ByManny Fonseca, writer at
Author, Screenwriter and Podcaster. Admitted Detroit Lion's Fan. Find me on Twitter: @mannyfonseca
Manny Fonseca

If there's a safe bet in Hollywood, it's that athletes equal box office gold (OK, OK, OK, there ARE exceptions. Kazaam anyone?). It makes sense; athletes are born entertainers and bring an important thing to every movie: a built-in audience.

No one fits that bill better than MMA fighters. Throughout the years, these competitors have made the transition from the Octagon to the big screen, some with more success than others. Let's face facts, they might be natural-born entertainers, but that doesn't necessarily mean they can carry a film.

What it really boils down to is picking the right projects to kick off their Hollywood careers, whether it's with smaller supporting roles, playing the muscle or with a memorable cameo. Sometimes, there's enough charisma and talent to catapult a sports star into Hollywood stardom.

Let's take a look at the top 10 MMA fighters in terms of US domestic box office dollars (D.B.O.) and the projects they chose to be a part of. You might be surprised who tops the list.

(Spoiler alert: It's NOT Ronda Rousey.)

10. Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson — $81,829,812 D.B.O

Jackson is 36-11-0 in his MMA career, a career that is still very much active. He's fought as recently as last year, and is scheduled to fight again at Bellator 157 in June.

Rampage started his professional fighting career in 1999, and quickly rose through the ranks with a 10-1 record. He made his UFC debut in 2007, where he delivered a knockout win over Marvin Eastman, who was previously undefeated. Jackson then took the light championship belt away from No. 9 on this list, Chuck Liddell. His performances in the Octagon garnered him the kind of crossover pop culture fame that fighters like Randy Couture had previously received.

It's this type of fame that made it easy for Hollywood to come calling. Rampage had a couple of cameos in some smaller films, but it would be his casting as B.A. Baracus in the big-budget film remake of The A-Team that would put him on this list.

Unfortunately, the film wasn't well received and suffered at the box office. What should have been the start of a franchise died pretty quickly, as did Rampage's acting career.

Film Highlights:

  • The A-Team (2010) — $77,213,489
  • Miss March (2009) — $4,542,775

9. Chuck Liddell — $127,364,844 D.B.O.

Liddell went 28-8 in his MMA career. His MMA run was highlighted by Liddell being the longest-reigning light heavyweight champion in UFC history. In fact, it was his crossover into the mainstream that really brought the sport to the pop culture forefront.

Liddell was MMA's first real crossover superstar; he paved the way for names like Couture, Rampage, Rousey, and Gina Carano to become household names.

It would be this type of success that made Liddell a shoe-in for the silver screen. Unfortunately, his choices haven't really translated into box office dollars, even if, on paper, they seemed like wise ones.

Liddell has only acted in four films. His first was a cameo in How High back in 2001. From there he had roles in 2003's Cradle 2 the Grave and 2008's Drillbit Taylor. Liddell's last film, Kick-Ass 2, should have moved the fighter up on the box office success list, but sadly the sequel to the 2010 hit just didn't ring with audiences.

Since then, Liddell has pretty much stuck to TV, appearing on shows such as Bones, Hawaii Five-O and an awkward run at Season 9 of Dancing with the Stars.

For now, it looks like Liddell's silver screen bid has ended, which would explain why he's been hinting at coming out of retirement and returning to the spotlight in the octagon.

Film Highlights:

  • Cradle to the Grave (2003) — $34,604,054
  • Drillbit Taylor (2008) — $32,853,640
  • How High (2001) — $31,155,435
  • Kick-Ass 2 (2013) — $28,751,715

8. Don Frye — $188,601,479 D.B.O

UFC legend Don Frye was one of the pioneers of the octagon. He went 20-9-1, with 1 NC, in his career, and fought in the early days of the UFC. He made his debut in 1996 at UFC 8, where he set the record for fastest knockout when he beat Thomas Ramirez in just eight seconds.

As for his time in Hollywood, Frye is one of the few fighters that has taken a classier route, sticking mainly to dramas rather than jumping straight into the action/fight genre.

His film debut was voicing a character in the animated hit The Ant Bully, but it was his small part in Johnny Depp's 2009 film Public Enemies that would get him to the No. 8 spot. Frye also had a small part in Michael Mann's 2006 reimagining of his '80s TV show Miami Vice.

But it looks as if Frye might be shedding himself of the drama and finally entering the action genre. His next film, Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins, has wrapped and while a release date has not yet been set, Frye will star alongside David Arquette, Paz de la Huerta and Tyler Dawson.

Film Highlights:

  • Public Enemies (2009) — $97,030,725
  • Miami Vice (2006) — $63,437,595
  • The Ant Bully (2006) — $28,133,159

7. Bob Sapp — $203,793,879 D.B.O.

Sapp might look familiar, even if you can't quite place him. He's best known as the lovable oaf Switowski in the 2005 Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard.

As a fighter, his career was not the most spectacular. He was 11-18-1 in the fighting world. He mostly fought overseas, although he made brief appearances in the US at Strikeforce and Fight Force International.

Today, 43-year-old Sapp is still fighting occasionally, having fought most recently in December. His biggest fight took place in 2013, when Alexander Emelianenko knocked him out in the first round.

As for his film career, Sapp has been pretty lucky in his choices. His biggest film, The Longest Yard, clocked in $158,115,031. Since The Longest Yard Sapp has had roles in Elektra and the Conan the Barbarian remake.

Sapp's acting career seems to be short-lived, as he's not slated for any upcoming films, but while he was active, he definitely made his impact. Literally (see the clip below).

Film Highlights:

  • The Longest Yard (2005) — $158,115,032
  • Elektra (2005) — $24,407,944
  • Conan the Barbarian (2011) — $21,270,904

6. George St-Pierre — $259,746,958 D.B.O.

Easily one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, GSP is 25-2 in his career. He's successfully defended his welterweight title nine times, almost matching the record of 10 title defenses set by Anderson Silva.

In 2013, GSP officially/unofficially retired from the Octagon, vacating his belt. There have been rumors over the past few months that he would finally return to the sport he left, but he's been pretty mum on the subject.

When it comes to acting, GSP is fairly new to the scene. In fact, he's only appeared in one film.

So why is he so high on this list? Easy. He chose to make his acting debut in a little Marvel film: Captain America: Winter Soldier. When that happens, you get catapulted to the No. 6 spot.

Even though he's only made one film, St-Pierre is just getting started. He next appears in Jean-Claude Van Damme's remake of his hit film Kickboxer, entitled Kickboxer: Vengeance, which is due out later this year. If that film is as big of a hit as the original film was, it's no doubt GSP will continue to move up this list.

Film Highlights:

  • Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) — $259,746,958

5. Randy Couture — $322,029,469 D.B.O.

Easily one of the most recognizable faces in and out of the Octagon, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, heavyweight champion, and current UFC Hall of Famer was 19-11 in his career. He walked away from the Octagon after his second-round knockout loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 129 in 2011.

Couture won the light heavyweight title twice, and held on to the heavyweight belt three times. During his career he racked up wins over legendary fighters such as Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, and Vitor Belfort.

As for his Hollywood career, Couture started off in small roles with films such as 2003's Cradle 2 the Grave and David Mamet's 2008 film Redbelt. In 2010, Couture hit the jackpot by signing on to a movie that every boy who grew up in the '80s had always wished for: The Expendables.

At that time, it was questionable whether action-film fans wanted to see a bunch of wrinkly old men on the big screen. As it turned out, the film was a hit and spawned two sequels. Strike that, make that three sequels.

It looks like Couture's next film could be Expendables 4, which is slated to start filming this fall. Although it's possible that Sylvester Stallone won't be joining the team this time around due to filming commitments for Creed 2, Couture confirmed his involvement in the action franchise at the Arnold Sports Festival in March.

Film Highlights:

  • The Expendables (2010) — $102,981,571
  • The Expendables 2 (2012) — $85,017,401
  • Invincible (2006) — $57,789,574
  • The Expendables 3 (2014) — $39,292,022

4. Bas Rutten — $343,025,552 D.B.O.

An MMA legend and former UFC heavyweight champion, Bas Rutten was a striking master in the Octagon. He went 28-4-1 in his career, and most of those wins came from KO or TKOs.

Also known as "El Guapo," the Dutch fighter walked away from the sport in 2006. His fame actually increased post-fighting career as a color commentator and a regular on various MMA outlets.

As for his Hollywood career, Rutten owes his high ranking to one man: Kevin James.

The pair first met when Rutten played a small role on an episode of James's hit TV show King of Queens. That relationship translated into feature films.

On paper, Rutten's first movie sounded pretty dumb. It was Die Hard in a mall, but instead of the charismatic, macho Bruce Willis saving the day, the overweight schlep Kevin James would come to the rescue.

Yes, that's right, I'm talking about 2009's Paul Blart: Mall Cop. That film would go on to be a huge hit for James and bring in $146,336,178 in the US.

Rutten would join James again in his next film, 2011's The Zookeeper, and again in James's 2012 flick Here Comes the Boom. Rutten would return to the Paul Blart world, playing a different character in the 2015 sequel Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

Whether you like his type of humor, it can't be denied that James has, at least for a good chunk of years, been gold at the box office. Hitching himself to such a star is why Bas Rutten is No. 4 on the list.

Film Highlights:

  • Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) — $146,336,178
  • The Zookeeper (2011) — $80,360,866
  • Hear Comes the Boom (2012) — $45,290,318
  • Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015) — $71,038,190

3. Ronda Rousey — $422,483,061 D.B.O.

Let's face facts, if this list was about actors who actually have acting ability, Ronda "Rowdy" Rousey would be No. 1.

The former UFC women's bantamweight champion single handedly brought women's MMA fighting into the mainstream with her near-five-year domination of the division. Rousey's reign was finally brought to an end by Holly Holm in last November.

It's expected that she'll return sometime later this year when the UFC heads to New York for it's first event there in more than a decade.

As for Hollywood, Rousey is just getting started — and her start has been a good'un. She has only appeared in three films, but all three of them have either been sequels of already successful franchises or a movie based on a successful TV show.

What's important to note is that unlike others on this list, Rousey has been able to insert herself into rather large speaking roles. Granted, in one of those films, she just plays herself, but it is quality screen time.

It's because of this that Rousey is now moving into the coveted position of lead actress. She will be the lead in the remake of the Patrick Swayze classic Road House. She will also be appearing opposite Mark Wahlberg in Mile 22, and she'll be testing out her comedy chops when she co-stars with Tina Fey in Do Nothing Bitches.

If Road House is a success, it's safe to say that Rousey will be launched into A-list status, making her the Dwayne Johnson of MMA fighting. (After all, she was the first ever MMA fighter to host Saturday Night Live.)

Film Highlights:

  • Furious 7 (2015) — $350,827,635
  • The Expendables 3 (2014) — $39,292,022
  • Entourage (2015) — $32,363,404

2. Gina Carano — $617,754,315 D.B.O.

If Ronda Rousey is the LeBron James of WMMA, than Gina Carano might just be Michael Jordan. While she didn't do for the sport what Rousey has, she definitely paved the way. In fact, if we didn't have Carano, we wouldn't have Rousey.

Technically, the former Strikeforce fighter still had four fights left with the UFC when it took over her contract, after parent company Zuffa decided to shut down the Strikeforce brand.

Carano is 7-1 in her professional MMA career, suffering her only loss in 2009 to Cris Cyborg. Carano hasn't fought since, even though UFC president Dana White has tried to get her back in the Octagon as recently as 2014. A rumored matchup with Rousey has been floating around for years.

Seemingly retired from fighting, Carano has turned to Hollywood with a great deal of success. Unfortunately, she lacks the charisma of Rousey and tends to play rather quiet characters, leaving most of her screen time dedicated to fighting scenes.

Her breakout role came in Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film Haywire. The movie failed to connect with audiences, but to be fair, Haywire has one of the best fight scenes to ever be put to film (see below).

It's her fighting skills in Haywire that made her a no-brainer to join one of the biggest franchises in history: The Fast and the Furious. Carano played Dwayne Johnson's tough, but quiet, backstabbing partner in Fast & Furious 6. After that, she sort of dropped off, making two smaller films that never really connected with, well, anyone.

2015's Extraction barely made it to audiences, only making $10,948 domestically. Odd, given the fact that it also stars Bruce Willis and Kellen Lutz.

In 2016 Carano would make her mark in cinema history, playing a rather big (but quiet) role in the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time, Deadpool.

Even though Deadpool was a Marvel property, there were a lot of risks involved: Ryan Reynolds still had some Green Lantern stink on him; director Tim Miller was a novice; and R-rated comic movies have been historically epic failures.

Deadpool proved everyone wrong and with its $360,087,900 at the box office, it's no wonder Carano sits pretty at No. 2. She'll next be seen (along with No. 6 Georges St-Pierre) in Kickboxer: Vengeance.

Film Highlights:

  • Deadpool (2016) — $360,087,900
  • Fast & Furious 6 (2013) — $238,673,370
  • Haywire (2012) — $18,934,858
  • Heist (2015) — $47,239

1. Oleg Taktarov — $711,495,506 D.B.O.

You might think you don't know Oleg Taktarov, but trust me, you know Oleg Taktarov.

Easily the biggest "Oh! That guy" on this list, Taktarov has the most acting credits, but we'll get to those in a minute.

As a fighter, Taktarov is OG. He was fighting MMA before there was ever a UFC. He starting fighting in Latvia in 1993. He's 17-5-2 in his career and when the UFC started, Taktarov was a staple fighter in the UFC "one-night tournaments" of the '90s. A Sambo specialist, Taktarov was the winner of UFC 6 and holds career victories over Tank Abbott, Marco Ruas, and Mark Kerr.

Unfortunately, possibly Taktarov's most famous moment in the cage came in the form of an upkick knockout courtesy of Renzo Gracie.

In his career, Taktarov was never submitted. In 1997, Oleg suffered from a terrifying knockout loss to Gary Goodridge at the first ever Pride 1 show. After being knocked unconscious, Goodridge landed a giant right hook on the prone Taktarov. He was in such bad shape that he had to be carried out of the octagon on a stretcher.

Taktarov temporarily retired from the sport after his recovery from Pride 1 and headed for Hollywood.

It wouldn't take him long to find success, landing his first role in Air Force One. A few years later, Taktarov would appear in back-to-back successes: Bad Boys II in 2003 and National Treasure in 2004. Throughout the years, he would continue to play the muscle in such films as Miami Vice, We Own the Night and Righteous Kill, the latter of which starred Robert de Niro and Al Pacino.

Taktarov's last role came in the form of "Nikolai" in 2010's Predators. It wouldn't be the biggest film of his career (that title went to National Treasure) or his biggest role (that would probably go to 15 Minutes) but it would be the most beloved. After all, who doesn't want to fight a Predator?

It's his constant successes as "that guy" that's landed him roles in some of Hollywood's biggest and most memorable blockbusters and puts him as the all-time biggest MMA star, according to the domestic box office.

Film Highlights:

  • National Treasure (2004) — $173,005,002
  • Air Force One (1997) — $172,650,002
  • Bad Boys II (2003) — $138,396,624
  • Miami Vice (2006) — $63,437,595
  • Predators (2010) — $52,000,688
  • Righteous Kill (2008) — $40,076,438
  • We Own the Night (2007) — $28,563,179
  • 15 Minutes (2001) — $24,375,436
  • Rollerball (2002) — $18,990,542

(All box office dollars were according to the Studio System database)


Latest from our Creators