In recent times we’ve been spoiled by a plethora of incredible sporting events. The Olympics, World Cup and Commonwealth Games have all showcased athletes at the height of their powers and peak physical fitness. But let’s not forget that for every Mo Farah and Hulk, there’s a schlub like you and me excelling in their chosen field with a minimal amount of effort. This is a celebration of those champion sporting figures who were world-beaters and still knew their way around a pie and a pint.
‘BIG’ BILL WERBENIUK
A snooker behemoth who was as well known for his feats of drinking as he was for his cueing skills. His average intake was a pint per frame, which usually equalled around a dozen or so per game. It’s reported that he once drank 76 cans of lager during a game against John Spencer in the 1970’s. And he is probably the only champion sportsman who has a section of his Wikipedia entry titled ‘Trouser Splitting Incident’. It just goes to show you the power of multi-tasking – if you are good at two things (like snooker and drinking) why not combine them?
Thanks to the smoking ban and a general change in moralistic mores, the complexion of darts has changed considerably since its heyday in the 1980’s. Back then it was constant fags, pints and tight-fitting polyester shirts. And no one epitomised these golden years like Jocky, who drank like a fish, smoked 50 a day and had such an acute addition to sweets that he’d lost all his teeth by the age of 28. As well as no teeth, he also had no fear, looking every opponent in the eye as he faced them down on the oche.
One of the biggest, heaviest and best players to ever grace the NBA. An international icon who rapped, acted and talked smack while posting phenomenal numbers and winning every basketball title going. He was frequently plagued by injury and criticised by fellow players and coaches for this work ethic and his weight – but he had nearly 20 years at the highest level of the game, through sheer will, single-minded determination and his ability to Shazam.
Obviously not peak of his powers, three time World Player of the Year, World Cup winning Ronaldo – but late stage chunky style Ronaldo who blamed his weight gain on a dodgy thyroid and his spectacular litany of injuries on a demanding career where he was often targeted by defenders. The man just could not keep his knees under control and when they put him out of action he piled on the pounds. But even at his porkiest, he still managed to score without any obvious effort.
As the interview below will attest, a man who prided himself on his immense weight and terrifying appearance. Haystacks clouded the nightmares of many grapple fans during the golden years of the sport in the 1980’s, as well as squishing any number of ‘blue eyes’ as the wrestling goodies were known. At nearly 50 stone and seven feet, he was a formidable opponent, though quiet and deeply religious in private. He had to suppress that side of his personality to succeed in the ring.
Not the biggest chap to ever play cricket, but probably the biggest chap in the modern, pre-beard era. Not that his girth stopped him being a great competitor, expert spin bowler and beloved Bermudan icon. His magnificent diving catch against India just showed that even with an exaggerated waistline it’s still possible to have cat-like reflexes.
ERIC ‘BUTTERBEAN’ ESCH
Just a fighting machine. Whether it’s Toughman, boxing, MMA, cage fighting, wrestling or kickboxing, Esch has battered opponents and won titles despite his impressive stature. In fact he got his nickname after engaging in a butterbean diet to try and get under 400lbs, the upper weight limit to enter a toughman competition. But the great man put all that bulk to his advantage, flooring adversary after adversary via the power of flab.
WILLIAM ‘THE REFRIGERATOR’ PERRY
Another 400 pounder (and the rest) who used his girth to become an unstoppable defensive machine and one of the most famous faces ever in the NFL. Despite his huge size, he was supremely athletic, being one of the fastest runners on his high school football team and pretty nifty on the basketball court. Bullied as a child for his size, he used that malice to fuel his sporting ambitions.
In the (sometimes) staid world of golf, Long John is a breath of fresh air, due to his wild man personality, his numerous course-based antics and occasional run-ins with the law. Though he has calmed down and shed some pounds since his frantic heyday, he was previously a boozing, smoking, multi-marrying machine, who loved a excitable night out and a colourfully executed trouser. Despite his supreme ability and numerous trophies, he’s never been selected for the Ryder Cup. But John just ploughs on, doing his thing.
Baseball has plenty of candidates who would look just at home in a pie eating contest as the diamond, but the Bambino was the original and the best. Despite his heft, he was a pitcher of note as well as an incredible slugger, hitting 60 home runs in a single season. But his off-field antics, drinking, womanising and an inability to stay fit, jeopardised his post-baseball career. But despite the gut and the showboating, he remains one of the greatest there ever was.