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Please, Someone Make Bob Sapp Stop Already

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Getty Images
Getty Images

Bob Sapp may be a lot of things -- film actor, pro wrestler, walking caricature -- but he’s not a fighter. Maybe at one point he was. Back when he competed in Japan’s PRIDE organization or took his lumps in K-1, perhaps. Back when he used to at least try to win. These days he’s hardly even bothering to fake it, and it’s getting more transparent all the time.

To call what Sapp does fighting would be to insult all the serious fighters who actually put the time and effort in to give fans their money’s worth. Sapp doesn’t do that. Instead, he puts on a sorry little sham that, for a few seconds at a time and from a great distance, occasionally resembles fighting. He does just enough to get paid, then he collects his check and goes home. That’s what he did against Rolles Gracie at ONE FC this past weekend. That’s what he’ll probably do against James Thompson in March. That’s all he does. The only reason he even needs to wear gloves is to keep from hurting his hand when he taps out.

It’s pathetic, but it’s dependable. You know what you’re getting when you sign Sapp to fight at your event, which is why we shouldn’t blame Sapp for debasing the sport -- we should blame the people who keep paying him to do it.

Let’s not kid ourselves here. You think ONE FC signed Sapp because it thought he might come over to Indonesia and actually fight? Not a chance. It signed him because he has a name, because he can put a few butts in seats, and because he’s not above sacrificing dignity for cheap promotional ploys. He even provides a little bit of entertainment...before the referee gives the signal to fight.

What he doesn’t do is put serious effort into fighting or training. As he told me when I interviewed him last summer:

"My schedule fills up so ridiculously hard that you see me fighting and I take a loss or you see me fighting and I look terrible, but you have to go back and if you could see the schedule that I'm on you'd say, this is crazy. There's nobody who should be fighting on this kind of schedule."

In other words, he’s too busy getting paid for his sheer quantity of work to worry about the quality. The way he sees it, people are paying to see Bob Sapp. They’re not necessarily paying to see him try hard, or at least they aren’t paying enough. They certainly aren’t paying enough for him to risk injury, which is why he quits as soon as he starts to feel like it’s getting too rough.

Just look at his fight with Gracie. Sapp attempted one knee strike, did a bit of flailing off his back, and then tapped out almost as soon as a punch got through his defenses. Was he rocked? Dazed? Reeling from the power of the short strike and rendered unable to intelligently defend himself? Nah. He was mostly just inconvenienced. He was briefly reminded that a guy could actually get hurt in there if he wasn’t careful, and so he decided to call it a night. What else did you expect?

This is nothing new for Sapp. He’s lost seven of his last eight MMA bouts, with none of them going out of the first round. Typically he’ll come on just strong enough to make a good first impression, but as soon as he eats a hard shot he crumples up like a soda can and waits for it to be over. If the referee isn’t quick enough to see his surrender for what it is, he’s not ashamed to tap out and remove all doubt. In the last few years of his MMA career, Sapp has spent more time in the fetal position than he has in anything resembling a fighting position. He’s also done it without apology or remorse for how little effort he’s putting in, explaining that he’s only there to get paid.

Again, it’s hard to get too mad at Sapp for that. Even if he trained really hard and put his heart and soul into every fight, it’s not like he’d be UFC heavyweight champion. It’s doubtful whether he could even make the 265-pound limit without a tapeworm or an amputation. This way, he not only gets paid, but he can fight multiple times a year on short notice, since it’s not as if he needs time to train.

If you can talk yourself into believing that things like wins and losses don’t matter, and if you’ve long since abandoned the idea of trying to be taken seriously as an athlete, Sapp’s position makes a certain degree of sense. He’s not quite good enough to do this for real, but he looks the part well enough to do it for pay. At least, that’s how some promoters see it, and they’re the ones who are disrespecting the sport by continuing to buy into that line of reasoning.

At this point, putting Sapp on a fight card is almost tantamount to fight-fixing. Maybe it’s not guaranteed that he’ll lose (especially against an opponent as hapless as James Thompson), but you know he’s not going to try his hardest. You know that all it would take is one decent punch to convince him to fold up and quit, which is antithetical to everything that makes real MMA so compelling.

Fans love this sport in part because of what fighters put into it, and what they put on the line in order to do it. You might have to wonder whether NBA players are giving it their all during a regular season game, but you don’t have to wonder the same thing in MMA. If a fighter slacks off, he might get his jaw broken. That tends to make people take each contest a little more seriously.

Sapp isn’t one of those people, partly because he’s figured out a way to get paid without risking very much or trying very hard. It’s a clever little hustle, but it’s not what this sport is about. In fact, it makes a mockery of this sport every time he’s paid to do it, and if he’s shown us anything it’s that he’ll keep at it as long as there's a paycheck in it.

So please, MMA promoters of the world. Make it easy on him. Stop paying him for these half-hearted efforts in non-fights. Let him find some other way to pay his bills. Sapp’s done enough pretending in movies and in pro wrestling. His unconvincing portrayal of a fighter has no place in MMA.