As Bob Sapp continues his "International Capitulation Tour," falling to Soa Palelei in less than 30 seconds in Australia, it's hard to remember why he mattered in the first place. But he did. Most surely. And not just as a gimmick, although his gimmick was always there, propelling him to a celebrity no fighter has had before or since. After all, when your gimmick is "huge, incredibly muscular black guy with a great laugh" it's hard to leave it at the door.
We care about Sapp, and promoters can still sell Sapp, because at the core of Bob Sapp is an amazingly dangerous man. Somewhere, lurking beneath the pussy cat who taps out the first time he even senses an opponent is about to strike, is the Bengal tiger. Or the rhino. Fill in your own animal metaphor as you see fit.
Whichever jungle creature, it was one that mauled the great Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira when he was at the height of his game. One that cornered and proceeded to bully Hall of Fame kickboxer Ernesto Hoost like he had Rivers Cuomo glasses and a pocket protector. With little formal training, with just his own strength and athleticism leading the way, Bob Sapp seemed poised to become one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time.
And then it all went to hell. Sapp's meteoric rise in Japan created an incredible demand on his time. And, frankly, he didn't much care for fighting. When there was a choice to be made between a goofy Japanese game show and a sparring session, the decision was a no-brainer for Sapp. It was the game show, every time. In a 2008 interview, Sapp described to me a typical week in his Japanese MMA prime:
"I would eat breakfast early, go to sleep, wake up again at 8 AM. From there I'd go and do television shows from about 8 to 2 o'clock. From 2 to 4 I would eat lunch, from 6 to 9 I would have to do some more television shows and then some rest and go eat dinner. Then I'd have to do some commercials and television shows, some of the late night television shows. The next day I'd get up and go anywhere from a pro wrestling match or pro wrestling practice, then kickboxing practice, followed by MMA practice," Sapp said. "A kickboxing or MMA match would be followed almost immediately by commercials or pro wrestling. Then the next day I'd have a full onslaught of television. It was hard. And that's one of the reasons my records are going to stand. I don't think you'll find anyone who's going to be able to work and do that much stuff. I did comedy shows and the only thing beating out my fights were my comedy shows. The entertainment I was providing was ridiculous. They had me doing absolutely everything and anything."
This withering schedule didn't leave much time to train and develop his game. A persistent eye injury, product of a 2003 Mirko Cro Cop left hand that broke his orbital bone, left Sapp deathly afraid of permanent injury.
Scared and indifferent? A bad combination for any fighter, made particularly worse in Sapp's case because his rank cowardice is so contrary to his fearsome appearance. It's that look that makes it possible for Sapp to go into new territories, sell fans on his fight with scary muscles and charming interviews. When he's done in the first round, as he has been five times this year alone, he can skedaddle out of town and cash his check.
But for how much longer? He's pulled off his routine in Croatia, Indonesia, Poland, India and Australia. Soon there won't be a single burg, no matter the size, that doesn't know about Sapp's bait and switch. That's when the tour will finally come to a close. Better get the t-shirt while you can.