This entertaining sporting crossover occurred during the global health crisis and provided a great distraction. Manning surprised many people by being decent but Brady’s shocking lack of skill also helped.
Furthermore, Manning’s smack talk improved this event as a spectacle. It’s a bit cruel to call it a freak show because they raised millions of dollars for charity. But Brady’s poor standard of play and the fact that he split his pants put it into this category. At least it was more entertaining than a standard game of golf (via Boston Globe).
Many NFL fans know Highsmith from his time as a player and as an executive. These days he’s working with the University of Miami but he had another career before his return to football. Highsmith entered the world of boxing and fought 30 times before he hung up his gloves for good.
It may seem unfair to include him on this list because this is a significant record. However, there’s no denying that some of these were freak shows against subpar opponents. They made him appear to be better than he was and included fellow former footballer Mark Gastineau (via The Athletic).
In 2022, MVP Promotions announced that Williams would join the ranks of NBA stars on their roster. He agreed to fight on one of their undercards with Frank Gore a potential opponent. Williams earned a lot of money during his time with the likes of the Cavaliers and the Nets (via Euro Hoops).
But a boxing exhibition provided him with several motivations. Firstly, there are the financial benefits of fighting another man for a few minutes. Then there’s the competitive appeal of training for this event and testing his masculinity. It doesn’t matter if they’re freak shows because it will feel like a title fight for Williams.
For a decade, Askren was one of the best welterweight MMA fighters in the world outside of the UFC. He won the Bellator and ONE Championship titles before he finally entered the top U.S. promotion. However, he was past his prime and suffered mixed results despite building his profile.
After he retired from MMA he agreed to box Jake Paul as the YouTuber’s first true combat sports opponent. Many fans hoped that Askren would demolish the upstart but that’s not what happened. Paul knocked Askren out in controversial circumstances and many people called it a fix (via Asia Net).
Every boxing fan respects Holyfield because he is one of the sport’s biggest legends. However, he arguably fought for too long and nobody wanted to watch him. His final professional boxing match came in 2011 when he was 48. But Holyfield couldn’t resist the allure of the ring and came back in an exhibition in 2021.
The 58-year-old fought former UFC champion Vitor Belfort in a grim display. Belfort demolished Holyfield and showed no respect for the heavyweight icon’s age. Many fans found it uncomfortable to watch and disturbing because of the potential health implications (via GiveMeSport).
Jake Paul made waves in 2020 when he flattened Robinson in a boxing match. This was controversial because career boxers and coaches found the fight offensive. They also thought that it set a dangerous precedent and that these freak shows are irresponsible.
Longterm boxing coach Teddy Atlas condemned the fight and pointed his finger at boxing’s overseers (via TalkSport). He said: “I don’t care about athletes or not, stop allowing guys who don’t know how to fight into a ring. Paul has trained to fight. Awful. Why have a California commission if they allow this.”
Woodley was one of the most dominant UFC champions ever. He combined his wrestling base with a powerful right hand that knocked out his opponents. However, he suffered a dismal losing streak before he finally departed from the UFC. Then he entered the world of YouTube boxing and met his nemesis, Jake Paul (via USA Today Sports).
Somehow, Woodley contrived to lose two matches against ‘The Problem Child.’ First, there was a boring decision loss but worse was to come for the Missouri native. He agreed on a rematch against Paul on short notice but the YouTuber knocked him out. Both of these events were freak shows and an embarrassment for the sport.
Bell is one of the NFL’s most polarizing figures because of his eccentric personality. He became a star with the Pittsburgh Steelers before his greed destroyed his career prospects. After he sat out for a year, he joined the Jets but this didn’t go well. Then he joined the Chiefs but barely played.
It appears that Bell found his true calling by competing in boxing freak shows. He knocked out Adrian Peterson in one of these encounters but this wasn’t the end. Bell has now agreed to fight former UFC fighter Uriah Hall on the undercard of Jake Paul vs. Anderson Silva. He also says that this will be his main focus moving forward (via NBC Sports).