Almost 12 years ago, Bob Sapp knocked out sumo wrestler Akebono in a kickboxing bout that was part of one of the biggest events in combat sports history. The event drew 54 million viewers and 30,000 people were in attendance.
On New Year's Eve, Sapp will battle Akebono for a second time at Rizin Fighting Federation 2, in Pride FC's longtime home, the Saitama Super Arena, in Japan.
Sapp, 42, is returning to combat sports after retiring in 2013. Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 350 pounds of muscle, "The Beast" was once feared by many in combat sports. He showed promise, notching considerable accomplishments despite little MMA or kickboxing experience. On two occasions, Sapp defeated four-time K-1 champion Ernesto Hoost with less than 5 professional kickboxing bouts, and at one point "The Beast" managed to put together a winning record of 10-3-1 in MMA.
But that formidable image faded away through the years, as Sapp went on to fight for obscure promotions, where he went 2-16 in his last 18 MMA fights and 1-13 in his last 14 kickboxing bouts. In many of these fights, Sapp would drop to the canvas or tap out within the first minutes - or sometimes seconds - of the first round. He became better known for throwing fights than for his record-breaking performances in Japan.
Sapp was well aware of what he was doing to his career, but he wasn't willing to possibly damage his body in exchange for what he considered a small payday. Regardless, Sapp kept fighting to generate income.
"At the end of the day, I still have bills to pay and taxes to pay," Sapp told MMA Fighting. "I could have still done it, okay, coming in there and fight a minute, win it or lose it. But it just started feeling awkward when I started walking into these empty promotions and I had more money than the promoters."
Apart from fighting, Sapp also had additional income from acting, music, celebrity appearances, and even his own slot machines. When he retired from combat sports, Sapp said he had well over $10 million, so there was no point to keep on fighting. However, Rizin Fighting Federation wanted Sapp to come back.
"Quite simply, they met a number that enabled me to come back. I always say, ‘It takes a little lettuce to make the rabbit jump,'" said Sapp. "It would have been kind of stupid for me to say no."
With Rizin's pay, Sapp says it would be "disrespectful" not to do any training for his rematch with Akebono. As a result, he says fans can expect "The Beast" to show up in full form.
"At Rizin, you can actually be a pro fighter. You can step it up. You can blast, you know. You'll be alright," said Sapp. "If you get stitches, you're not going to say 'f--k, that's 10 grand.' That's not going to happen and that's pretty cool."
Sapp is excited to fight to in Japan and say's Rizin FF has a Pride FC feel. He's also enjoyed running into former Pride FC fighters.
"I bumped into Heath Herring and I also bumped in to Mark Coleman," said Sapp. "That was awesome, it was nostalgic, weird, great and a lot of hugs and laughs."
Although fans may be skeptical on his return, Sapp predicts he'll knockout Akebono in the first round.
"The Beast is back," said Sapp, followed by his famous laugh.