How MMA Proved That The Bigger Guy Usually Loses Horribly
Science will tell you that when one thing is smashing into another thing, it's better to be the bigger thing. But art has some news for you, science: You can't fight for shit. In fact, I'm about to prove, martial artistically, that being way bigger than your opponent is one of the worst things you can be in a fight.
I went back to the dawn of MMA and watched over a hundred "Freak Show" matches -- ones where one man outweighed the other by 70 pounds or more. To help you get an idea of this size difference, imagine swallowing two live adult chimpanzees, and then you're suddenly attacked by your twin, who has swallowed only one.
Here are the official standards I used to qualify a fight as a "freak show." Between 1993 and 2019, I found 120 match-ups that fit these criteria, though I certainly missed dozens from small promotions and buffet arguments.
The '90s: Sumo vs. Concussions
These days, the biggest a UFC fighter can be is 265 pounds. Which means, by regulation, that horse breeders have to masturbate 35 pounds of semen from Brock Lesnar before an event. It's also why he spends the first minute of each fight asking the referee, "Who! Has taken Brock's boner!?" But for the first four years of the organization, there was no such thing as "weight classes." You could walk right into the cage weighing 410 goddamn pounds, like sumo wrestler Teila Tuli. That's the size of Brock Lesnar wearing a former horse breeder as a belt.
Teila was competing in the very first fight in the very first UFC, and no one really knew what to expect, but he somehow did exactly what everyone expected. He rushed straight in with slaps like an uninspired sumo sprite from a Sega Master System game. Teila did move pretty fast for being 410 pounds -- I'd say he charged at about the same speed as a 200-pound karate master walking backward and throwing counter-punches, which ended up being a terrible coincidence.
In only 26 seconds, Gerard Gordeau punched Teila into the mat and casually kicked one of his teeth into the crowd. It was unthinkable, not only because a giant was demolished so quickly, but also because knocking a tooth from a 410-pound man is like pulling a brick out of a Mayan pyramid -- to see so much history, so many bloody massacres and glorious triumphs, only to end up a souvenir for some tourist in a "SHUT UP, BITCH" shirt.
At UFC 3, they tried a turbo version of this match-up when they pitted towering 616-pound sumo wrestler Emmanuel Yarbrough against very normal-sized karate fighter Keith Hackney. It seemed outrageously unfair. When your opponent is more than three times your size, you can't win. As with polar bear encounters, the best you can do is go out hard enough that it's a net calorie loss after the son of a bitch eats your remains. But of course, that's not how the fight went.
The fight looked like something went wrong at a birthday party and an eight-year-old had to kick the shit out of Grimace. Emmanuel slowly fed off his fat reserves as windmill jam karate chops crashed into his face. It turns out sumo is great for telling a rival elephant seal to go somewhere else while you fertilize ladies, but not for human combat. This fight also demonstrated the main disadvantage to being a massive sumo fighter: You might be immune to all blubber-targeted attacks, but while you're circling around very slowly, your enemies are free to perform trial-and-error experiments on your brain to see which attack turns it off.
Not all big men were sumo fighters, though. Thomas Ramirez claimed to have a 200-0 record in bare-knuckle fights going into UFC 8. It's a record that would easily make him one of the most experienced combatants to ever walk the Earth, so it was strange for him to be defeated by Don Frye, a man with a 200-pound weight disadvantage, who attacked him with jabs and nothing else.
Thomas, in his 201st fight, seemed to have never encountered the first punch everyone learns. In fact, he seemed confused by the entire concept, almost as if he was trying to invent a name for these strange gestures smashing his face. Bonkwaves? Fingerless pointing? Forjomps? Helpsodark? G-grandpa but y-you're dead? I don't know what he came up with, but here are the only eight recorded seconds from Thomas Ramirez's incredible 200-1 fight career:
We couldn't have possibly known this before trying it, but eating too much pie for many years and standing in front of unfettered karate doesn't work as a fighting style. They tested this theory ten times throughout the decade, and of those ten freak show matches, the little guys won nine. The only victory for the Huge came during a 1998 Shooto fight, when the thinkable finally happened and Tatsuo Nokano got trapped underneath 616 pounds of Emmanuel Yarbrough.
Tatsuo battled back like a forgotten slice of pizza in the bed of a restless sleeper, but he couldn't escape. He was simply gone, absorbed into Emmanuel as if some flesh demon was building a snowman. I'm not being silly when I tell you "smother" is the actual official submission hold listed on his MMA record. So to sum up, if you went into a fight in 1990s with a 100-pound (or more) weight advantage, you only had a 10% chance of winning, and it was by fat joke.
The Early '00s: And Now ... The Beast!
By the year 2000, American fight organizations had mostly given up on giants. The UFC never created a 265+ division, probably because super heavyweight battles look like bear documentaries. They start with a terrifying fit of fish-slapping fury, and when it doesn't go exactly to plan, you watch two sad animals starve to death. Americans want to see explosive trauma in our sports, not be reminded our lungs would give out long before we could strangle a single enemy. Japan, on the other hand, will watch two fat guys do literally anything for any amount of time, and that very specifically includes shirtless contemplative tragedy.
Like a child putting a seventh marble up his nose, Japanese fight promotions kept putting sumo wrestlers into the ring against tiny men who fucked them up. I believe this era of fighting was accidentally described best by sports writer Drinker Stevens when he opened a canned ham with a claw hammer. Sumo giants Tadao Yasuda and Osamu "Tachihikari" Kawahara each had three fights in the early 2000s against much, much smaller opponents, and they lost all of them except a split decision Tadao scored over Masaaki Satake. Masaaki wasn't exactly terrible at fighting, but he retired with a 1-8-1 record. If you made a condom that broke with the same likelihood as Masaaki Satake winning an MMA fight, you would be hailed as a mediocre-to-above-average engineer.
After nine straight years of embarrassing losses, it seemed clear Japan was fine watching beloved sumo stars get kicked to death forever. They have a saying: "Excuse me, gardener, that squid is my wife." It's not related to their fascination with gigantic athletes, but not everything is about you and the article you're reading right now. Back to what I was saying, Japan's prophesied savior finally came along, a giant who did more than frown slowly at karate chops. A giant who could run, sort of punch, and all the way to the max sing:
Bob Sapp was a genuine monster born from the hubris of science. He was 2 pounds of teeth gnashing from a hole in 395 pounds of steroid abuse, and looked like something a doctor would regret making as it broke free from its restraints screaming "FATHER!" He's the living answer to the question "How many basketballs can you stuff under human skin before it ruptures?"
Sapp looked like he learned how to fight by watching bats fly into windmills, but it didn't matter. He mauled Yoshihisa Yamamoto in the first round, and trampled Kiyoshi Tamura in 11 seconds. Both men were about half his size, and suddenly that was a bad thing. When a man weighs 400 pounds, the way you use the phrase "cause of death" changes dramatically when those pounds are lean muscle and not donut ghosts. And Bob Sapp was a sentient avalanche of kangaroo steaks. By the way, it's maybe relevant to mention that Japanese fight promotions absolutely do not care if you're on steroids. The closest thing they have to drug testing is a game show where you poop in a robot and it tells a studio audience if your leavings are forlorn or adventurous.
Bob Sapp was a fun anomaly, but Japan still had fantasies of sumo wrestlers winning fights. They kept booking matches between huge shoving machines and small but competent fighters, and they all kept ending in a public beanbag assassination. The most ridiculous one came at K-1 PREMIUM 2004 Dynamite!!, an event named by serious adult men, where the 419-pound sumo wrestler Akebono made his MMA debut against 180-pound living legend Royce Gracie. Calling it a "mismatch" is like calling Bill Cosby an "unskilled barista." It looked like one of Akebono's toys came to life, and Royce won by perching on his shoulder like a cartoon bird making a dress for Cinderella.
Officials called it an "omoplata" -- a Poruguese word meaning "hiker fucking a mountain." However you want to describe it, it was silly, magical, and a giant monster was destroyed. So Japan thought, "We must never stop crushing the heads and spirits of our most revered athletes."
During this era, four other sumo wrestlers made MMA debuts against men 40 shirt sizes smaller than them, and all four of them lost. PRIDE Fighting also signed a 7'2" WWE wrestler, Giant Silva, after they stole him from a museum exhibit and thawed him. He would shuffle to the ring in dirty sweatpants and stand in front of tiny fists like all he wanted was to go back to hibernating. It didn't work, and now his brain tells him all numbers are "Q." Basically, if it's the early 2000s and you're about to fight a man two or Q weight classes lighter than you, check to make sure you're Bob Sapp. If not, that little guy has an 86% chance of kicking your ass. Let's look at the stats.
From 2000 to 2005, I counted 34 fights where one competitor had at least a 70-pound weight advantage, and the "advantaged" guys won ten of them. That's a 29.4% win rate, which is pretty bad even before I tell you that six of those wins belonged to Bob Sapp. And of those four remaining victories, two came against Henry "Sentoryu" Miller (6-16-1), another sumo wrestler who had the bad luck of being giant, but not fucking giant.
Sad fact: With only one exception (Kiyoshi Tamura), every single win the big guys scored came against fighters with losing records. Sadder fact: Pandas in captivity develop an organ that causes excruciating pain any time they see a human smile. So the math tells us that bigness stops helping you in a fight once you weigh 265 pounds, but starts helping again if your opponent also weighs 265 pounds. It's what statisticians call Nabisco's Basilisk. Here's a chart:
And here's a chart of how things would look if Japan checked fighters for steroids:
The Late '00s: World War Butterbean
By 2006, sumo wrestlers were starting to learn to not ever fight a man unless they were a smaller sumo wrestler. Only three of them -- Yoichi Babaguchi, Akebono, and Seiji Ogura -- agreed to take on tiny men during this era, and they all lost every single fight in ways that would make a horse trailer designer say, "How fortunate! There was no ethical way for me to collect this data."
Things went about the same for non-sumo giants, like Giant Silva, Zuluzinho, and 7'3" kickboxer Hong-man Choi, who all continued to lose to men hundreds of pounds lighter than them. Though Hong-man Choi did score wins over comedian Bobby Ologun and lunatic baseball player Jose Canseco. Every now and then, Japan will let one of these monsters stomp out a little guy who barely knows how to fight, like how Ground Zero first responders hid in the rubble so that rescue dogs felt like they were useful. Sorry for the sad analogy, but I'm coming fresh off a reviewing of Hong-man Choi vs. Jose Canseco, and it breaks my heart every time I see a mentally ill outfielder get the secrets of time travel punched out of his head.
Bob Sapp's rampage also started slowing down in the back half of the decade. It happened after his opponents discovered his main weakness: face attacks. And his second weakness: It was very tiring to move. More often than not, his fights ended with him screaming for the punches to stop with the last of his breath. And despite all of these behemoths being routinely destroyed by smaller fighters, the big men went 15-24 in late '00s freak show matches. That's a 38.5% win rate -- nearly the amount of tarantula parts in a banana Laffy Taffy. How did they start winning so much!? Eleven words: Butterbean, and then this unrelated string of words ending in Timecop.
Butterbean is a 408-pound boxer who appeared after a bowling ball and a murderer made a wish on the same lamp. He's a fearless, neckless sphere who, starting at the end of 2005, casually punched a dump truck accident's worth of trauma into anyone dumb enough to get in the ring with him. Of the 15 big man victories I mentioned earlier, Butterbean was responsible for eight. So at this point in history, he and Bob Sapp held more freak show wins than all other humongous men combined. They're, with almost mathematical certainty, the only two 400-pound men who can win a fight against an average-sized human. Here, I made you a chart:
The Early '10s: The Brute That Shouted WAAAAH At The Heart Of The Cage
There's nothing normal about any of this, but as we entered the 2010s, things got weirder. Bob Sapp continued to "fight" every few months, and I'm using scare quotes because it was mostly performance art. The bell would ring and he would throw himself to the mat the moment anything touched him. Somewhere in the toxic chemical dump of his brain, it occurred to him that he still gets paid whether he tries very hard and fails or pretends the first glancing punch kills him.
The problem was that he wasn't a very good actor, so he never fooled a single spectator, referee, or opponent. Sapp, once an unstoppable death sentence, was now desperately trying to get people to think he was a pussy, failing, and getting called a stupid coward instead. From a sportsmanship point of view, it was like getting caught with another man's wife and covering for it by saying he was only there to molest their children.
Sapp, a true sportsman and warrior, was now throwing fights against tiny men at a rate far faster than he'd ever won them. In five years, he lost 14 straight, and 12 of those came by way of comical first-round surrender. He fought like a third-grader whose dumb stepdad made him take piano. I wish I hadn't used this analogy earlier, because he fought like a first responder playing dead to convince a sadly unnecessary animal he's a good boy.
To make matters worse for oversized men, Butterbean also wasn't doing so great. He lost four of his six MMA matches, which is still nothing short of amazing for a hundred-fight veteran in his mid 40s. Butterbean should be the name on our tanks. When terrorists meet with their arms dealers, they should say, "What is this shit you have brought me? The Americans have Butterbeans. Butterbeans! These guns won't scratch the paint on a Butterbean!"
In the early 2010s, Japan was down to only three sumo wrestlers still supplementing their income with savage beatings: Baruto Kaito, Yoichi Babaguchi, and Akebono. Baruto won his only fight, Yoichi lost two of three, and Akebono had a better chance at finding edible panties in his size than winning an MMA fight. To give you an idea of how bad Akebono is at fighting, he lost to Bob Sapp in 2015, at the height of Bob's flopping career. A touching greeting card could knock Bob Sapp out in 2015. He lost three fights to his payday loan clerk and six fights to his salt lick that year (4 TKO, 1 submission, 1 split decision), but even he couldn't figure out how to lose to Akebono.
It may have been they were finally paying Bob enough to try, or maybe being at an 88.5-pound weight disadvantage inspired him to greatness like it did all the smaller men who beat him into phony tears over the previous five years. Actually, hold on. Since Bob Sapp was smaller by over 70 pounds, he was legally the little guy in this freak show match, which means his victory counts against the big guys. Holy shit, even when he wins, Bob Sapp is still fucking ruining everything.
As for the non-sumo giants going up against regulars in the early '10s, Hong-man Choi won his only freak show match, while Zuluzinho and a ridiculous maniac named Aorigele "Heavyweight Supernova" both went 1-1 against little guys. Which means during this part of weight mismatch history, the big man record looked like this:
Strangely enough, if you ignore Bob Sapp and Butterbean, the giants had a 5-5 record against smalls in the early 2010s. To put that into perspective, picture a beautiful woman washing your car. You sit inside as her shirt dampens into transparency. She coyly smiles. This isn't her first day with wet, luscious breasts; she knows their effect when they rub against your windshield. Now imagine there's a 50% chance of her expression changing to horror. She screams, "Get out! Zuluzinho is in your back seat!" Suddenly, aside from that one warning, your horny esophagus is crushed without warning. You are dead. Your adventure ends here. Sorry, I don't know how to make that into a graph.
Present Day: When Zzzax Attacks!
Over the last four years, the super-super heavyweights have actually been doing pretty well. Baruto Kaito and Zuluzinho are both 2-1 in freak show matches, but the main turnaround comes from overweight outlier Aorigele. This Chinese lunatic has won five in a row, including one against Bob Sapp where he did a weird little dance with his fat camp tummy before unleashing a brain-seeking punch barrage. He beat Bob so hard that he didn't have time to fake a knockout. He had to curl up and cry from face trauma for real, the old-fashioned way. The point is, science says it's impossible, but Aorigele, who looks like a little boy found after a year adrift on a Twinkie barge, is mangling guys of any size.
Thanks to Aorigele's unhinged but effective tantrums, the big men have won 7 of the 10 freak show fights in the last four years. So depending on who you were rooting for, this article has a happy ending? Let's take one last look at the data, though. Over the decades, we've seen the strangely tall, the strangely fat, the strangely steroided, and the strangely Butterbean battle legends and clowns and Jose Cansecos. We've learned Japanese athletic commissions are nothing but clubs where men Google fat people and debate the best way to attach machetes to an orangutan. And we've also learned this:
If math is to be believed (and my penis ruler says "Ha!"), going into a fight with a 70-pound weight advantage is one of the greatest indicators you're about to get your ass kicked. History suggests you have a two in three chance of losing. And if you go in with a 200-pound weight advantage, your odds of losing jump to about three in four.
Between hack philosophers, Instagram influencers, and idiot friends, the average human receives over 50 pieces of bad advice every day. So it gives me great pleasure to present you with this actual good advice, tested over the course of 26 years of arithmetic and blood: The next time you meet a 300-pound man, trust in the lessons history has taught us and fuck that giant fucker up.
For more, check out the 6 Most One-Sided Fights In Movie History:
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