The History Of UFC Fighters In Movies And Television – UFC

The history of athletes popping up in movies and TV shows is long and varied, and the same goes when it comes to mixed martial artists. The elite physicality and charismatic personalities that grace the Octagon can often make for an appealing presence in movies and television shows. 
Conor McGregor is the latest UFC superstar to cross over to scripted entertainment, as he stars in Road House (2024) alongside Academy Award-nominated Jake Gyllenhaal in a remake of the 1989 film of the same name starring Patrick Swayze. The modern rendition features Gyllenhaal as a former UFC fighter who ends up working in the Florida Keys, which is where McGregor appears to come in as the heavy. The film is set to premiere in Austin at South by Southwest on March 8 before it is released on Amazon Prime Video on March 21. 
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With “The Notorious” headed to the movies, it brings to mind other mixed martial artists who have also worked in movies and television. The list is extensive and includes myriad cameo appearances in which the athlete shows up as themselves like Kenny Florian and Matt Hughes did in the MMA-based TV show Kingdom, which also featured Cub Swanson and Diego Sanchez as anonymous opponents of the lead character.
So, before McGregor debuts as “Knox” in Road House, let’s take a look at a few other UFC fighters who have graced the silver screen. 
Notable work: Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021)
Not only is GSP one of the greatest to ever do it in the Octagon, but “Rush” carved out a space for himself in perhaps the biggest cinematic franchise of the 21st century, as well.
St-Pierre debuted as Matroc the Leaper in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, engaging in a fun fight with Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers. While Captain America bested the two-division champion, St-Pierre did throw his signature Superman punch in the exchange. He would reprise the role in the MCU show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, and he could very well pop up again in the future.
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Notable work: The Expendables 3 (2014), Furious 7 (2015)
Perhaps the most famous mixed martial artist not named Conor McGregor, Rousey was an easy pick to star on screen. In the midst of her legendary title run, Rousey appeared in a pair of iconic action franchises. First came the third installment of The Expendables franchise, where she starred as “Luna” alongside icons like Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes and Jet Li, as well as fellow former UFC champion Randy Couture.
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The next year, she would appear in the seventh installment of the Fast & Furious franchise as “Kara” and go toe-to-toe with Michelle Rodriguez’s “Letty” in a fight a la fellow mixed martial artist Gina Carano (who featured in Fast & Furious 6, as well as The Mandalorian). 
To make it all the more impressive, Rousey filmed both movies back-to-back so she could focus on her rematch with Miesha Tate at UFC 168, which she won via third-round submission.
Rousey also hosted Saturday Night Live in 2016.
Notable work: Bruised (2020)
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Halle Berry is not just an Academy Award-winning actor and one of the most iconic Hollywood stars of the last 30 years, but she is also a huge mixed martial arts fan. She has been seen at a variety of UFC events, leading her to center her directorial debut around the sport in the film Bruised.
Berry cast Shevchenko, who was in the middle of her long reign as the women’s flyweight champion. Shevchenko plays “Lucia ‘Lady Killer’ Chavez,” the reigning Invicta FC champion whom Berry’s “Jackie Justice” must fight at the film’s conclusion. Shevchenko dyed her hair brown for the role, which she sported  at UFC 247 when she defended her belt against Katlyn Cerminara.
Notable work: The A-Team (2010)
From the oversized chain he dons to his trademark howl, “Rampage” is as distinctive a figure as any in MMA history. The former light heavyweight champion made various cameos over the years, including in a 2001 episode of Jackass, but his highest profile role came in 2010 when he starred in The A-Team as “B. A. Baracus,” the character previously portrayed by Mr. T in the 1980s television series.
In the film, Jackson stars alongside Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Jessica Biel.
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Notable work: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
In yet another instance of a UFC fighter entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the former welterweight king himself portrayed a naval officer in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, one of the most hotly anticipated films of the 2020s to date.  The film made more than $850 million, and Usman stood toe-to-toe with Winston Duke’s “M’Baku” in a confrontational scene which also featured Angela Bassett.  
Notable work: Spenser Confidential (2020), The Harder They Fall (2021)
When “Cowboy” finally rode off into the sunset in 2022, he made mention of movie stardom as something of interest to him. To that point, he appeared in a pair of Netflix films: Spenser Confidential alongside Mark Wahlberg, as well as the Western film The Harder They Fall, starring the likes of Idris Elba, Lakeith Stanfield and Regina King.  
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Notable work: Straight Outta Compton (2015), Cobra Kai (2022)
The former welterweight champion dabbled plenty in acting while he held the belt, including a part in Straight Outta Compton, which centered its story around the members of N.W.A.
Woodley also played “Sensei Odel” in the Karate Kid sequel series, Cobra Kai, appearing in five episodes of the fifth season.
Notable work: F9 (2021), Jackass Forever (2022)
“The Predator” is pretty unmissable, which is useful as the former heavyweight champion only appears for a quick moment and line in F9, joining Rousey in the Fast & Furious franchise. Ngannou also appeared in Jackass Forever, which included notable UFC fan Steve-O.
Notable work: XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017), Den of Thieves (2018)
“The Count” is always up for some camera time. Although Bisping has appeared in various movies and TV shows, his biggest roles came in the Vin Diesel-starring vehicle XXX: Return of Xander Cage as “Hawk.” He also appeared in Den of Thieves (in which Max Holloway also made a cameo), the crime thriller starring Gerard Butler and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. 
Notable work: Warrior (2011)
Perhaps no movie has captured mixed martial arts on a more high-profile level than the Tom Hardy-starring film Warrior. Centering on a pair of brothers who clash head-to-head in an MMA tournament in Atlantic City, the film also features UFC’s main play-by-play man Jon Anik during his days on the ESPN desk. The film came before Anik joined the broadcast team the same year.
Notable work: The Expendables (2010), The Expendables 2 (2012), The Expendables 3 (2014), Hawaii Five-0 (2015-17), Expend4bles (2023)
“The Natural” has a plethora of appearances across movies and television, but his steadiest role has come in The Expendables series as “Toll Road,” the team’s demolitions expert who is self-conscious about his cauliflower ear. Couture also appeared in four episodes of Hawaii Five-0.
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