Dear Valentina Shevchenko: Beware the Curse of the Silver Screen

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterFebruary 5, 2020

Valentina Shevchenko
Valentina ShevchenkoChris Unger/Getty Images

When Valentina Shevchenko takes the cage Saturday at UFC 247, she'll be competing against more than just Katlyn Chookagian. 

If Shevchenko (18-3) can defeat Chookagian (13-2), as she's favored to do, it will be her third straight defense of the UFC women's flyweight title.

But there's an even juicier role on the horizon. You may have heard the news that Shevchenko will star across from Halle Berry in Berry's directorial debut, an MMA-themed movie called Bruised. Berry's character is a fighter, and Shevchenko's character is the top rival. That feels like serious screen time.

But with it comes a curse. You can forget about Madden. Forget the Bambino. Don't even talk to me about the billy goat. MMA has a monster twice its size: the curse of the silver screen.

Every now and then, a fighter gets a chance to appear in a high-profile movie or TV show (cameos and the like don't count). Man or woman, that chance is typically born from skill, accomplishment, celebrity factor and camera-readiness. That's a lot of boxes to check. Not many people have that combination.

Shevchenko is in some rarefied air. But it can be hard to breathe the air up there.

Some fighters who try show business return to MMA afterward. Some don't. Either way, there's ample evidence that their fight careers are never the same again once that horse leaves the barn. No matter the circumstances, the fight game falls off a cliff once the fighter lets show business under the ropes. Sounds like a curse to me.

Women designed the modern blueprint for MMA crossover success. There's only one queen bee, and her last name doesn't rhyme with "Ronda Rousey." That's right, it's Gina Carano (7-1), who made her feature film debut in 2009. Since then, she has appeared in Deadpool, Haywire and Fast and Furious 6, among others. She now has a recurring role on the hit Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian

Gina Carano at the premiere of The Mandalorian
Gina Carano at the premiere of The MandalorianEmma McIntyre/Getty Images

Her fight record since formally making her film debut? It's a sparkling 0-0. Her final fight was a first-round TKO loss to one Cris "Cyborg" Justino (22-2 [1]) a month before the film's release date. She was only 28 at the time, so there was still gas in the tank, at least hypothetically. 

With all that said, Carano is an outlier here. She's had the biggest show business career of any professional MMA fighter. It's natural that she'd depart permanently for greener pastures. But the brutal, one-sided nature of her loss to Cyborg suggested she was no longer so enthusiastic about face-punching.

No other fighter has hit it as big as Carano, but more famous figures have made the leap. Here's where Ronda Rousey (12-2) comes in. Rousey followed in Carano's footsteps before setting out on her own path. That path gave us all the gift of The Expendables 3, which hit theaters in August 2014. Rousey was 10-0 upon its release. After returning to the cage, she won her next two fights before shockingly staggering to an 0-2 end to her MMA career. Show business must have roused something in her, though, because WWE wasn't far away.

If you thought The Expendables 3 was impressive, don't forget the guy who helped start it all. He's the cornerstone of that special franchise: Randy Couture. They call him "The Natural." Couture (19-11) co-starred in The Expendables in 2010. After he returned to action, the dual-division champ fought exactly one more time—a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida in 2011. 

Do you remember Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Do you remember that epic fight scene between Chris Evans' Captain America and one Georges St-Pierre (26-2)? That wasn't some little slice of face time, either. That was a long fight sequence. St-Pierre was 32 and in the midst of a four-year break from MMA when the movie came out.

That was March 2014. The welterweight GOAT only fought once more. Granted, it was a defeat of middleweight champ Michael Bisping in his lone fight at 185 pounds to capture a second division title. As evidenced by his hiatus, St-Pierre had fallen out of love with MMA. His dalliance on the big screen didn't appear to heal that wound. 

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is now 41 years old and still kicking around in Bellator. It was a decade ago that he made his feature-film debut as B.A. Baracus in The A-Team remake of 2010. When the movie came out, Jackson was 30-8, for a winning percentage of 79 percent. After, he has gone 8-6, good for 42 percent. While he was definitely no spring chicken for much of that post-showbiz run, his Bellator dance card has been filled with the Satoshi Ishiis and Christian M'Pumbus of the world. So, pretty much a wash there.

Forrest Griffin (19-7) appeared in the action movie 13, which also came out in 2010. His record after 2010: 2-1. 

Oh, I can keep going. On November 10, 2012, eight days after The Man With the Iron Fists hit theaters, Cung Le scored a knockout for the ages on Rich Franklin. After that, Le, already a well-known actor in Asian markets, turned back to showbiz. A controversial PED suspension followed. Ultimately, he took a year-and-a-half off from fighting but returned one more time in 2012. He faced Bisping. Bisping turned Le's face into an off-brand Halloween mask

Keith Jardine
Keith JardineEmma McIntyre/Getty Images

Keith Jardine (17-11 [2]) is an exception in that he was never a big-name fighter yet he had success on the big screen. His main claim to fame was bewildering Chuck Liddell for three rounds in 2007 with his signature Crotchety Woodsman fighting style. The Dean of Mean took a few stuntman and acting jobs—including for a fight scene in Breaking Bad—and slowly turned himself into a one-man show. After toiling in relative anonymity on both sides of the coin, he's now a one-man cottage industry in Hollywood.

This is all extremely fun, but there may be something serious underlying this curse. Sure, distractions abound in Hollywood, and there are only so many hours in a day for training, acting and everything else. But there's something else to it, in my opinion. No other sport is as predicated on hunger as fighting. You need to have something ravenous in you to get in there and do that, especially at that level and for less pay than a low-level pro golfer. If Hollywood is good at one thing, it's making you no longer feel hungry. 

Shevchenko is facing easy odds Saturday, but they'll get a lot longer once she sets foot on the movie set. If the past is any prologue, she should beware the curse of the silver screen. There's no other business like it. No business I know.

       

Scott Harris writes about MMA and other topics for Bleacher Report. 

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