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Bob Sapp: Is he a sellout or building his 401k?

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If you listened to Ariel Helwani's MMA Hour on Monday you heard the alacritous ravings of a one Bob "The Beast" Sapp, former K-1 kickboxing legend, former PRIDE fighting demolition man, former martial artist with a conscience and self-respect. If you haven't heard this weird and wonderful podcast yet, go and listen to it now.

After hearing a half hour of Sapp's booming, mocking voice and bizarre, fake laughter, a number of things appear clear, even if just as many remain as murky as Bob's speech. Firstly, the man is a professional diver. Second, the man has found a way to cheat the system that, quite simply, is paying him good money. And in the end, Sapp was fairly clear that's all he cared about.

To Helwani's credit, he actually went after his guest for diving, questioned his courage, his heart, and his integrity. But Sapp was unequivocal on one point: he may be well past his prime, ready to pack it in and find a new career, and completely unable, even unwilling, to stand and bang with many fighters considered cans even in minor league promotions. But Sapp is going to get paid well to do it.

The Beast said he makes between $30,000 and $40,000 per appearance to get into the cage and pretend to fight, and for whatever reason unknown to humanity, promoters seem willing to pony up the dough for these fake matches. Rather than fade into obscurity with chronic debilitating brain and body injuries, and medical expenses that he can't afford, Sapp seems determined to build a nest egg on his brand name for as long as he possibly can.

And although the shtick is annoying and even tiresome to listen to on the MMA Hour, it seems clear that he has found a way to get promoters to buy into his gimmick. When Helwani asked why he didn't simply go into professional wrestling where everybody knows it's fake, Sapp shrugged the question off, explaining a rather contrived definition of what a mixed martial artist actually is.

Mixed, he said stood for the combination of techniques used. Martial, for fighting. And arts, implying entertainment. And Bob has become a purely entertainment fighter. All 12 seconds per appearance of it. Or at least that's what Helwani said. Sapp insisted he lasts about 20 seconds.

Although throwing fights rankles any pure fan of MMA, it's interesting that Sapp has admitted his reasons for doing it. He's getting paid very generously to play a role that few, if any, MMA fighters get to play after their career is done. If you look at Mirko Cro Cop, whom Sapp fought and lost to in a 2003 K-1 match, the Crotian fighter is now retired. His last fight done in K-1, leaving him to seek out a new life outside of combat sports.

Sapp referred to Ray Sefo, the brilliant Kiwi K-1 kickboxer in the same boat as Cro Cop, also in his twilight years, going back into retirement to eke out a living as a trainer. Maybe Sefo and Cro Cop can do well with their skills, but Bob Sapp is right about one thing. Sefo and Cro Cop won't be making Bob Sapp money to turtle into a ball after 20 seconds and wait for the referee to step in, and all for $30,000 a pop.

Here's how Sapp explained his reasoning for refusing to fight honourably:

I will receive no damage to my body that will be long lasting for a small insignificant amount of cash. I think we’ve seen that now with examples with the NFL and the fact that some of these guys are coming back and saying, "Hey we want some money, we have brain damage." I’m getting paid well underneath what a professional boxer would, or Manny Pacquiao. So I will, in no means ever, will I sustain long-lasting damage for a small paycheck. Never will that happen, never will "The Beast" ever have that happen.

Despite the disturbingly candid admission he's throwing fights for a pay cheque and refuses to take damage, asking the referee to stop the fight after the first sign of a scratch, Sapp is selling his short-term reputation for long-term fiscal stability. Well, let's be frank, he's selling his long-term reputation as well, but he was never the Georges St-Pierre of MMA, so history will likely not care whether he defeated Kiyoshi Tamura at Pride 21 any more than he threw a fight Mariusz Pudzianowski in Poland.

If you listened to the whole MMA Hour, you know that Helwani also interviewed undefeated Strikeforce-cum-UFC fighter Shane del Rosario, who confessed a car crash has left him pretty strapped for cash. It was an injury that had him wondering if choosing a fighting career was the right move. Similarly, Bob Sapp is one serious injury away from draining his bank account on a hospital bill. Is it, therefore, really a travesty that he's doing the circus rounds, taking paycheques from eager promoters and gullible fans?

Now I'm not so sure it is. Sapp said he's just doing it for the money now, to get a pay cheque while he's still able, and insure against long-term medical detriments from a life-time of combat sports. Is that so wrong? Well, that depends. What's your reputation worth to you?

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