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Boxers Who Became Actors

Boxers Turned Actors

Boxing has long captured the attention of millions with its raw intensity, strategic prowess, and captivating narratives. However, the allure of the silver screen has enticed several pugilists to embark on a new journey, stepping out of the ring and into the realm of acting.

This post explores the fascinating stories of ten iconic boxers that became actors. Let’s dive right into it!

Roy Jones Jr

Roy Jones Jr is one of the iconic boxers who successfully transitioned into the world of acting. Known for his lightning-fast reflexes, mesmerizing footwork, and unmatched athleticism, Jones Jr’s boxing career solidified his place as one of the sport’s all-time greats. 

Throughout his illustrious career, he held multiple world championship titles in four weight divisions. These include middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight. He also has the record as the only boxer that started his career as a middleweight.

However, Jones Jr’ talents extended beyond the squared circle as he ventured into acting, showcasing his versatility. The actor, who was a boxer, debuted on the silver screen in the 1995 sketch comedy series, “Mad TV,” where he played himself. He also appeared in other 90s movies, including “Married… with Children” (1996) “The Devil’s Advocate” (1997), “The Sentinel” (1998), etc.

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Jones Jr’s first significant acting success came with his role in the 2003 film “The Matrix Reloaded.” Portraying the character “Captain Ballard” in the movie, the boxer-turned-actor appeared alongside acting giants like Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishbourne.

Other movies where Roy Jones acted include:

  • Little Fockers (2010) 
  • Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)
  • Grudge Match (2013) 
  • Southpaw (2015)
  • Creed II (2018) 

Michael Bentt

Born on September 4, 1964, in London, England, Micheal Bentt began his boxing career with aspirations of becoming a world champion. With several boxing titles in his amateur career, he was regarded as one of the most decorated amateur boxers in the history of the United States.

Venturing into his pro boxing career, Bentt faced the formidable Tommy Morrison for the vacant WBO heavyweight title as an underdog in 1993. In a stunning upset, he secured a first-round knockout victory, claiming the WBO heavyweight title. However, in his first title defense against Herbie Hide in March 1994, he suffered a devastating knockout loss in the seventh round. With several brain injuries, the defeat was a significant setback for Bentt, and it played a crucial role in him becoming one of the famous boxers turned actors.

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In 2001, Bentt landed his most significant acting success in the acclaimed biographical sports drama film “Ali.” Appearing alongside top-tier actors like Will Smith, he portrayed the legendary boxer Sonny Liston in the movie. This role earned him critical acclaim and solidified his place as a worldwide known boxer movie star.

Some other movies where Micheal Bentt is featured include:

  • Dark Blue (2002)
  • Hollywood Homicide (2003)
  • Million Dollar Baby (2004)
  • Redemption (2007)
  • Blue (2009)

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson is regarded as one of the most formidable boxers in the sport’s history. He remained primarily dominant throughout his boxing career, from 1985 to 2005, earning himself the nicknames “Iron Mike” and “the Baddest Man in the World.” 

Tyson’s aggressive style, immense power, and lightning-fast combinations earned him the title of the youngest heavyweight champion in history at 20. He is also the first boxer to hold the WBA, WBC, and IBF titles simultaneously in the heavyweight category. However, Tyson’s life was not all that smooth, as he was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for three years before his release in 1995. 

Tyson’s story is similar to the other actors who started as boxers on our list. Despite the controversies surrounding his career, he successfully transitioned to the silver screen, showcasing his acting talents. His most famous acting role was in the 2009 film, “The Hangover.”

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However, he has made cameos in some other movies, including:

  • Play it To The Bone (1999)
  • Kickboxer: Retaliation
  • Hangover 2 & 2
  • Ip Man 3
  • Liger (2022)

Tommy Morrison

Born on January 2, 1969, in Gravette, Arkansas, Morrison was an American professional boxer who fought between 1988 to 2009. He began his professional career in 1988; by 1989, he had a record of 19 wins and no losses. Known for his powerful left hook and aggressive fighting style, Morrison claimed the WBO heavyweight title in 1993 after defeating boxing legend George Foreman.

Three years before becoming a world heavyweight champion, the boxer turned movie star made his acting debut in a 1990 Sylvester Stallone movie, “Rocky V,” as Tommy Gunn. It became his only significant success on the silver screen as his life downturned after an HIV diagnosis in February 1996.

The actor, who used to be a boxer, recorded some victories in the ring after a brief comeback in 2007 from a decade-long break from boxing. However, he passed away sadly in 2013 from AIDs complications.

Antonio Tarver

Famous in the ring as “the Magic Man,” Antonio Tarver is a former professional boxer from 1997 to 2015. His amateur career was highly decorated, with several titles, including the United States Amateur Light Heavyweight champion and the 1994 National Golden Gloves Light Heavyweight champion. 

Tarver debuted in professional boxing in 1997 and won his first sixteen fights, fourteen of which were knockout victories. By unanimous decision, he clinched his first international title in 2003 after defeating the former WBC holder, Montel Griffin. However, his most notable achievement came in 2004 when he knocked out Roy Jones Jr., becoming the WBC, WBA, and IBF light heavyweight champion.

Unlike some famous boxers turned actors on our list, Tarver didn’t have an extensive acting career. His major role came in the 2006 Sylvester Stallone movie, “Rocky Balboa,” where he played the role of Mason Dixon.

Joe Frazier

The late Joe Frazier wasn’t renowned as “Smokin’ Joe” for nothing. The American heavyweight fighter was an iconic figure in the boxing world, thanks to his relentless fighting style, powerful left hook, and epic battles against Muhammad Ali. Frazier was heavily decorated during his amateur career, winning the Golden Gloves heavyweight championships in 1962, 1963, and 1964.

As a professional heavyweight boxer, Frazier has several accomplishments in the ring. He became the international heavyweight champion in 1970 after beating WBA champion Jimmy Ellis and reigned undisputed till his loss to George Foreman in 1973. Another highlight of Frazier’s career is the fight against Mohammed Ali in 1971, dubbed the “greatest fight of the country.” The grueling battle between undefeated heavyweights ended with Frazier winning unanimously.

Joe Frazier’s foray into acting is less extensive than some other boxers who became actors on this list. His most significant acting role came in “Rocky,” the Academy Award-winning 1976 movie, where he appeared as himself. He also guest-starred in “The Simpsons,” providing his voice for an animated version of himself. Before passing away in 2010, he appeared in his autobiographical film “Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Cleared.” 

Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey, born on June 24, 1895, in Manassa, Colorado, was a force to be reckoned with in the boxing ring during the 1920s, known as the “Manassa Mauler,” Dempsey’s aggressive style, devastating punching power, and charismatic personality captivated fans worldwide. He held the World Heavyweight Championship from 1919 to 1926, defending his title numerous times and becoming one of the most celebrated boxers of his era. Today The Ring magazine ranks Dempsey as the tenth greatest heavyweight of all time and places him seventh on its list of the Top 100 Greatest Punchers.

However, Dempsey’s commitment to his successful boxing career did not stop him from smoothly transitioning into acting. The boxer became a movie star featured in around 20 films between 1920 and 1958. His foray onto the silver screen began with the 1920 movie, “The Adventures of Daredevil Jack,” where he played Jack Derry. It is also noteworthy that he met one of his four wives, Estelle Taylor, on the set of the show “The Big Fight,” which he starred in. 

Some of Dempsey’s notable movie and TV appearances include:

  • The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933)
  • Manhattan Madness (1925)
  • Mr. Broadway (1933)
  • Big City (1937)
  • Sweet Surrender (1935)

Roberto Duran

Also known as “Manos de Piedra,” which translates to “Hand of Stone,” Duran is a Panamanian professional boxer that competed between 1968 to 2001. Known for his relentless fighting style, iron chin, and exceptional technical skills, Duran’s boxing accomplishments are legendary. One of these is winning his first 31 professional fights consecutively, 26 of which were knockout victories. He also held championship titles across four weight divisions: lightweight, welterweight, light middleweight, and middleweight. 

Duran was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007 thanks to his outstanding achievements in the ring. The Ring magazine also recognized him as the fifth greatest boxer of the past 80 years in 2002.

Like others on our list, Duran is one of the famous boxers turned actors, showcasing his versatility beyond the confines of the ring. His most notable acting role was in the 1979 movie Rocky II, where he played Rocky Balboa’s sparring partner. He played minor roles alongside acting stars like Eddie Murphy in the 2002 “Harlem Nights.” Besides these movies, it is noteworthy that several documentaries, TV shows, and films were made after Duran’s life and career. 

Tony Danza

Tony Danza’s story is about an actor who started as a boxer. Hence, he is more renowned for his impact on the silver screen than in the ring. Born Anthony Salvatore Ladanza on April 21, 1951, in Brooklyn, New York, Danza began boxing at a young age. He competed as a professional middleweight boxer and achieved moderate success, winning nine out of his twelve professional fights (all knockout victories).

Danza’s acting career kicked off when a producer discovered him during training in a gym. It led to his first breakthrough on the hit sitcom “Taxi” in the late 1970s, where he played the character of a cab driver. He landed another significant role with the beloved sitcom “Who’s the Boss?” (1984-1992), where he portrayed Tony Micelli, a former baseball player turned housekeeper. This TV show nominated him for four Golden Globes and an Emmy.

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The boxer turned movie star also appeared in several movies, including Don Jon, Dear God, Darby and the Dead, Cloud 9, etc. He also appeared on his TV talk show, The Tony Danza Show.

Tex Cobb

Known for his iron chin and gritty determination, Randall “Tex” Cobb is a former martial artist and professional heavyweight boxer who competed between 1977 to 1993. He debuted in the professional boxing scene in 1977 and had won all his first consecutive 13 fights by knockout by 1979, thanks to his punching power and aggressive fighting style. 

Although never a world champion, Cobb gained recognition for his remarkable durability and ability to take heavy blows. He defeated several legendary heavyweights in his era, including Leon Spinks, Bernardo Mercado, and Earnie Shavers. The Ring Magazine also ranked him in the global top 10 heavyweight boxers in 1981 and 1982.

Like some other names on this list, Tex Cobb’s story is another iconic journey of an actor that was a boxer. Appearing in numerous movies and TV shows, one can argue that his acting profession is more successful than his fighting career. 

Some of Cobb’s most successful movie roles include:

  • The Golden Child (1986)
  • Police Academy 4: Citizens of Patrol (1987)
  • Coen Brothers (1987)
  • Raising Arizona (1987)
  • Code of Vengeance (1985)
  • The X-Files (2000)

Final Words

The world of boxing and the boxing betting market have witnessed the emergence of extraordinary individuals who have conquered the ring and ventured into the realm of acting, captivating audiences with their on-screen performances. From Roy Jones Jr, Micheal Bentt, Mike Tyson, Tony Danza, and Joe Frazier to several others, the journeys of these boxers who became actors reveal the depth of talent that lies within athletes and the potential for reinvention beyond their sporting achievements. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which fighter became an actor?
    Several boxers have transitioned from the boxing ring to the silver screen. Notable examples include but are not limited to Roy Jones Jr, Micheal Bentt, Mike Tyson, Tony Danza, and Joe Frazier.
  • Who was the boxer that became a Hollywood star?
    All the boxers on our list have taken at least one acting role. However, some became full-blown Hollywood stars, with their acting career garnering more attention and success than the time spent in the boxing ring. Examples include Antonio Tarver, Tony Danza, and Tex Cobb.
  • What actor was a heavyweight boxer?
    Examples of heavyweight boxer actors include Micheal Bentt, Mike Tyson, Tommy Morrison, Antonio Tarver, Joe Frazier, etc.
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