What’s an action movie without our favorite Englishman anti-hero, Jason Statham? Before Statham came to be known by adrenaline film junkies as the age-defying, shredded, baddest bald dude ever to appear on the silver screen, he was crushing it as an athlete … and as a model. Shocker. While it’s reasonable to assume that Statham competed in a martial art, he was actually discovered thanks to his time as a competitive diver. Video of Statham competing as a diver (1 m, 3 m, 10 m) in the 1990 Commonwealth gave a telling glimpse into the acrobatics he’d come to flaunt in countless fight scenes. Most eye-opening of all is the impressive mop Statham sported.
Tommy Lee Jones
Joe Rogan is a stand-up comedian also known for his tenure as the UFC’s animated commentator. Others simply know Rogan as “the Fear Factor guy” or as Joe Garelli from the hit ‘90s sitcom, NewsRadio. For those who only know Rogan’s body of work outside the UFC, there’s good reason that this comic commentates fights. Before earning black belts in no-gi and gi jiu-jitsu as an adult, Rogan grew up training and competing in taekwondo competitions. He was a four-time Massachusetts state champion and winner of the 1987 taekwondo U.S. Open Championships at age 19! After a brief run at amateur kickboxing, Rogan turned to metaphorically killing on stage rather than literally dropping bodies on floors.
Chandler Bing may not look like an intimidating athletic presence, but don’t let that facade lull you into a false sense of security. Growing up in Ottawa, Canada, funny man Matthew Perry was actually a nationally ranked tennis player at the age of 13. Perry was ranked as high as No. 17 in junior singles and No. 3 in junior doubles. The Ottawa native would reportedly put in up to 10 hours of practice a day! But as a tennis pro, Perry never went the Whole Nine Yards.
All right, so by no means should it come as any sort of surprise that Dolph Lundgren also has a history as an athlete. His iconic character as the larger-than-life Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV presents all the evidence we need. Lundgren, who is also famously known to have earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering – more brains and brawn than we can handle – is a third dan (sandan) black belt in Kyokushin karate. That’s not all. Lundgren set the bar in Kyokushin during his peak as a 2-time European champion (1980-81) and Australian champion (1982).
Enjoying crazy fight scenes in action movies and actually participating in real life hand-to-hand combat are two very different things. For that reason, those less familiar with the whole “fighting for realsies” MMA thing may not know that Haywire and Deadpool star Gina Carano also professionally competed in combat sports. Carano’s incredible 12-1-1 kickboxing record and 7-1 MMA record made her more than qualified to compete as the gladiator “Crush” on the TV series, American Gladiators. Whether it be in the octagon or on the big screen with Ryan Reynolds, Carano is a certified star wherever she takes her talents.
David Duchovny has starred in a plethora of great films and television shows, though he is most widely known for his Golden Globe performances as Fox Mulder on the out-of-this-world smash hit The X-Files, Californication and the 1990 cult classic, Twin Peaks. Before Duchovny established himself as an acting phenom, he was flaunting his talents on the hardwood. Duchovny was the captain of his high school basketball team before playing for the JV team at Princeton. Fun fact: Duchovny desperately wanted to play Woody Harrison’s character, Billy Hoyle, in White Men Can’t Jump and even auditioned for the part.
Spike Lee’s 1998 film, He Got Game, starred NBA sharpshooter and first-ballot Hall of Famer Ray Allen. While Denzel Washington played the supporting role as the father of Jesus Shuttlesworth (Allen), many may not be aware that this was far from Washington’s first experience hooping with some real deal ballers. Washington had some legit skills on the basketball court himself. In fact, when the New York native was attending Fordham University, he played for the Rams’ junior varsity basketball team under future Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo. Washington played two seasons (1972-74), boasting an 18-1 record in his sophomore season.
Like many of us did growing up, Kurt Russell took after his father, Bing, in creating a similar career path. Except Russell followed his pops down two particularly unique professions that we could only dream. Russell’s acting career has blossomed from a heartthrob hero to a transcendent action star. He also played professional baseball just like pops. Russell already had plenty of acting roles under his belt by the time he decided to give professional baseball a try. His Minor League run, which began in 1971, was no gimmick, however, as he lasted a few years playing at the Class A and Double-A level as a switch hitter.
Mr. Burton Leon Reynolds’ acting career speaks for itself, but having been shut down in his prime by multiple injuries, his football career definitely ended too soon. Reynolds was an All Southern fullback in high school and was highly recruited by a number of top programs. Ultimately he attended Florida State on a full scholarship, but never completed a full season. Smokey and the Bandit, Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Boogie Nights … Yeah, Burt Reynolds is a legend. The craziest part about this Hollywood hunk’s unbelievable career is that it may have never even existed had it not been an unfortunate twist of fate during his playing days in college with the Florida State Seminoles. Reynolds was a star football player in growing up in Florida. An outstanding high school career earned him numerous scholarships, but he chose to play at Florida State. A standout halfback, Reynolds aspired to go pro until a knee injury in his sophomore season and car accident later that year left him with the difficult decision to pursue another passion.
Jim Gaffigan is first and foremost a stand-up comedian, but his countless film cameos and television appearances make him more than qualified to make the cut as an actor. But we cannot believe this funny man had his fair share of success as a college football player in the Big Ten. Gaffigan first attended Purdue and was talented enough to get a spot on the Boilermakers roster as a walk-on. After one year, Gaffigan transferred to Georgetown where he finished his collegiate football career with the Hoyas. How Hot Pockets never signed him as their upside down Wheaties spokesman is truly a mystery.
Carl Weathers dazzled on one of the biggest stages in boxing history as Apollo Creed in the classic Rocky series. It should be no surprise that the man who made up half of the manliest handshake in history has his own history as an athlete. Before putting up some big hits in his acting career, Weathers was laying down some big hits on the gridiron. No only did he play Division I football at for the San Diego State Aztecs, Weathers played a pair of NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders and spent a season in the Canadian Football League.
Phil Robertson’s name did not become a household one until his later years thanks to the success of his A&E reality show, Duck Dynasty. It’s remarkable how full circle Robertson’s journey came, as the eccentric hunter’s decision to not pursue his shot at fame to continue hunting eventually led to his success. The lifelong Louisianan played quarterback for Louisiana Tech on scholarship. Better yet, the starting QB was playing ahead of Steelers legend and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. Craziest of all, Robertson was reportedly offered a shot at playing for the Washington Redskins, but chose not to because it’d get in the way of his hunting!
Terry Crews and his titanium armor-looking body makes for a sight that evokes the same thought in all of us regarding his athletic endeavors, “It’d be a real shame if he didn’t use that blow up some opponents.” Before Crews was laying down the law in blockbusters like The Expendables series and hit sitcoms like Everybody Hates Chris and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, he was laying out running backs and quarterbacks at the college and pro level. Crews won a MAC championship during his time at Western Michigan before seeing action at the NFL level with the Rams, Chargers and Redskins.
Jason Segel’s various comedic roles from sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and Freaks and Geeks to his ridiculous character in films like I Love You, Man have made him a lovable teddy that we can’t get enough of. The 6’4” Segel was a fan favorite on Harvard-Westlake School’s (Los Angeles, CA) basketball team. Although he served as the backup center, his springs earned him the title “Dr. Dunk” after winning a dunk contest. Segel’s team won back-to-back state championships in his time there. Oh yeah, and the player he was backing up was former NBA center Jason Collins.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Mark Harmon has been a staple character in numerous hit dramas, starring in such series as West Wing, NCIS and JAG. But before Harmon became a regular in Hollywood on the Red Carpet — and married the adorable Pam Dawber of Mork and Mindy fame — he was strutting his stuff elsewhere in Los Angeles. After completing his associate degree at Pierce College in Los Angeles, Harmon transferred to nearby UCLA where he was the Bruins’ starting quarterback for two years. Harmon took a team coming off a dismal 2-7-1 season in 1971 and led the Bruins to an 8-3 and 9-2 record in the following years.