Shaquille O’Neal’s sorted history with combat sports

Shaquille O’Neal’s sorted history with combat sports
Shaquille O’Neal’s sorted history with combat sports


On the upcoming March 3 episode of AEW Dynamite, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal will team with Jade Cargill for a match against Cody and Red Velvet. Even though this will be his first tag team match and only his second professional wrestling match, Shaq is not a stranger to combat sports. Throughout the years, he has been in the crowd at a variety of fights and shows. On occasion, he has even dipped his toe in the water himself. The following takes a look at some of Shaq’s most high-profile endeavors in the combat sports world.

Shaq’s on-again, off-again feud with the Big Show

WWE seemed intent on matching Shaq against the Big Show, not once, but twice over the years. Their feud first started back in 2009. Shaq was tabbed as guest host for the July 27 edition of Raw in Washington, D.C. Shaq was interrupted early in the night by Chris Jericho who introduced the basketball star to his tag team partner, Big Show. After some banter, Shaq signed a main event tag team match featuring Jericho and Show taking on Cryme Tyme with himself acting as special guest enforcer.

After the match ended in a disqualification, Big Show floored both JTG and Shad Gaspard and invited the guest host into the ring. Shaq ripped off his referee shirts and accepted the challenge. They each grabbed the other by the throat before Cryme Tyme made the save and chased Show and Jericho.

The obvious next step seemed to be a match between Shaq and Big Show at WrestleMania. However, at the time, Shaq was still an active NBA player, and he always keeps himself busy. By the end of September, Figure Four Weekly reported that Shaq vs. Big Show was off the table.

Fast forward a little bit over six and a half years later, and the WWE was hosting WrestleMania 32 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. After the 30-minute Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Shane McMahon, it was time for the 20-man battle royal for the Andre the Giant Memorial Trophy. Many of the entrants were WWE regulars who needed a spot on the card. However, one man, in particular, stood out. Shaq returned and faced off once again with the Big Show.

Their staredown was first interrupted by Kane, who ate a double chokeslam for his trouble. Fandango’s dance moves earned a toss from Show. Damian Sandow tried to face off his Shaq and got eliminated easily. However, the rivalry was stopped inconclusively again as the rest of the field joined forces to toss both Shaw and Show.

Once again the match appeared to be a no-brainer for Mania. The pair even shot a video agreeing to the match for WrestleMania on the red carpet of the 2016 ESPY awards. However, once again, the match never materialized with the Wrestling Observer reporting in March 2017 that it was not going to happen.

Big Show placed the blame squarely on Shaq during an interview with ESPN.

“It’s on Shaq,” he said. “He has to figure things out in his own camp. Maybe he is just too scared to show up because he’s too busy riding around singing karaoke with John Cena and going to Krispy Kreme and getting fatter every week.”

Shaq, not surprisingly, had a different take on the situation as he detailed on his podcast.

“They kept playing,” he explained. “First, they said it was me and Big Show. Then, they said it was going to be 3-on-3. Then, they canceled it so when they canceled it, I made other arrangements.”

Shaq vs. Boxing

From 2009-2010, Shaq had a reality show where he would challenge other famous athletes in their own sport. During the two seasons, he faced off against Ben Roethlisberger in a football game, Michael Phelps in a swimming race, and even Joey Chestnut in a hot dog eating contest.

While a pro wrestling match certainly would have been a hilarious addition, he chose instead to face off against a pair of champion boxers in the ring over the two seasons. This was before former NBA players were getting knocked out by YouTube stars, and it appears the production team behind the show underestimated the drawing power of Shaq in a boxing match. Both matches were pre-recorded and presented as episodes of the show instead of marquee attractions.

In the fourth episode of the first season, Shaq faced off against 11-time World champion Oscar De La Hoya. The boxer had recently retired following blockbuster matches against Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. The two bouts did a combined 3.65 million buys on pay-per-view.

Both fighters wore 16-ounce gloves, headgear, and shirts for the exhibition fight. The five-round fight consisted of four two-minute rounds and followed by a one-minute fifth round. Prior to the bout, the episode featured several of Shaq’s training sessions with Freddie Roach, which all came off a bit contrived. De La Hoya weighed in at 159 pounds, while Shaq hit the scale at 325.

During the bout, Shaq’s size advantage and natural athletic ability certainly helped him. He was able to land his jab and bully the boxer into the corner on multiple occasions. However, De La Hoya had the speed advantage, and his skill helped him overcome the 16-inch height disparity. Throughout the contest, he was able to unleash multiple-strike combinations to Shaq’s body and head.

For the second season, Shaq returned to boxing to face off against “Sugar” Shane Mosley. Unlike De La Hoya, the three-division World champion was still an active boxer and would not retire until over six years after the episode aired.

The rules were basically identical to the first season’s bout except Shaq requested a one-and-a-half minute break between rounds. Once again, the NBA player would have a 16-inch height advantage, and he outweighed Mosley by 188 pounds.

Mosley’s speed and experience turned out to be the distance. He did an impressive job of avoiding punishment in tight quarters and landing his own shots. Shaq once again showed that his natural ability could carry him to a respectable performance against a much smaller boxer, but it was not enough to capture the victory.

Shaq Continually Challenges Hong Man Choi

Back in 2009, Shaq released a video challenging fellow giant Hong Man Choi. The video was a bit tongue-in-cheek and even included “The Big Diesel” slapping and kissing a cardboard cutout of Chuck Liddell.

Unlike his previous boxing opponents, Shaq was clearly picking on someone his own size. In fact, Choi is listed at 7-foot-2-inches, so he is reportedly one inch taller than the NBA legend. The South Korean native started his combat career in ssireum, a type of Korean folk wrestling. Choi signed with K-1 in 2005 and went to work making a name for himself by defeating former sumos, professional wrestlers, and of course, Bob Sapp in kickboxing matches.

In 2007, Choi was K-1’s first-choice opponent for the MMA debut of Brock Lesnar. The fight was set to headline the promotion’s U.S. debut dubbed K-1 Dynamite!! USA. However, the bout was reportedly scrapped due to the discovery of a benign tumor on Choi’s pituitary gland. Even after the discovery, Choi continued to fight. He would eventually have the tumor removed in 2008.

By the time Shaq called out Choi, he was mostly known in the U.S. for a victory over former professional baseball player Jose Canseco. The bout came in the first round of Dream’s Super Hulk open-weight tournament. Choi needed a little bit more time than Billy Football, but he managed to stop Canseco in only 1:17.

Despite the victory, Choi would lose in the next round of the tournament against Ikuhisa Minowa even though he outweighed his opponent by 126 pounds. Choi last fought in a kickboxing match against Yi Long, who is billed as the “Number One Shaolin Monk,” in a bout that ended after 30 seconds due to a low blow.

To date, the fight between Shaq and Choi has not happened, and at this point, it seems rather unrealistic. However, it was certainly not a throw-away challenge from Shaq. He revisited it multiple times over the years. In an interview with ESPN, Shaq conceded that there were never serious talks, but he was hoping that the UFC’s Dana White was going to set up the fight.

When Shaq steps in the ring on March 3, it will be three days before his 49th birthday. He may not be in peak physical form, but he has the charisma and genuine interest in combat sports necessary to make an exciting match.





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