Seven athletes who flexed their acting muscles: Conor McGregor, The Rock and LeBron James

The trio are just a few in a long line of sports stars to try their luck on the big screen

UFC champion McGregor is joining Amazon Studios' newest feature — but will his acting pack a punch? AFP
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As Conor McGregor prepares to join the Amazon Studios remake of Road House, he is not the first professional athlete to try and conquer the big screen.

The two-time UFC champion will be making his acting debut with the project, joining a cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Billy Magnussen and Daniela Melchior.

He follows in the footsteps of some of sport's most well-known, and relatively unheard of, stars to try their hand at acting.

Road House will take several cues from the 1989 cult classic, albeit reimagined with a contemporary edge. The film will tell the story of a former cage fighter who is hired as a bouncer in a rugged roadside bar in Florida Keys, but “soon discovers not everything is what it seems in this tropical paradise".

McGregor’s role in the film is still under wraps, but Deadline confirmed he will be portraying an original character and not himself. The project is scheduled to start filming in the Dominican Republic this month.

A release date is yet to be confirmed but Road House will be exclusive to Prime Video. The film is directed by Doug Liman, who has led several popular action titles including Mr and Mrs Smith, The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow.

“Conor McGregor is very excited to expand his storied career to Hollywood,” Karen Kessler, the fighter's spokeswoman, told journalist Ariel Helwani.

“While fighting remains his top focus, this is the beginning of another successful venture in the McGregor empire. He is eager to get started filming.”

McGregor’s stride into the silver screen sustains a long-standing tradition of athletes turning to film. The list is long and includes people from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal.

Obviously we can't cover them all, but here are six other fighters, footballers and swimmers who tried their luck on the silver screen.

LeBron James

LeBron James became the second NBA player, after Michael Jordan, to play with the Looney Tunes after starring in the 2021 film 'Space Jam: A New Legacy'. Reuters

Winner of four NBA championships, a handful of MVP awards and two Olympic gold medals, LeBron James has long been compared to Michael Jordan when considering the greatest basketball player of all time.

But "King James" must have known that no matter how he fared on the scoreboard and how many records he broke, he could not unseat Jordan as the Goat without playing for the Tune Squad. Because Bugs Bunny only plays with the best of the best.

James finally took his chance in Space Jam: A New Legacy. The film was one of the biggest family flicks of the pandemic era, but received lukewarm reviews. The critics consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reads that the film "trades the zany, meta humour of its predecessor for a shameless, tired exercise in IP-driven branding".

Ouch. But the film still puts James on a pedestal only shared by His Airness, even if it also earned him a Razzie for worst actor.

In any case, James’s on-screen credits long predate Space Jam. His first acting stint came in 2005 during an episode of The Simpsons titled Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass. James lent his voice to his animated likeness alongside other US sports stars including Tom Brady and Michelle Kwan.

Johnny Weissmuller

US swimmer Johnny Weissmuller was a five-time Olympic gold medallist before taking on the role of Tarzan. He played the feral, tree-swinging character in a whopping dozen films, starting with the 1932 hit Tarzan the Ape Man.

To this day, Weissmuller’s Tarzan is etched in the collective consciousness, even if we aren’t aware of it. The Olympian was behind the legendary Tarzan call, which was used in almost every subsequent Tarzan film, regardless of who donned the tattered loincloth.

Weissmuller is also known for depicting the hunter Jungle Jim in several film and TV adaptations of the comic book strip. His last acting credits include the 1974 film The Great Masquerade and the 1976 comedy Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood.

Sayed Houda

Sayed Houda was one of the most celebrated names in the early years of Egyptian football.

Captain of Al Ittihad Alexandria Club, he led his team to victory in the 1926 Egypt Cup. He was also part of the national team in the 1924 and 1928 Summer Olympics. He eventually took up coaching in the 1930s.

Despite these accolades, Houda is likely most famous for being the first footballer to be featured in an Egyptian film after appearing in the 1937 comedy Al-Riady (The Athlete). The film tells the story of a sandwich seller, played by Shalom, who inherits a fortune from his aunt and decides to open a restaurant catering to athletes after meeting Houda’s character on a train.

Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey in a fight scene from 'Furious 7'. Photo: Universal Pictures

Long before McGregor was pegged for the Road House remake, another MMA fighter was picked to star in a reimagining of the action classic.

In 2015, Ronda Rousey was cast in the lead role of a reboot led by US production company MGM. The project was due to start production in 2016 but was scrapped, before being picked up again and redeveloped by Amazon.

It would have been interesting to see Rousey take on the role that marked Swayze’s breakthrough, but even without Road House, the UFC fighter still has a beefy filmography to reckon with.

Rousey’s acting credits include franchise hits such as The Expendables 3 and Furious 7. She has also acted in the 2018 action film Mile 22 opposite Mark Wahlberg, Iko Uwais, Lauren Cohan and John Malkovich. Most recently, she had a brief cameo as a flight instructor in the 2019 film Charlie's Angels.

Gamal Abdel-Hamid

Abdel-Hamid is an Egyptian footballer who had less than a pleasant experience in showbiz.

The striker was a top scorer at the 1988 African Cup of Nations and played for the national team in the 1990 Fifa World Cup, the second of three times that Egypt qualified for the international tournament. In his time, he was one of the most prominent players of Al Ahly and Zamalek football clubs before retiring from the sport in 1993.

Abdul-Hamid’s fate as an actor, however, was far less stellar.

The footballer acted in several productions, most of which were received negatively. His most famous role was in the 1996 film Al-Sagha, in which he starred opposite belly-dancer and actress Fifi Abdou.

Abdul-Hamid’s final role was in a stage production in Alexandria, which featured him dressed in women’s clothing. He faced overwhelmingly harsh criticisms for the role, after which he decided to retire from acting completely. In recent years, Abdul-Hamid has found more success as a football commentator.

The Rock

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson receiving the Entertainment Icon of the Decade Award at CinemaCon 2022. AFP

One athlete who could smell what was cooking over in Hollywood is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Johnson was a professional wrestler at World Wrestling Entertainment for eight years and was one of its leading figures during the industry boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. WWE gave him plenty of opportunities to practise his acting chops, but as many can attest: Hollywood is a different beast.

Johnson's development as a professional actor started small, with cameos in the late 1990s on shows including Star Trek: Voyager and That '70s Show, where he portrayed his father Rocky.

Johnson's big acting breakthrough came in 2001 — in The Mummy Returns, where he took on the role of the demigod Mathayus, or the Scorpion King. He then reprised the role in the eponymous 2002 film The Scorpion King — his first project as the lead.

Over the next decade, Johnson appeared in at least one film a year. His first box office hit came in 2011 with the Fast Five in which he played federal agent Luke Hobbs, a role he took up again across subsequent Fast and Furious titles.

Since then, Johnson has amassed more than 100 acting credits on his filmography. He was ranked the top-earning actor on Forbes’ list of highest-paid entertainers of 2022, coming in at number four with an estimated annual salary of $270 million.

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Updated: August 06, 2022, 7:04 AM
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