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Bob Sapp

posted by Matthew on 4/04/03


The Beast

How a Ridiculously Big Black Guy Becomes a Japanese Superstar

Mixed martial arts (known as MMA), or no holds barred fighting as a sport, is a well-established business in Japan. Numerous fighting organizations, from PRIDE to Shooto to Pancrase to DEEP, are shown on PPV and sellout major arenas around Japan, exhibiting the best martial artists in the world in violent yet technical contests to see who is the best. As you can imagine, this modern day gladiatorial combat is quite popular and entertaining, but not popular enough to maintain a high level of profitability through Japan’s economic depression and not entertaining enough to draw huge crowds of Japanese fans, who are among the most desensitized and competed over populations worldwide when it comes to entertainment. So, how do you make real fighting more marketable?



The Chin

Antonio Inoki

That’s right, you make a deal with fake fighting, represented by the Japanese Vince McMahon and all-around Lucifer-esque figure of Antonio Inoki. With Inoki’s help, combat sports in Japan quickly started adopting high production values and gimmicks for the fighters, and, shockingly, started to also put on fake fights on occasion. You see, MMA promoters saw the chance for big money in using established pro wrestling stars on their shows, the only problem being most of them didn’t really know how to fight; the obvious way to fix that is have them win in fake fights. While this policy was successful for a while, it fell apart when it became clear that, while promotions could build up pro wrestlers with fake fights for a while, they would eventually fall apart when confronted with real competition. The next policy was to promote Japanese fighters like they were pro wrestlers, the beneficiary of which was a young Japanese man and ex-pro wrestler by the name of Kazushi Sakuraba.


Kazushi Sakuraba

The World’s Most Entertaining Martial Artist

Sakuraba had it all: he was Japanese, had a background in pro wrestling, incredible charisma, a fantastically showy fight style, and, most importantly of all, could really, truly fight terribly well. In fact, he may have been the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world from 1998-2001. That, in addition to that incredible skill, he also happened to be an incredible showmen in and out of the fighting ring, someone who would make flashy entrances in masks and costumes and would also take incredible risks in his fights by performing flashy attacks and pro wrestling moves, only made him more irresistible to the Japanese public.


Flying Sakuraba

It takes a true showmen to fight like a movie action hero in a real Fight


Of course, it all fell apart in short order. The bookers for Sakuraba’s fights started placing him against guys well outside of his weight class, something that’s very taboo within fighting circles, asking Sakuraba to overcome both his opponent’s technique and superior size and strength. It, of course, ended in failure, with Sakuraba suffering a series of losses due to the difference in size coupled with his passion to entertain at all costs. Mixed martial arts needed a new superstar.


The End of Sakuraba

Sakuraba gets murdered by Brazilian Vanderlei Silva

The Japanese were baffled at where to find someone with the combination of charisma and fighting skill necessary to make MMA successful again. They eventually found him in 2002, though he was about as far away from Kazushi Sakuraba as possible.


Bob Sapp

English motherfucker, do you speak it?

Enter Bob Sapp, former football offensive lineman and failed American professional wrestler, an incredible 6'3, 350 pounds of man-monster with less than 10% body fat. In other words, a giant black steroid addict. Sapp’s size allows him to simply manhandle opponents, toss them around and wildly flail at them with sloppy punches that are deadly due to his size and strength. However, Sapp’s main attraction is his innate charisma, the incredible animation that electrifies his hilarious shouting interviews and makes for fantastically surreal photo-ops. While the Japanese promoters realized the potential Sapp had, it took them a little while to figure out what his niche was.


The First Gimmick

Hello, I’m a big black man who eats a lot

Admittedly, the first gimmick the Japanese promoters came up with for Bob Sapp was a little underwhelming, but it surprisingly caught on. Its major theme was that Bob Sapp was a big guy with a huge appetite that would eat everything he came into contact with. He’d had photo-ops where he’d eat 30 cow tongues; he’d have pre-fight interviews where he’d eat photos of his opponents and bite off the heads of their action figures; he’d even eat lottery balls.


Send this picture to a friend and watch his head explode from trying to figure out what it is

As Sapp’s popularity grew, a new facet of his character started to develop, namely that of crazy, move-bustin’, dancing giant black man. It all started with an impromptu fight dance that soon developed into an elaborate post fight dance routine. This facet really took off with Bob Sapp’s entrance into Japanese pro wrestling, which allowed Sapp to make his entrances before fights include intricately choreographed routines set to Madonna’s “Holiday” with a troupe of Japanese dancers, with Sapp dressed as their white-feather-boa-sporting pimp. In case you’re wondering, YES, it did rule as much as it sounds.


Sapp Hawking DVD Technology

This may be my favorite picture ever

Sapp’s popularity is mind-blowing in Japan, with him making upwards of two dozen TV show appearances per week in addition to an innumerable number of sponsorship deals, his own Sapp-centric store in the heart of Tokyo, not to mention his training for his pro wrestling and mixed martial arts matches. At one point, he was said to be getting no more than three hours of sleep a night, and it has started to show in his work. His gimmicks got more and more surreal, including a supposed bout of amnesia that had him thinking he was an astronomer in North Korea and ended with him climbing a giant tent for no apparent reason. He also recently lost his first kickboxing match ever, getting his orbital bone broken and ending up crying on the mat in the process, which he then dealt with by starting to wear a pirate eye patch.



The Aforementioned Tent and Eyepatch

However, Sapp’s popularity is still so strong that Japanese music executives saw the opportunity for a quick cash in and singlehandedly created a vanity music project based around him. Entitled Sapp Time, the album is a combination of Japanese boyband singers and studio musicians playing bad retro 80's R&B while Bob Sapp shots non sequiturs really loudly. It’s one of the most fantastically bizarre pop culture artifacts I’ve ever seen from a country that specializes in them.


Sapp Time Album Cover

This couldn't be any more ridiculous

Not only does the album cover baldly ape Bob Sapp’s musical idol, Michael Jackson, but the music video for the first single also sees Bob in full Jackson mode, getting down in his slickly tailored red suit. And, wonder of wonders, I have found a link for you to download the video for the newest hit on the Japanese charts, “Sapp Time” by Bob Sapp. It is every bit as wonderful as you imagine it is.


Just One More Inexplicable Japanese Pop Culture Picture Before I Go


Cheers,
Matthew The A2 Network

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