Top 12 Action Stars Who Are Badasses in Real Life


A Brief History

On August 15, 2014, The Expendables 3 released theatrically.  The film stars Ultimate Fighters Randy Couture and Rhonda Rousey, two real-life badasses!  Long-time readers of are likely already familiar with “Top 10 Most Famous Actors Who Served in the Military,” but in addition to action stars with military experience, several action stars featured in The Expendables and similar franchises have real life professional fighting experience and with winning records to boot.  This list covers twelve such action film stars who are or were legitimate badasses in real life and as such did not merely play at being tough.  This list is based on who the author thinks would likely win a fight against the others in their respective fighting primes.  If you seriously think Bruce Lee should be ranked higher, please keep in mind that boxing and mixed martial arts have weight classes for a reason…

Digging Deeper

12.  Gina Joy Carano (born 16 April 1982)

She has had major roles in theatrically released films including starring in Haywire and being a main character in the hugely successful Fast & Furious 6.  She was also known as “Crush” on American Gladiators.  Like her male counterparts listed in this article, Carano has similarly impressive kickboxing and mixed-martial arts records of 17-1 and 8-1, respectively.  As far as the author could find, she was also the first female mixed-martial artist to be made into an action figure toy.  So, while she would likely agree that she would not win in an actual fight against a Randy Couture or Rampage Jackson, she has the most impressive fighting career of any mainstream actress and is still arguably among the toughest women in the world.  After all, the only woman to defeat her in MMA went on to become a champion only to be stripped of her title after testing positive for a banned substance.

11.  Randall Craig “Tex” Cobb (born 7 May 1950)

Cobb, who possesses a black belt in karate, achieved a professional boxing record of forty-two wins and seven losses and a kickboxing record of nine wins and two losses.  He has a fairly extensive history playing mostly villains in films and television series, but the author is not sure whether he is as recognizable as either a major action star or as an all-time great fighter in the same way that the others on this list are known.  In addition, Cobb lost both of his attempts to win a major heavyweight title.  Even more embarrassing is that one of his wins was later overturned to a no-contest after he tested positive for cocaine.

10.  Philip Andre “Mickey” Rourke, Jr. (born 16 September 1956)

Rourke is an American actor and screenwriter who has appeared primarily as a leading man in action, drama and thriller films.  Among his most memorable performances as frighteningly powerful characters include portraying Marv in Sin City (2005), Whiplash in Iron Man 2 (2010) and Hyperion in Immortals (2011).  Perhaps less well known by the wider public is the fact that Rourke is also a retired professional boxer with an undefeated record of six wins and no losses in bouts from 1991 through 1994.  He had earlier competed as an amateur boxer from 1964 to 1973 and had an even more impressive winning record.  Unfortunately, despite the undefeated streak as a professional, he endured a series of disfiguring injuries in the ring, including a broken nose, toe, ribs, a split tongue, a compressed cheekbone and even short term memory loss.  These disfigurements required him to get reconstructive surgery.  It is therefore hardly surprising that Rourke suffered in his personal life, having been arrested on multiple occasions for such crimes as spousal abuse and driving under the influence.  He also suffered in his professional life as well.  In fact, if you notice the dates of his biggest blockbuster roles listed earlier in this paragraph, you will see that they only came some time after his boxing career had ended.  Fortunately, a combination of faith and the companionship of his dogs helped Rourke recover.  Accordingly, this physically imposing man has shown his gentle side as a public advocate for the welfare of dogs.

9.  Kevin Ferguson (born 8 February 1974)

Whereas our tenth entry competed exclusively in boxing, Ferguson has had a more diversified professional fighting career.  Better known as Kimbo Slice, this Bahamian-born American boxer, mixed martial artist and occasional actor became famous for street fights which were shown throughout the Internet, leading Rolling Stone to call him “The King of the Web Brawlers”.  This physically imposing heavyweight is 6 ft 1 in tall and weighs in at 234 lb.  He started out as a bouncer, then a bodyguard and in 2003 became an unsanctioned street fighter.  He received his nickname of “Slice” for causing a large cut on one opponent’s eye.  He only lost once in a recorded street fight.  As a mixed-martial artist, his record is four wins and two losses professionally and one win and one loss in exhibition fights.  His televised fights for such major promotions as the Ultimate Fighting Championship were among the most watched MMA bouts in television history when they aired.  He has more recently transitioned into professional boxing and has won all seven of his professional boxing bouts.  Given his rather unique look, it is not surprising that he has shown up in various films and games, including memorable appearances in films such as The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (2012) and in games such as FaceBreaker (2008) and UFC Undisputed 2010 (released in 2010 of course…).

8.  Robert Malcolm “Bob” Sapp (born 22 September 1973)

Sapp has participated in more fights than Rourke and Ferguson combined.  Unfortunately, he has continued well past his prime and as such, his professional fighting records make him appear less accomplished than he actually is.  The thirty-nine year old still competes as a superheavyweight, towering over opponents with his 6 ft 5, 329 lb. frame.  Before becoming a fighter, he played professional football until the NFL suspended him for suspected steroid use.  He then participated in professional wrestling as well as mixed-martial arts and kickboxing.  Through 2007 or 2008, Sapp racked up fairly impressive winning records as a mixed-martial artist and kick boxer, having defeated numerous opponents for such major promotions as K-1 and Pride.  Yet, once he started to lose, he never really recovered.  In 2005, his professional kickboxing record was 10 wins and 4 losses, while by 2008, his professional MMA record was ten wins and three losses.  Today (14 August 2013), his kickboxing record is eleven wins and sixteen losses, while his MMA record is eleven wins and eighteen losses.  As you can see, since the mid-2000s, he has largely fallen apart as a fighter, yet somehow c,he ontinues to compete despite enduring numerous losses in a row.  See here and here for this change of fortune as a fighter.  The thing is, of course, before that decline, he was a fairly dominant fighter who at the same time achieved some mainstream film success with memorable appearances in Elektra (2005) and Conan the Barbarian (2011).

7.  Bruce Lee (27 November 1940 – 20 July 1973)

Yes, Lee’s fights on television and on film, as was the case with everyone else on this list, were of course choreographed.  Moreover, he does not have a professional fighting record on BoxRec or Sherdog.  Nevertheless, he has participated in unscripted bouts and to that end has an impressive record.  See here for his fight history.  Not to forget as well that he founded Jeet Kune Do (The Way of the Intercepting Fist).  Even so, as a person he has become legendary to such an extent that people have an overly inflated idea about his abilities.  In fact, even TopTenz has some excellent articles on that subject at “Top 10 Reasons Bruce Lee May Have Been Superhuman” and at “Bruce Lee Literally Punched Too Fast To Block” that give further insight into his alleged abilities.  What becomes apparent is that Lee was undeniably a badass martial artist, especially for his size.  With that said, what makes him rank lower on this list than some others is that a number of his alleged fights are from anecdotal and speculative sources.  His most famous confirmed real-life fight against Wong Jack Man has conflicting reports of how the fight actually went down, i.e. whether Lee decisively won, or if it was more akin to a draw.  Even experts refer to him as “pound for pound…best” (according to Ed Parker) or that he “could easily have ranked in the top three in the lightweight division or junior-welterweight division” of professional boxing (according to Dan Inosanto).  In other words, objectively speaking, it is not clear how Lee would perform in, say, a modern Ultimate Fighting Championship Octagon against heavyweight champions.  Due to the difficulty of separating man from myth in this case, he cannot objectively be ranked higher.  To read about and see Bruce Lee at his best, the book The Tao of Jeet Kune Do (published posthumously in 1975) and his last film appearance in Enter the Dragon (also released after his death 1973) can be recommended.  Overall, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is a fun movie, however, readers should be aware of historical inaccuracies as discussed at “Divergences from real life” and elsewhere online.

6.  Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg (born 18 October 1960)

Van Damme is best known for his action films in which he largely disposes of foes by executing impressive kicks to them.  Of course many of his film fights are stylized and unrealistic to a large degree, but before he became a box office star, Van Damme actually amassed an impressive record as a real-life kick boxer.  From 1976 to 1982, Van Damme won eighteen of his nineteen kickboxing bouts and, even more stunningly, won forty-four of his forty-eight semi-contact or light-contact contests.  There are also rumors that he might fight again in the near future against a forty-year-old Olympic gold-medalist boxer, which is something the author for one would like to see!  Van Damme has also earned a black belt in karate and even won a Mr. Belgium bodybuilding title.  Van Damme is not ranked higher on the list due to many of his fights not being as full contact as some others on this list and also due to him having allegedly been defeated in a real-life altercation by actor and bodyguard Charles Zito, Jr. (born 1 March 1953 and thus seven years Van Damme’s senior).  Online accounts of the incident are, however, a bit sketchy, with some declaring it more of a sucker punch by Zito that knocked Van Damme down, rather than a “fight”.  For information on Van Damme’s alleged upcoming fight, please see here.

5.  Cung Le (born 25 May 1972)

Fans of the live-action Tekken movie may recall the Vietnamese Le portraying the well-known martial artist and video game character Marshall Law in the 2010 film, one of over a dozen films and television programs Le has appeared in.  Nevertheless, Le is no mere choreographed fighter.  In fact, he has won all seventeen of his kickboxing bouts fought in such major international promotions as Strikeforce and K-1.  The former Strikeforce middleweight champion has also achieved an 9-2 record as a mixed-martial artist, including victories over former UFC champions Frank Shamrock and Rich Franklin.  His two defeats as a professional fighter came first against a man whom Le later defeated in their rematch and second against Wanderlei César da Silva, one of the all-time great mixed-martial artists.  Le is still an active fighter and won both of his major fights in 2012.  Where he goes from here, either as an actor or a fighter, remains an exciting prospect!

4.  Keith Hector Jardine (born 31 October 1975)

First off, he was born on Halloween, which is just plain cool in its own right.  Second, he appeared in the fantastic Crank sequel.  Having also appeared in other notable films such as Gamer with Gerard Butler, Jardine is still best known as a mixed-martial artist.  He ranks higher on this list due to having scored victories over former UFC champions and Hall of Famers Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin.  Jardine amassed seventeen wins in his professional career, with his losses largely coming at the hands of former champions, such as Luke Rockhold and Quinton Jackson.  Nevertheless, his career as a fighter appears to be winding down, as he lost both bouts fought in 2012.

3.  Oleg Nikolaevich Taktarov (born 26 August 1967)

Taktarov has acted in numerous, notable theatrically-released films from Air Force One to Rollerball to Bad Boys II to National Treasure to Miami Vice to Predators to…well, you get the idea!  The winner of the UFC 6 Tournament has had seventeen wins in a professional fighting career spanning nearly two decades from 1993 to 2008.  He has fought against hall of fame and champion fighters alike, from Ken Shamrock to Dan Severn.  Due to his level of competition, the fact that he has won his last five fights in a row and has appeared in some of the biggest budgeted and highest grossing films of any of the actors on this list, he deserves his ranking as number three on our list.

2.  Quinton Ramone Jackson (born 20 June 1978)


The most significant film role of this fighter, also known as Rampage, is undoubtedly that of B.A. Baracus, a role first made famous by Mr. T, in The A-Team.  He has had a number of other memorable roles in other productions, such as The Cleveland Show.  Jackson is undefeated as a kickboxer and has won thirty-two professional mixed-martial arts bouts.  The former UFC light heavyweight champion has defeated a who’s who of former UFC and Pride champions, including Lyoto Machida, Dan Henderson and Chuck Liddell.  Jackson has also defeated Keith Jardine who appeared earlier on this list.  On a sadder note, Jackson is also notorious for going on a real-life rampage after his loss to Forrest Griffin back in 2008.  Jackson was convicted of leading police on a chase while driving a Ford F-350 which had his picture on the side.  He even continued driving on his rims after one of his tires blew out!  During the chase, Jackson struck several vehicles and nearly hit some pedestrians.  One woman sued Jackson, claiming that his reckless driving caused her to lose her baby due to the impact of her abdomen on her steering wheel.  As a result, whereas Jackson is a badass as a fighter, this incident was not “badass” and is not something to find “cool.”  It is, however, an important aspect of his story and as such, it is worth mentioning here.

1.  Randy Duane Couture (born 22 June 1963)

Couture has had one of the most storied careers of all the people on this list.  Moreover, it can seriously be contended that a heavyweight Randy Couture in his prime could have beaten just about anyone else on this list in an MMA bout under the current official version of the “Unified Rules.”  After winning the state championship in wrestling, Couture served as a sergeant in the 101st Airborne of the U.S. Army during the 1980s.  So, military experience? Check!  He then wrestled as a three time Division I All-American for Oklahoma State University and was an Olympic alternate three times before embarking on his professional fighting career.  Oh, and he also won a gold medal in wrestling at the Pan American Games.  So, world class wrestling experience?  Check!   Now remember, these accomplishments were BEFORE he even began his MMA career.  With this military and wrestling background, Couture went on to compete in thirty professional MMA matches from 1997 to 2011, more than half of which were title fights, an almost unprecedented percentage for a mixed-martial artist, especially considering the level of competition.  Couture is not only one of only a handful of fighters in the UFC Hall of Fame, he is also one of an even smaller number of fighters to have won the UFC championship in multiple weight classes (heavyweight and light heavyweight).  He has the most championship reigns in UFC history and has participated in the most championship fights in UFC history.  He is the oldest UFC fighter to ever win a championship, defend a championship and win a UFC fight – all in his 40s!  He has been featured on the cover of EA’s MMA video game and has coached on seasons of both UFC and Bellator’s fighting reality-style competition shows.  He has appeared in several films; his biggest roles being in The Scorpion King 2 as Sargon and in all three The Expendables films as Toll Road.  No other mainstream actor has the combined military, wrestling, and MMA pedigree of Randy Couture!  Oh, and to top everything off, his whole family are badasses.  Both his ex-wife and son also compete in MMA.

Honorable Mentions:

David Michael Bautista, Jr. (born 18 January 1969) and Nathan Jones (born 21 August 1969)

Dishonorable Mention:

Well, yes, as you have now learned, a number of successful real-world fighters have turned their athleticism into effective acting roles.  In contrast, some memorable actors who played tough-guy roles have also competed as professional fighters but have quite embarrassing histories as “athletes.”  Joseph Son (born 22 November 1970) is perhaps the best (worst?) case in point.  We suspect many readers will remember him as Random Task (the Oddjob parody in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery).  He also happened to compete in both the UFC and Pride…and lost every fight…both as a kickboxer and as a mixed-martial artist, all the while using his own created style of Joe Son Do (not exactly the successor to Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do!).  Losing is bad enough, but the lopsidedness of some of his losses is so extreme that they are almost painful to watch and almost resemble some kind of absurd parody of fighting.  See here for a sample from one of his most notorious fights (yes, groin strikes were allowed back then and yes, even that many of them in quick succession!).  Yet, before you feel sorry for him, we reckon some readers might say he deserved that specific kind of punishment.  In 2008 some absolutely disgusting revelations about his personal life came to light.  That same year he pleaded guilty to felony vandalism and was charged with participation in a despicable gang rape that took place in 1990.  The nature of the crime, which included torture, ranks up there with some of the most atrocious accounts of violence against women the author of this list has ever read and is too heinous to detail on this particular site.  What he and his accomplices were convicted of doing almost defies belief.  In any case, DNA evidence was discovered in 2008 that linked him to the crime.  He was accordingly convicted in 2011 and sentenced to fifteen years to life.  His criminal history does not even end with his sentencing!  He is currently facing another trial for killing his cellmate, just a month after his sentencing…

Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history at multiple universities.

  • Kent D

    I cannot for the life of me understand why you left out Rex of Rex Kwan Do fame. Guy was a total bada$$

    • There were a number of others I wanted to include, but I did not want to get too carried away. I thought about having a top 20 or something. I might do a sequel.

  • Kent D

    Also, don’t forget that Wesley Snipes holds the rank of 5th Dan (black belt) in Karate.

    • I tried to focus on ones with competitive records as much as possible. Has Snipes competed in any kind of fights? If so, we can always expand the list or add him to a sequel.

  • fatmonkey85

    Err Lenny Mclean? Mike Tyson??? Audie Murphy? David Niven?

  • Marcel Moreau

    disappointing list. no tony jaa, jet li, or chuck norris and dolph lundgren? what’s going on lately, lists here are almost getting to the point of being as bad as the ones from

    • Hello! I definitely considered Chuck Norris, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren, but we have to save some for sequel lists! 🙂

  • bbally

    I could also add Donnie Yen to the mix. There’s one reported occasion that confirms him being an efficient martial artist. According to news reports by Hong Kong news channels in the late 1990s, Donnie Yen was at a nightclub with his then girlfriend, Joey Meng. Inside the nightclub, Joey got harassed by a troublesome gang who took an interest in her. Yen warned them of leaving them alone but to no success. As they got out, the gang followed them and proceeded to prevent Yen from intervening by attacking him. This resulted in Yen beating the assailants up in self-defense and getting arrested by the police but was released the next day. According to the news, Yen beat up 8 members of the gang who were hospitalized.