MMA Stars Whose Film Careers Flopped

MMA (mixed martial arts) is performance-art-meets-violence, and top UFC fighters know you gotta put on a show-before-the-show to bring in the fans. It's not that different from the movie business. But whereas actors reel you in alongside Jimmy Fallon, cackling through the witching hour as they wax nostalgic about "getting into character," MMA fighters hype their wares with outlandish and exciting public stunts. Conor McGregor's infamous bus assault, for example, was both a crime and a promissory note of further bloodshed to come, which he delivered. Art! 

In both cases, there are two performances: the hype and the show. One is basically the real person at work, the other a highly-orchestrated facade for the cameras. MMA just puts the charade upfront. And that means fighters know both how to pretend — and thrill fans — under the bright lights. Putting them in movies just makes sense! ... Or does it?

Hollywood has yet to make a truly marketable movie star in its many attempts to mine the minions of martial arts mercenaries. Maybe that's because MMA athletes are actually method actors — not trained thespians. They live their gimmicks full time, so life on set must seem slow-moving when you can't literally assault your co-stars for cash. But whatever the reasons, these MMA stars still gave it a go in Tinseltown to questionable results.

Ronda Rousey's acting is not so rousing outside MMA

Hollywood got very excited about Ronda Rousey when she began figuratively tearing off limbs one after another in the UFC women's bantamweight division in 2011. Despite the Strikeforce Women's champion's novice ability to actually punch or kick, Rousey was snatching armbars on lesser athletes in bout after bout with record speeds. The electricity of her ring walk and signature scowl, with Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" blaring, was MMA's most singular attraction. No fighting superstar could put a bigger lump in your throat or pitter-patter in your heart.

UFC observers always feared Rousey would go Hollywood. Why get punched in your perfect face when you could make millions pretending? By 2014, "Rowdy" had cameos in major productions like The Expendables 3, Furious 7, and Entourage. She later joined the WWE, but by then the industry had made a verdict: as a Deadspin headline put it, "Ronda Rousey Can't Act. Does It Matter?" Rousey's first lead role in 2018's Mile 22 was snatched quicker than Miesha Tate's elbow when her "acting chops" came under suspicion, according to The New Yorker.

Time away from the cage also caught up to Rousey inside it. First Holly Holm nearly kicked her head off in late 2015, then Amanda Nunes beat her down so badly Rowdy was sent into retirement. Fake fighting in the WWE has been suiting her better, but the acting remains an issue.

MMA star Gina Carano's Hollywood career goes Haywire

Gina Carano's reign of fistic terror as Strikeforce champion seems so long ago that it's easy to forget she was the flawless face of women's MMA long before the world ever heard of Ronda Rousey. As gorgeous as she is brutal, Carano's aggressive kickboxing style and model looks made her an instant fan favorite. Naturally, Hollywood said, "New badass chick, who dis?" 

Iconic director Steven Soderbergh came calling with Carano's first lead role in 2011's Haywire. Soderbergh, so sure-footed in other action-caper classics like Out of Sight, couldn't quite groove with Carano and audiences deplored it, scoring the film at 41 percent over at Rotten Tomatoes. The action scenes are solid, especially the MMA star's close-run beatdown of a dapper Michael Fassbender, but as The New York Times put it, "[Carano's] expressions run the gamut from glower to pout, and her features give little indication of her character's inner state." The studio seemed to agree. Carano barely even speaks in the trailer

Acting is, however, a skill you can develop. Carano continued with a string of B-movies and then cameos in blockbusters like Fast & Furious 6 and Deadpool. 2019 saw the surprise of Disney's mega-budget The Mandalorian mini-series, featuring Carano as bounty hunter Cara Dune. As one critical fan put it (via Quora), "Her acting makes it painfully obvious that this is her second career." However, more simpish fanboys swooned, and Carano's Dune may strike back yet.

Georges St-Pierre rushes off set

"There is three things in life that excite me," the painfully adorable Georges "Rush" St-Pierre once mused (via Bloody Elbow). "There's a woman of course, dinosaurs, and the violence of the Octagon." Notably not on that list is acting classes.

The greatest welterweight of all time — and arguably the greatest fighter of all time, full stop — is a beast in the cage, but St-Pierre is also, as evidenced by that gem of a quote, a true French-Canadian nice-guy outside of it. His affable personality and heavy Quebecer accent didn't make him an obvious choice to play MCU baddie Georges Batroc opposite Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and St-Pierre admittedly doesn't say much in the film. But per usual, he speaks with his fists in some solid action sequences. 

St-Pierre has only made two films since that laconic 2014 performance. After shooting the B-movie sequel to Jean Claude Van Damme's low-budget '90s classic Kickboxer, 2016's Kickboxer: Vengeance, he then endured a bit-part beatdown to knife in the neck by a then-65-year-old schlock-sensei and MMA fanboy, Steven Seagal, in 2017's Cartel. After that tough beat, Rush decided he'd had enough of Hollywood.

MMA star Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson is not joining the A-list

The most impressive thing about Quinton "Rampage" Jackson's decorated MMA career might just be how many knees directly to the face it took for Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva to actually knock him out in their famous Pride bout. Jackson is also hilarious and charismatic when he wants to be, so Hollywood snapped him up to play opposite Bradley Cooper for 2010's critically loathed remake of The A-Team

But it turns out the king of the slam knockout is hard-headed in more ways than one. Besides being a former UFC champion, Rampage is well-known for hating the rigors of training camp. The normally iron-jawed fighter was casually knocked cold in late 2019 by a 43-year-old Fedor Emelianenko, and Rampage "Snackson" – as he was dubbed – admits it was because he was too "fat." 

Fighting usually came easy to Jackson, and when acting didn't, he dubbed the entire craft "kind of gay." (Insert eye-roll here.) He went on to tell the Los Angeles Times (via the Daily News), "You got all these people combing your hair and putting a coat over your shoulders when you're cold." Jackson, who later apologized for his remarks, also allegedly uttered anti-gay slurs on set and got into a physical confrontation with a crew member. The fighter is full of regrets about his chosen path in life, but The A-Team was his last brush with the A-list.

Randy Couture's acting is not so natural outside MMA

Randy "The Natural" Couture shocked the world in 2007, when he captured the UFC heavyweight title from the monstrous 6'8" 271-pound Tim Sylvia at nearly age 44. This was Couture's sixth and final UFC title reign before being knocked off his perch when gently grazed upside his normal-sized head by the construction-site lunch pails wrestler Brock Lesner pretends are his fists.

Couture was also a razor-sharp UFC color analyst and elite fighter-coach, when he wasn't working full-time inside the octagon to make other middle-aged men feel beta as heck. The well-spoken and thoughtful fighter's rugged good looks — kinda like Jason Statham, but actually dangerous — has made him a perfect fit for some typical fighter-turned-actor action roles with B-movie bosses like Steven Seagal. 

Couture also landed big ensemble spots in the first three The Expendables films, where he did his best to act naturally. The fighter got his first taste of leading man life, though, playing Sargon in 2008's The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (beware sequels as the naming convention expands). This actual prequel to The Rock-helmed 2002 original went straight to DVD, so critics didn't bother dissing it, but fans gave it an unnaturally pungent 18 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile, SyFyWire's most positive quip in their ersatz review was, "Sargon is the leather pants king!" 

Couture continues to delight in B-movie bombs, but anchoring theatrical hits might not be this retired fighter's finishing move.

Tito Ortiz: MMA bad boy, worse actor

Tito "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Ortiz was the first UFC superstar. This former light-heavyweight champion perfected his signature ground-and-pound style, where he'd throw opponents to the ground and, well, pound them. And it was working great until he met Chuck Liddell, who also knew how to wrestle. Ortiz was then punched. A lot. Fortunately for Ortiz, he has a truly enormous head, and perhaps due to this fact, was never once KO'd clean in his 34-fight career.

But as the old theory from Entourage goes, "The bigger the head, the bigger the star." ... Right? Ortiz parlayed his UFC success into a relationship with adult film legend Jenna Jameson and some nepotistic casting as "Bouncer" in her 2008 tour de force, Zombie Strippers. He also landed a role in 2019's straight-to-video Trauma Center starring Bruce Willis. The film has an 8 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes (that's out of 100, by the way). For context, upcoming Ortiz projects star Tara Reid and Stacey Dash, respectively. 

Ortiz also announced a run for the Huntington Beach city council in 2020. MMA observers have expressed much glee about the possibility of Ortiz taking a turn to the very-small screen via city council live-streams. The Bad Boy is the most prolific gaffe machine in MMA history, once explaining his rigorous training schedule as, "Five days a week, I'll train three days a week." This is the star turn fans have been waiting for.

MMA star Chuck Liddell gets iced in Hollywood

Chuck Liddell made the UFC what it is today. He just looks like an MMA fighter: the shaved-down mohawk, the tattoos, the black-painted toenails (yes, that's an MMA thing). But his most signature style is definitely his freakishly heavy hands, which led to a long title reign via some of the most inexplicable knockouts in the sport's history.

Liddell is not, however, the most loquacious chap. His post-fight interviews were somewhat less electrifying than his emphatic post-fight celebrations. But the "Iceman" did manage to portray himself pretty effectively on HBO's Entourage, "[delivering] a performance that ages surprisingly well," according to Brobible

Fightland Vice even calls him "not a terrible actor," noting, "[He's] not exactly Meryl Streep, but he's not a complete wooden mess." High praise for a fighter-turned-actor, but the site also admits the Iceman got a bit typecast in a series of B-movie roles, where he beats up baddies, but isn't given much opportunity to actually say anything. Liddell smiles at Paul Walker in a prison shower. He gets outshined by Tito Ortiz in a Jet Li movie. He even made a one-line cameo on The Simpsons. However, Liddell did eventually land a co-lead alongside old rival Randy Couture in the straight-to-video D-Day: Battle of Omaha Beach, which one unhappy viewer described as the "second worst movie I have ever seen."

Michael Bisping's not counting on being a leading man

Michael Bisping — a.k.a. "The Count" — is like the movie Snatch IRL. The British-born brawler is a UFC character who got his start on reality TV, winning Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter's endless and quite literal search for fresh blood. Bisping quickly became a love-him-or-hate-him anti-hero in MMA — he once spat at a defeated opponent and later apologized. But his grit has also made him among the winningest fighters in UFC history. The long-embattled elite-journeyman became an unlikely champion at age 37, when he knocked out the much-favored Luke Rockhold, taking the bout on only 14 days notice while blind in his right eye (which he'd eventually lose entirely). Bisping has also flourished as a UFC color commentator, his working-class Brit-cent boosting broadcasts like a hearty side of bangers-n-mash. 

A one-eyed badass who can string a sentence together? Hollywood called and Bisping made appearances in major motion pictures like xXx: Return of Xander Cage and Den of Thieves, where he got a cameo swaggering into a pub to buy a round of pints for his mates (likely not a foreign concept for the Lancashire native). Unfortunately, both films received splat reviews. Bisping then landed a co-lead in 2017's My Name is Lenny, which is about a British bare-knuckle boxer. It seemed fitting, but again audiences said no mas. Even the always honest fighter himself may have alluded to the film as being "pretty crappy," per BBC Sport.

Urijah Faber makes a killer cameo outside MMA

Urijah "The California Kid" Faber (who, now in his 40s, is sometimes referred to as "The California Man") might seem natural for a Hollywood crossover. It's kind of in the name. Then there's that chiseled physique, that smile, that dimpled chin, those blond flowing locks, often pulled back into Bo Derek-style braids. Faber's charisma and sex appeal was also largely responsible for the UFC taking an interest in little guys fighting at all — the 5'6" scrapper usually competes at 145 pounds. And anyone who underestimated this beautiful bite-sized brawler's signature fast-hands to guillotine-choke combo, woke up next to him feeling hungover and sad like after a bad one-night-stand. 

However, the former long-reigning WEC champion's cameo in Rampage, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, was brief, giving him only one line and an incredibly quick death — an apt metaphor for MMA fighters in this equally brutal business. Rampage was savaged by critics, too, with Vulture picking it clean as "aggressively dumb." But that's on The Rock, right? Well, Faber is getting another chance to flex his acting skills in a big-budget international action-romance Deep Bay of Bengal in 2021, which takes place at sea. So hopefully Faber's golden tan and movie-star features will be more heavily featured this time around.

MMA star Forrest Griffin's Hollywood dreams get arrested

Former police officer Forrest Griffin is another badass who rose to fame on reality television, winning the inaugural season of the UFC's talent-scouting series The Ultimate Fighter. The brutal finale, a live-and-free on Spike TV slugfest versus Stephan Bonnar, is widely credited with kick-starting the UFC brand and MMA mania in general. The perennial underdog Griffin also briefly captured UFC gold, defeating fellow acting dilettante Quentin "Rampage" Jackson for the light-heavyweight crown in 2008. Griffin was then promptly knocked out in his next two fights, the second time in hilariously casual fashion

Perhaps because of his circuitous route to UFC-stardom, the self-deprecating, funny, and every-man-handsome Griffin deserved a Hollywood go. He got a fight scene in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, played a generic "Better Cop" in low-budget rom-com, and then actually landed a role with a character name in the minor 2009 Jason Statham vehicle, 13. Griffin next played Mule in the 2010 ensemble action clunker, Locked Down — with the higher billing going to a man who knocked him out at UFC 92 in 2008. The film has an audience score of 4 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and Griffin has only landed one big screen role as an uncredited "prisoner" since.

Cung Le speaks softly but carries a big kick in and out of MMA

Cung Le is a cheat code. The former kickboxing champion didn't make his UFC debut until nearly age 40, utilizing some of the most dexterous kicks from a middle-aged fighter you'll ever see — especially in a sport where being older with one leg in the air is extremely dangerous. Le's brutal right-hook KO of former champion Rich Franklin in 2012 is iconic. In 2008, he bested MMA pioneer Frank Shamrock with a vicious roundhouse. (The lesson being: if your name is some version of Frank, avoid this man.)

In some ways, Le has thrived in his second career as a minor martial arts movie star. He even directed in 2015. But his IMDb page is flush with straight-to-video Kung-Fu clunkers, like 2010's live-action version of Tekken, which has a 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes via the six critics who screened it. Le also teamed up with genre legend Jean Claude Van Damme for Dragon Eyes in 2012 to even less critical interest. 

Le popped up a "Dragon Le" in the more mainstream 2009 action flick Fighting, where he is promptly knocked out by Channing Tatum — who was on an apparent break from more symbolic battles. Le continues to book roles hardcore fans can vibe, but he's not yet landed that crossover blow that'll allow him, say, his own CSI spin-off, where he can wind down his kicking years by cashing syndication checks at CBS.

MMA star Jason Miller brings mayhem to Hollywood

As a star of MTV's Bully Beatdown, Jason "Mayhem" Miller was one of MMA's most colorful characters for well over a decade. A talented grappler and a generally tough SOB, he fought the sport's very best during his run in the UFC and elsewhere. Icons like welterweight GOAT Georges St-Pierre were too much for Mayhem, but Miller was relentless and choked out another all-time 170-pound great, Robbie Lawler, in 2006.

Being a genuine showman who could back it up landed Miller the role of Lucky in Kevin James' 2012 MMA comedy, Here Comes the Boom. Mayhem put aside his pride and took a painful dive for The King of Queens and then got puked on in the flick. Critics called the film "hackneyed" and "derivative," per Rotten Tomatoes. As of this writing, Miller's last acting role was in 2017, around the time a string of personal troubles caught up with him. 

Mayhem was found naked in a church in 2012, according to TMZ. He live-tweeted a standoff with police two years later. In 2019, he served time for vandalism and violating a protective stay-away order following a domestic violence offense, per NBC Los Angeles. "I was acting like a mad man for a good stretch of my post-fight life," Miller later wrote on Facebook, while admitting to trouble with his "state of mind" and sobriety. "I figured out that you can't live like a rock star anarchist for too long without being killed or landing for a long stretch in prison."