Beast of the East

Bob Sapp, footballer-turned-kickboxer, has taken Japan by storm. Now he wants to win over America.

Updated: April 28, 2003, 1:00 PM ET
By By Shaun Assael, ESPN The Magazine
Tokyo is a city of uniforms. Girls on school trips in navy-blue sailor skirts. Salarymen in smartly tailored black suits. Ladies who lunch in kimonos. A bunch of them are bustling past one another in a swanky hotel lobby when an elevator opens. As Bob Sapp bounds out, it's hard to decide what's more startling -- the sight of a 375-pound American in denim shorts or the sound of his deep voice rumbling, "I'm hungry for pancakes. Time for Denny's."

Sapp looks left, then right, scoping out his next move like he once did in the NFL trenches. A year ago, the ex-Viking was just another out-of-work jock trying to eke out a future. Then he stumbled into a new career that has turned him overnight into a cross between Ali and Elvis -- at least in Japan. But he's too slow mapping out a path to the door. A dozen bankers spot him and start squealing like so many Lizzie McGuires. It's the same everywhere you go in this city of 12 million. Not since Godzilla (and we don't mean Matsui) have the Japanese shrieked so loudly at something so big.