Really big in Japan

Bob Sapp is a big man. Outside of sumo wrestling, he's probably the most popular big man in Japan. A quick Google and I've learned that he stands in at 6'3" and 350 lbs., a former U.S. football player who switched over to the WCW and is now fighting in the Mixed Martial Art K-1 tournaments in Japan. He has a record of 3-1, he's bald and black and an admitted beginner in MMAs, and he goes by the sobriquet of "The Beast". And I just don't get the man. He's come to Japan to do what most gaijin do here: make ridiculous amounts of cash. We can call it whatever we like, but let's face it: unless you speak fluent Japanese and are trying to actually live as a Japanese, at least part of you is here to make money. And your employer will get into some sort of governmental or tax trouble if you don't. Sapp is here to make cash, and a cursory glance seems to indicate that the man is doing okay in the MMAs despite a busted fist. But when he's not fighting or training, he's making a frickin ass out of himself. What he does is play up the stereotype of the uncontrollable African monster. He engages in various food-stuffing contests and other ridiculous State Fair-type antics - putting the mouth of an empty plastic bottle in his mouth and then seeing who can crush said bottle the fastest by inhaling, f'r example - and generally doing his best to make Steppin Fetchit look like Martin Luther King, Jr. He's always accompanied by several Japanese, who play a timid and reserved role, which only serves to accentuate the "beast" that he plays. His routine is hits upon another major trend in Japan, the popularity of stateside "urban" style. Anything African-American is big here, to the point where trendy teens - Japanese teens, mind you, some with afro'd hair - are wearing shirts that say "Black and Beautiful." Sapp is definitely capitalizing on what's popular, and it's hard to argue with money. But the worst part is, some of Sapp's "Beast" antics are absolutely drop-dead funny slapstick.


4 Responses to “Really big in Japan”

  1. Pam on

    I think you’re reading too much into the situation. One reason Bob Sapp is so big in Japan is because it’s easy to see that his “Beast” antics are playful and tongue in cheek. He’s a very good sport and he’s just plain entertaining. He’s a bright spot in the otherwise pretty dull Japanese tv scene.
    I think it’s great that he is capitalizing on his popularity here and, to some extent, humanizing the face of K1 fighters, who generally come off as some cold super-human species. (If you don’t know what I mean try to get a look at the Mark Hunt-Ray Sefo matchup from last year. Awesome but frightening)
    Anyway, I bet he’ll end up making a lot more cash from tv appearances and endorsements than he ever will as a K1 fighter.

  2. Seth on

    Hello Pam. Nice to meetcha.

    I agree with you about the money, and yeah, he’s entertaining – that was my point. But I just can’t ignore the other side of his “entertaining-ness,” which cashes in on a really unpleasant stereotype. If anything bugs me about Japan, it’s the rampant use of stereotypes: women belong in the kitchen, men belong in the office, big black people are crazed animals – and don’t even get me stahted on the way the public thinks of Chinese or Korean foreigners…

  3. RW on

    I just finished watching an HBO special on this Sapp guy; It was the first time I have heard of him. There are not a lot of people who know of him here in the U.S. As an African American who is well educated(B.S Biology, Dental School, now in the pharmaceutical business) I can tell you that he would be disowned and shunned by every black person in this country as well as every DECENT American of ANY color. We are WELL aware of how many people within (not all) cultures feel about us world-wide. It is amazing how so many so-called educated people around the world believe what they see on TV and read in clearly inaccurate books. If the “Beast” is smart, he will make as much money as quickly as he can, and either stay in Japan, or come back to the states and retire quietly. Otherwise things may become very, very difficult for him. As for those who like “urban” culture, it somewhat of a double edged sword; while it is somewhat flattering to see many people engaging in our culture, I wonder how many of you who wear the clothes, listen to the music, and talk the “talk”, would be comfortable with a black man marrying their sisters and mothers? Yeah, thats what I thought. Some things just don’t change.

  4. seth on

    hey rw,

    was right there with ya up until the last sentence. i understand this is something you feel strongly about, but no reason to get all antagonistic.

    anyway, now that it’s 18 months after i wrote that post, i can safely say that sapp is a far more shrewd businessman than i had originally expected.

    but he’s not a particularly talented fighter.

    most recently, i’ve seen him more in printed advertisements for panasonic, where’s he’s dressed up as a giant fighter-type out of two-person fighter game than anything else.

    i am glad though, that the racial edge of his public persona seems to have been toned down.

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