When Mountains Collide

Jun 26, 2009
Bobby Lashley and Bob Sapp want the world to know this will not be a professional wrestling match.

Lashley, the former World Wrestling Entertainment champion, and Sapp, a larger-than-life character from the Japanese ring, claim they are prepared for a major mixed martial arts test. Fight Force International “Ultimate Chaos” will play host to a main event between the two super heavyweights this Saturday at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Miss.

Their hulking frames appear to be straight out of the sensational world of sports entertainment, but Lashley (3-0) and Sapp (10-4-1) know the difference between fantasy and reality.

“I’m not in here trying to do the promos back and forth with him,” Lashley says. “[What matters is] just how we train for a fight.”

The 32-year-old, firmly entrenched at his American Top Team camp, has sparred with former EliteXC heavyweight champion Antonio Silva in order to prepare for the battle between two of the sport’s biggest men.

Sapp, meanwhile, returned to his old haunts to work with grappling wizard Matt Hume and strengthened his camp with retired UFC veteran Ivan Salaverry and former International Fight League standout Antonio McKee. As a result, Sapp now weighs 320 pounds -- a significant drop from his customary 350- to 400-pound range.

Still, the former NFL player will enter the match much larger than Lashley, who has never fought at super heavyweight. Lashley has become known as a fighter who pushes the heavyweight limit of 265 pounds without sacrificing appearance or athleticism.

“This one,” he says, “I’m not gonna be bigger. It’s a good test for me. Each one of my matches is a different test for me, and this is a test of size, strength and punching power.”

Sapp made his name with punching power and a bulldozing style, dubbed “NFL,” in K-1 kickboxing matches. “The Beast,” now 34, wonders whether or not his weight loss will result in less power. Expect “crisper, straighter punches,” he promises. Regardless, Lashley wants no part of the stand-up, according to Sapp.

“He’s a heavy hitter with knockout power,” Lashley says. “He’s put the hurting on some good guys.”

Lashley has a gameplan -- he says little mystery exists in what Sapp will try to do -- and aims to stick to it. Standing or on the ground, it makes no difference, Lashley says.

“I’m just gonna take him down, pound him out or stand up and knock him out,” he says.

Confidence remains paramount for Lashley, a three-time national collegiate wrestling champion who will test himself against a fighter who mixed it up with MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and charges out like a rolling boulder. Sapp’s notoriety makes this bout his most important to date.

“Can he finish? Can he move?” Sapp asks. “He’s gonna have to learn a whole lot of stuff if he’s expecting to be up-and-coming and [fighting me]. I’m ready to do it.”

Lashley insists the step up in size and experience and the increase in the glare of the spotlight represent challenges he is ready to tackle.

“I think it’s pressure just because it’s a fight,” the former Army serviceman says. “Anything can happen when you fight. We just try to be as prepared as possible.”

Sapp feels the pressure, too.

“Let’s get this down,” he says. “We’re gonna see, without question, a lot of heart and a lot of power going into this fight, a lot of emotion going into this fight.”

Sapp admits when he was poor and hungry, fighting was far less painful. Now that he’s earned money and seen the world, the idea of getting hit has changed. Suffering through sparring sessions and the process of shedding weight “definitely takes [him] back” to his early days.

“Let’s see how hard we can push through it,” he says. “I wish it didn’t hurt as much as [it does now].”

Sapp understands Lashley’s hunger and does not underestimate his fellow goliath. Family, not monetary motivation, drives Sapp at this point in his career. The 36-year-old has dropped two of his past three fights, including a 55-second technical knockout loss to Jan Nortje at a Strikeforce event in his home state of Washington in February 2008. Last month, he submitted to Ikuhisa Minowa in the first round of the Dream Super Hulk tournament in Japan.

“Without question,” he says, “it’s rather disappointing.”

He knows fans expect him to push Lashley, to determine whether or not he can handle adversity in a big fight.

“It’s an honor,” he says, recalling a time when he had to climb the ladder by fighting world champions in a sport he barely knew.

Lashley admits cashing in on Sapp’s fame overseas would be a nice spoil of victory -- fights in Japan might be in his future -- and hopes the clash brings “some credibility here, [to] some of these [super] heavyweights.”

Credibility remains a contentious issue for Lashley. His excellent amateur wrestling pedigree has often been overshadowed by his professional wrestling career. He still works with the TNA wrestling promotion. Not yet an elite fighter, the father of two -- rather than hold down a full-time job in addition to training -- can work for TNA four days a month and cover traveling expenses from his home in Colorado to his training camp in Coconut Creek, Fla. In addition, it allows him an avenue through which to give back to his wrestling fans.

Some wonder why Lashley would elect to fight someone with such close ties to professional wrestling. Sapp, after all, once fought a cartoon character in the ring. Lashley expects the Sapp who once defeated kickboxing legend Ernesto Hoost, not the man who succumbed to Nortje in less than a minute.

“I don’t think he’s looking at this fight the same way I am,” Lashley says.

He believes Sapp will move on to accept another payday fight in Japan or movie role rather than stay competitive. Lashley’s camp, meanwhile, has already begun negotiating life after Sapp -- an August or September fight that could be finalized early next week. The former professional wrestler plans to waste no time before returning to the gym.

Sapp’s post-fight agenda includes movies, voiceover commercials, a show on the Travel Channel and a kickboxing match in Hong Kong. He only sees eight or so fights left in his career. Despite the end being in sight, Sapp wants to end Lashley’s night early.

“Screw the sprawl,” he says, “I’m picking him up and slamming him on the top of his head, and let’s see if that won’t knock him out.”

Lashley aims to tame “The Beast.”

“I’m taking this like it is the UFC championship,” he says.
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