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).