Commentary

'The Beast' is coming to America

Bob Sapp is larger than life. His K-1 battles and come-from-behind victories are the stuff of legends. Can "The Beast" make the transition from Japanese prizefighting ring to American cage?

Updated: February 21, 2008, 11:10 AM ET
By Ben Houser | Special to ESPN.com

Bob Sapp endorses more than 400 products. He's a wealthy guy and is hounded by the paparazzi incessantly … in Japan.

The K-1 legend, known simply as "The Beast", brings his charismatic alter ego to the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., on Saturday when he makes his U.S. MMA debut. Sapp (9-2-1) fights Jan "The Giant" Nortje (25-17) in the main event of HDNet Fights' "Strikeforce At The Dome."

Ben Houser: Why is it important for you to have an MMA fight in the United States?

Bob Sapp: Coming back to the United States and to Washington, where I haven't been since I was in college, is a double homecoming. I will have all my friends here and just to perform in front of all my former [Washington Huskies football] teammates and everybody else that has seen me in college, it makes it that much sweeter.

BH: What's something America doesn't know about Bob Sapp?

BS: The fact that I have about 300 million worldwide fans. I rank right up there with David Beckham when walking down the street overseas. When I'm in the United States walking down the street, people say "Hey, that's just Bob." In Japan, 30,000 people are watching when I cross the street.

BH: How have you prepared to fight such a large opponent in Jan Nortje?

BS: It's very simple: What I need to do is take Nortje down and do a "ground and pound." He's a big guy, 6-foot-11 and [about] 350 pounds. I don't want to exchange blows with anyone that size. You can get clipped, meaning he doesn't have to hit you very hard in order to make you dizzy or knock you out. The first thing I am going to try to do is connect [with strikes] on him and take him down. Look for me to push him against the cage, pull his leg out from underneath him and just get on top. I do have to be careful that I don't get too winded and excited while walking into that arena because I am a hometown guy.

BH: How much will you weigh in for this fight?

BS: I have been training pretty hard, so hopefully I am going to weigh in about 363 pounds. [The optimal weight] is a tribute to my conditioning and my trainers.

BH: Will we see your classic "Beast Rush" at the beginning of this fight?

BS: You definitely will, without question. Nortje is well aware of how I fight, everyone is, but I don't think Nortje is going to be fast enough to get out of the way of my punches.

BH: This match is being billed as "The Beast vs. The Giant." Who will come out on top?

BS: "The Beast" will definitely be victorious. One thing that I can promise is that [after this fight], I'll be taking on several of the top fighters in the world. You'll see me fighting Fedor [Emelianenko], you'll see me fighting Ho Man Choi, Mark Hunt … now that Mirko Filipovic is rumored to be back in Japan, everyone is waiting to see that rematch. This time, I am going be victorious. The last time I fought Mirko, I didn't really see [his strikes] coming. [Filipovic broke Sapp's orbital bone in their March 30, 2003 fight.]

BH: What are your thoughts on Kimbo Slice?

BS: Slice is starting and doing it right. He will only get better as he learns submissions. He has big dynamite fists, one of iron, the other one of steel. If the right one doesn't get you, the left one will.

BH: Do you see yourself fighting Slice down the road?

BS: Yeah, I would love to fight Slice. I think it would be great because he has devastating fists and I have great strength. I would love to set that up.

BH: What would you say to the critics of your fighting style?

BS: Remember that you are looking at somebody in that ring that is almost 400 pounds, so go find somebody that looks like me and put him in the ring and see whether or not he gets tired and can do what I can do.

BH: What's your ultimate goal in MMA?

BS: My ultimate goal in MMA is to beat the best fighters. I got very close when I fought [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira, but I did beat the world champion Ernesto Hoost twice. I have got to come back and get me a world champion cage fighter and I am going for that this year.

BH: Anything you would like to say to your fans?

BS: "The Beast" is back, and lets make sure he doesn't end up on his [butt]!

Ben Houser is a feature producer for ESPN.

Ben Houser is a Senior Producer for ESPN's E:60.