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Thursday, January 24, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Strikeforce | The Beast returns, ready to mix it up

Seattle Times staff reporter

Strikeforce event

Mixed-martial arts: A term invented to cover a fight format that accommodates a number of disciplines. Judo, wrestling, giu-gitsu and muay thai are among the many techniques.

Strikeforce: One of the country's larger mixed-martial arts promotions. It held the first mixed-martial arts event in California where a crowd of more than 18,000 attended.

Fight card: 14 bouts — four amateur fights, 10 professional.

Date: Feb. 23. Doors open at 7 p.m., fights begin at 8 p.m.

Site: Tacoma Dome.

Tickets: $35, $75 and $150. Available at Tacoma Dome box office and Ticketmaster locations.

TACOMA — Bob Sapp found out there was no going back as soon as he got to Washington.

Dad made that very clear when he changed the family's phone number after dropping Bob off to play football for the Huskies in 1992.

Sapp's life has taken a few turns in the 16 years since he first came to Seattle. He has played in the NFL and been a professional wrestler. He has beaten Refrigerator Perry in a televised toughman boxing competition and suffered a broken eye orbital in a kickboxing match against Mirko Crocop.

And on Tuesday, the big man with an even larger personality sat at a table in the nightclub of the Emerald Queen Casino to be introduced as a participant in a mixed-martial-arts event that will be held at the Tacoma Dome on Feb. 23.

"I look forward to showing everyone here in Washington what they've been missing from the Beast of the East," Sapp said.

The Beast. That's the 360-pound Sapp's nickname, and he's got the entertainment part of the job down pat. His character includes a deep, bass-heavy laugh so loud it seems to echo inside Sapp's expansive chest. He'll wink for television cameras, too, batting his right eye.

Sapp came to Washington as a defensive lineman who switched to offense his second year at school. He was a third-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 1997, and he also played for the Minnesota Vikings. It's fighting that has given Sapp a global name. A man beloved in Japan, hated in Amsterdam and he estimates he has made in excess of $7 million in his career. He has endorsed more than 400 products, appeared in feature films like "The Longest Yard" and had recurring roles in television.

"I'm enjoying every last thing fighting has brought me," Sapp said.

Sapp began kickboxing after the professional-wrestling company he worked for in the United States — WCW — went bankrupt. He thought he was getting a wrestling job with a company called K-1. Nope, a friend told him. K-1 means kickboxing, where combatants can punch or kick. No choke holds or arm bars, either.

Sapp's kickboxing eventually led to mixed-martial arts, which is really a term invented to cover what is as close as you get in sports to an honest-to-goodness brawl. Combatants can use all sorts of methods for making an opponent unable or unwilling to continue. Twist an opponent's arm, choke him or just use knees and fists to batter him until he quits or can no longer intelligently defend himself. Judges are available to adjudicate the matter if necessary.

There are rules to the whole thing. No biting. Can't pull hair and the eyes and blows to the groin are no-nos, too. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the most well-known promotion domestically. Strikeforce is the organization that will be promoting this event at the Tacoma Dome. Sapp's mixed-martial-arts record is 9-2-1.

Sapp will be fighting a man nicknamed "The Giant," quite creative considering the guy stands 6 feet 10. He weighs 330 pounds, which means that about 700 pounds of humanity will be in a cage come February.

It's one of 14 bouts on the card. Four are between amateurs, 10 are professional. Sapp will be involved in one of two main events. Maurice Smith will face Rick Roufus in the other event. Smith attended West Seattle High School and is a world-champion kickboxer and former UFC champion.

Smith is also Sapp's trainer. The two first connected when Sapp began kickboxing and headed to Japan with no idea what was in store. The fit turned out to be perfect.

"I was only supposed to go over there for a week," Sapp said. "And I think I didn't come back until four years later."

He most recently went to Japan for a fight on New Year's Eve. He returned Monday.

Sapp has fought twice in the United States, both kickboxing matches. Next month's fight will be his first domestic mixed-martial arts event as the man who has made a global name returns to the state where he started out as a football player whose father dropped him off at the University of Washington some 16 years ago.

"I'm living the American dream, but I'm in Japan," Sapp said. "But now, I'm living it back here in America."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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