When you think of an elite athlete, you think of a physical specimen, because to be the best at any sport, you have to spend countless hours in the gym—or so you'd think. The following 15 athletes challenge the conception that in order to excel at a sport you have to be physically fit, because these guys were able to do it while carrying around a few extra pounds.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its history of overweight players, baseball is by far the best-represented sport on this list, with six athletes in total. A recent study conducted by Penn State University found that "Major League Baseball players have become overwhelmingly overweight and obese during the last quarter century," with upwards of 80% of players falling under the category of "overweight" since 1991. The problem with this study, however, is that it used BMI (body mass index), which fails to differentiate between lean mass and fat mass (i.e., muscle vs. fat), as its tool of measurement. But still, the empirical evidence shows that many baseball players—and in fact some of the best baseball players—are fat, and not merely muscular.
But baseball players aren't the only athletes guilty of overindulgence. In total, there are athletes from eight different sports on this list. And to be clear, this isn't a list of the fattest athletes; it's a list of the best fat athletes—those who excelled despite their impressive girth.
15 John Kruk
As the famous story goes: a drinking, smoking, and generally out of shape John Kruk was once approached during spring training by a woman who said that he ought to be ashamed for not taking better care of himself, because, after all, he was an athlete, to which he replied, “I ain’t an athlete, lady. I’m a baseball player.”
You know you’re fat when Chris Farley plays you in a sketch and makes you look skinnier. But like many fat big leaguers before him, and many to come after, Kruk didn’t let his weight hold him back, as he was named to three consecutive All-Star teams from 1991-93 and batted .300 over his career. And despite claiming not to be an athlete, he managed to swipe 18 bases in his sophomore season (although he was more chubby than fat back then).
It might be okay to pick a fight with a fat guy if you know you can run away from him, but when you’re stuck in a boxing ring with nowhere to go, you’d be well advised to avoid it altogether, because you don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those punches, especially when the person throwing it is named Butterbean.
Born Eric Esch, he is currently listed at 425 pounds. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly the weight of two Mike Tyson’s. And indeed it sometimes looked like he hit with the strength of two grown men, knocking out 58 opponents (59 if you count Johnny Knoxville) in his nearly 20-year boxing career.
13 Phil Kessel
Toronto Sun reporter Steve Simmons wrote a now-famous article about Phil Kessel’s daily routine when he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, alleging that the star forward would travel every afternoon from his condo to a vendor just down from the Air Canada Centre to pick up a hot dog. Whether this reporter was being facetious or not is beside the point. What’s undeniable is that Kessel is not your average hockey player, with more of a bowler’s build than a goalscorer’s.
Kessel’s physical appearance seems to be the product of his overall insouciant nature, as he often appears unshaved, uncombed, and generally uninterested in post-game interviews. For the most part, however, he gets away with it because he’s one of the top scorers in the league, and he can now call himself a Stanley Cup champion.
12 David Wells
According to his autobiography, David Wells’s hero growing up was Babe Ruth, because “[h]e could pitch, he could hit, he could eat seventeen hot dogs and launch a ball five hundred feet. He ate too much. He smoked too much. He drank too much… What’s not to love?”
Minus the hitting, a lot of the same could be said about Wells, who, according to him, threw his May, 17 1998 perfect game “half-drunk, with bloodshot eyes, monster breath, and a raging, skull-rattling hangover,” after having spent the entire night (and most of the morning) drinking and, it’s probably safe to say, eating.
Wells, however, is the kind of guy who looks like he was born to be fat, as if his weight, in a sense, were essential to his success.
11 Tyson Fury
Tyson Fury’s not fat, per se, but he’s definitely not as fit as fellow ultramuscular heavyweight boxers, like Wladimir Klitschko or David Haye. His body kind of looks like a bag of milk, or like he’s wearing a human suit that’s a couple sizes too big.
Fury poked fun at his roly-poly figure during a press conference for his upcoming fight with Klitschko, calling himself a “fat man” and saying, “it’s a disgrace to call me an athlete.” Regardless of his self-deprecating remarks, Tyson is indeed a top athlete, with a 25-0 record and several heavyweight titles, including the WBO, the WBA, and the IBO. He was also named fighter of the year for 2015 by The Ring and is currently considered the world’s seventh best boxer, pound for pound, by BoxRec.
10 Prince Fielder
Cecil Fielder was one of the biggest and most feared hitters during his day, and, like father like son, Prince Fielder would follow in his dad’s footsteps and grow up to be just as big and just as feared a hitter. At his biggest, Cecil weighed roughly 270 pounds, which is almost the exact same as Prince’s biggest (Cecil is about 4 inches taller, mind you). Cecil and Prince also hit the exact same number of home runs: 319 (only Cecil did it in far fewer at bats).
Prince gets the slight edge over his father, however, because his batting average was 33 points higher and his on-base percentage 37 points higher. Plus Prince, weighing just north of 260 pounds at the time, hit an inside-the-park home run in 2007, making him the third-heaviest player to do so in MLB history
9 Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley once claimed that he tried to gain 20 pounds in two days to avoid being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers. That explains why he gained weight when he first joined the league, but it doesn’t explain why he continued to gain weight throughout his career, eventually leading to his outright ballooning post retirement.
Barkley, who was nicknamed “The Round Mound of Rebound” in his playing days because of his ability to snag rebounds despite his amorphous physique, has lost a lot of weight in recent years thanks to Weight Watchers (he loves bread!), but at one point he was 100 pounds heavier than he had been during his playing days, which is saying a lot, considering he was never the most fit guy on the court to begin with.
8 Big Show
Big Show’s nickname is not ironic—he is indeed a big dude, tipping the scales at 450 pounds in his prime while standing in at 7-feet tall. You’d think that his size would have prevented him from being a successful professional wrestler, given the toll it takes on a person’s body, but that wasn’t the case with Mr. Show, who is arguably the most successful wrestler of all time (at the very least, he is one of the most decorated, with a WWE title, a WCW title, a WHC title, WWE and WCW tag team titles, and many more).
Recent photos reveal that Big Show has lost a considerable amount of weight, which means he might have to change his name to Medium Show or Slightly Less Big Show.
7 Bartolo Colon
As a 25-year-old All-Star, Bartolo Colon was a svelte 185-pounder who overpowered batters with his fastball. As a 43-year-old All-Star, he is a plump 285-pounder who gets batters out with his command and off-speed pitches.
You could almost make the case that he has gotten better with age and weight gain, as he’s now been named to two All-Star teams while in his 40s and is sporting a .608 win-loss percentage with a 3.59 ERA, both of which are better than his career average, as a quadragenarian.
Colon began packing on the pounds around the age of 30, which left many with the impression that his career was about to be on the decline, but, in fact, the opposite was true, as he won his only Cy Young at the age of 32 (which is considered the final year of a player’s prime) and had his best single-season ERA (2.65) at the age of 40. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do when he’s 50, at which point he should weigh about 385 pounds.
6 John Daly
John Daly took the golf world by storm in the early 1990s when he won the PGA Championship despite his unconventional attire and everyman persona, which included drinking, smoking, and, of course, eating.
According to USA Today, the sizeable golfer smokes 40 cigarettes a day and drinks roughly 10-12 cans of Coke a day, down from 26-28 cans (but don’t worry, it’s just Diet Coke). While shocking, this should really come as no surprise given Daly’s gigantic belly, which somehow doesn’t get in the way of his swing, as he remains one of the longest drivers in professional golf to this day, with an average driving distance of 305.3 yards and a long of 355 according to pgatour.com.
5 Tony Gwynn
Like many overweight baseball players, Tony Gwynn didn’t start off fat but grew larger as he got older. In the case of Gwynn, it seemed as though he tacked on a pound for every 100 hits he collected (and with 3,141 career hits, you can bet he gained a lot of weight).
As a rookie, he was a bit full in the face, but nothing compared to what he looked like by the end of his career, when he reportedly weighed somewhere in the ballpark of 230 pounds (he’s listed at 185 by baseball-reference.com, which was likely his rookie weight).
But even with the weight gain, Mr. Padre remained one of the best hitters in the game, batting over .300 every single year of his career except for his rookie season. Interestingly enough, while most large baseball players are power hitters, Gwynn only reached double-digit homers five times in 20 years, with a career high of just 17.
4 Shaquille O’Neal
It’s tough enough being overweight when you’re 5-foot-8, the average height of an American male, so we can only imagine what it’s like to be overweight at 7-foot-1, which is the case with NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, who was listed at nearly 350 pounds by the end of his career. Rush University Medical Center only gives the healthy weight for people up to 6-foot-4, but it’s pretty safe to assume that, at roughly the weight of three “normal” 5-foot-8 men, Shaq falls well outside the norm.
O’Neal put his size to good use during his basketball career, pulling down over 13,000 rebounds in 19 seasons. When it came to battles in the paint, no one was more dominant than Big Diesel.
There’s a reason why there are so few overweight football players. It’s because football matches require a lot of running. According to Runner’s World, footballers run more than athletes from any other sport, with an average of 7 miles per game (midfielders can run up to 9.5 per game), which is why Ronaldo is such an anomaly.
Despite being one of the best players of all time, with 62 goals in 98 appearances with the Brazilian national team, by the end of his career, Ronaldo looked like a guy who couldn't run 7 feet, let alone 7 miles, without getting winded. But even with a build more like Bartolo Colon’s than Cristiano Ronaldo’s, the Brazilian soccer legend still managed to become the second-highest goalscorer from the most dominant football country in the world.
2 Fedor Emelianenko
With a 36-4 career record, Fedor Emelianenko is arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, which is strange, because when you think of the best fighter in the world, you think of someone who is absolutely jacked, like a Brock Lesnar or an Alistair Overeem, not someone with a flabby midsection and virtually no muscular definition (I pray to God Emelianenko doesn’t read this).
Even with his dad bod (if your dad happens to be the scariest guy in the world), he regularly makes mincemeat of fighters who are in seemingly far better shape than him, which raises the question: What’s more important in sports, skill or physical fitness? Emelianenko and the other 14 athletes on this list make strong cases for the former.
1 Babe Ruth
Some athletes struggle with weight gain, but not the Babe—he embraced it. With an equal predilection for long balls and meatballs, Ruth became the poster boy for successful fat athletes.
Of all the Babe Ruth food stories, none is more famous than “the bellyache heard ‘round the world.” As legend has it, in between a double header in 1925, The Bambino stuffed his face with 12 hot dogs and washed them down with eight bottles of soda, leading to a severe case of indigestion and an emergency hospital visit.
Ruth’s weight fluctuated throughout his career, and the exact numbers are debated to this day, but most sources say he weighed anywhere from 210 to 260 pounds. But no matter how much he weighed, it never seemed to slow him down, as he led the league in home runs 12 times and hit 714 over his career. He also hit 136 triples and stole 123 bases, leading Ty Cobb to remark that he “ran well for a fat man.”
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