When people talk about the biggest athletes of all time, they generally have victories, records and awards in mind. But some athletes are “big” in another way altogether.
Some of these athletes have reached the top of their sport, while others have failed to make their mark — but they’ll all go down in history for being literally larger than average.
Andre The Giant
French professional wrestler Andre Rene Roussimoff earned his name Andre the Giant — he suffered from acromegaly, or “giantism.” But it wasn’t his first wrestling name; he appeared in Montreal as Jean Ferre and in Japan as Monster Roussimoff before making his debut as Andre the Giant at Madison Madison Square Garden in 1973, as seen in this photo shared on Instagram by tribute account @andrearchives. At the age of 12, Roussimoff was already 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed over 200 pounds; at his biggest, he was 6 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed almost 500 pounds.
William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry
William “The Refrigerator” Perry got his nickname from a photo of him at university; he was so big he blocked the refrigerator he was sitting next to out of the picture. The former professional football player from South Carolina fluctuated in size throughout his career; at the start of the 1986 season, he weighed 340 pounds. After retiring in 1996, his weight increased and his health deteriorated. He was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and he told The Guardian he is an alcoholic. He now weighs 400 pounds.
Professional weightlifter Holley Mangold, born in 1989 in Ohio, stands 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 350 pounds ahead of the 2012 Olympics in London. Mangold, who took part in “The Biggest Loser: Second Chances 2” in 2013 (but was eliminated after seven episodes), is so strong that when her truck was demolished in a head-on collision accident, she avoided serious injury by pushing the steering wheel away as the crash was happening, which broke the steering wheel.
Hawaiian-born Japanese-Samoan former sumo wrestler Konishiki Yasokichi was the first non-Japanese-born wrestler to reach ōzeki, the second-highest rank in the sport. Also known as the Dump Truck, Yasokichi was a three-time winner of the top division championship and was the heaviest sumo wrestler of all time; his peak weight was 633 pounds.
Russian boxer-turned-politician Nikolai Sergeyevich Valuev, born in 1973, was a giant of the sport from 1993 to 2009 — literally. He stands 7 feet tall, has a reach of 85 inches and at his heaviest was 328 pounds, making him the tallest and heaviest world champion in boxing history. His majestic stature is clear in this photo with Don King and fellow pro boxer Sergei Liakhovich (right). Valuev held the WBA heavyweight title twice between 2005 and 2009, and he retired days after being defeated by David Haye in November 2009 — one of only two defeats of his entire career.
Former English darts player Andy Fordham, known as The Viking, won the World Masters in 1999 and the World Championship in 2004. Born Feb. 2, 1962, Fordham has dealt with numerous health issues as a result of his size. At one stage, he weighed 434 pounds due to excessive alcohol intake as well as food. In 2004, he was advised by a doctor to stop drinking as his liver was 75 percent dead. He quit drinking and lost a massive 210 pounds, but later put the weight back on.
Retired professional bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman, born May 13, 1964, in Louisiana, is regarded as one of the greatest in his sport. Crowned Mr. Olympia a record-breaking eight times (Arnold Schwarzenegger won it seven times), Coleman weighed around 300 pounds and could deadlift 800 pounds. Unfortunately, his career took a serious toll on his body, and after complications from several surgeries he may never walk unaided again.
Zdeno Chara, Slovak professional ice hockey defenseman and captain of the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League, is the tallest person ever to play in the NHL. He stands at 6 feet, 9 inches, an inch taller than Tyler Myers of the Winnipeg Jets. Of course, he’s even taller with his skates on. Chara became the second ever European-born-and-raised captain to win the coveted Stanley Cup in 2011.
Yao Ming’s very tall parents were both professional basketball players, so it’s no surprise that he followed in their footsteps. At 7 feet, 6 inches tall, the Chinese athlete towers over his 6 feet 7 inches tall father and 6 feet 3 inches tall mother. The former Houston Rockets center suffered the same fate as many extremely tall players and announced his retirement in 2011 due to persistent ankle and foot injuries. At the time of his final season, he was the tallest active player in the NBA.
Senegalese professional basketball player Mamadou N’Diaye, who is 7 feet 6 inches, became the tallest basketball player in NCAA Division 1 during his time at University of California-Irvine. After entering the NBA draft, he went on to play center for the Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons and Grand Rapids Drive. The skillful shot-blocker was named Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year after the 2013–14 NCAA Division I men’s basketball season.
An imposing figure on the ice, NHL defenseman/winger John Scott, stands 6 feet 8 inches tall. During a professional career spanning almost 10 seasons, Scott played for the Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens. After the NHL All-Star game in 2016, Scott’s helmet was sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
At one stage, Aaron Sandilands was the heaviest and tallest player in the entire Australian Football League (Aussie Rules); he’s currently the heaviest and equal tallest. At 6 feet 11 inches tall, and with a peak weight of 265 pounds, Sandilands isn’t someone anyone welcomes a tackle from, but the Aussie doesn’t throw his weight about unreasonably. He was voted the Fremantle Football Club’s best and fairest player in 2009 and 2015.
Troy ‘Escalade’ Jackson
Before he tragically died from heart disease at the age of 38, Troy Jackson was a basketball player with the AND1 Mixtape Tour, a traveling streetball exhibition. Known by his streetball nickname Escalade (a reference to the Cadillac SUV), Jackson was famous for his guile and speed, despite his 6-feet-10-inches, 500-pound size. He only played 20 games for Louisville over two years but appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was described as a “streetball legend” by the magazine Jet.
Being very tall isn’t always an advantage in baseball, but it was for Jon Rauch. At 6 feet, 11 inches tall, the pitcher is the tallest player in Major League Baseball history. Rauch played for several teams, including the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. He also helped Team USA defeat Cuba to win gold at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
It’s pretty rare to see a professional soccer player reach the 6-foot mark, so 6 foot 7 inches tall English footballer Peter Crouch towers over everyone else on the pitch. The former England national center forward — who scored 22 goals for his country between 2005 and 2010, has appeared at two World Cups and has also played at club level for Liverpool, Southhampton, Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur — is a skillful striker despite his height.
Sudanese-born American basketball player and political activist Manute Bol was 7 feet 7 inches tall — one of the two tallest players in the history of the National Basketball Association. A successful center who made his NBA debut for the Washington Bullets in 1985 and blocked 2,086 shots during his career, Bol died of kidney failure in 2010. During his lifetime, he used his platform to advocate for human rights in his native Sudan and aid for Sudanese refugees.
Mariusz Pudzianowski (known in his homeland of Poland as “Dominator”) may not be particularly tall (6 feet 1 inch) but he’s 300 pounds of pure muscle. He won five World’s Strongest Man titles (more than any other athlete) during his career as a strongman and is currently a mixed martial artist. In 2010, Pudzianowski settled a dispute with boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch in the ring — and claimed victory in a matter of minutes.
Shaquille O’Neal was one of the most dominant forces of the NBA, and he had a personality to match his 7-foot-1-inch, 325-pound frame. Today, Shaq is an NBA analyst working alongside the likes of Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson. But before his retirement, he helped various teams to NBA Championship glory. In 1996 he signed the biggest contract in NBA history — seven years for $120 million with the Los Angeles Lakers — and helped the U.S. win gold at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
When you can serve from a great height, you can do great things on the tennis court — Ivo Karlovic is proof of that. The 6-foot-11-inch player holds the record for the most career aces in men’s tennis, and in he was ranked 14th in the world. He also has the fourth hardest serve of all time (156 miles per hour) and his second serve isn’t too shabby either — it once reached a speed of a record 144 mph. In January 2019, Karlovic broke more records when he became the oldest winner of a men’s singles match since 44-year-old Ken Rosewall reached the third round in 1978, and the oldest winner at any Grand Slam event since 40-year-old Jimmy Connors reached the second round of the U.S. Open in 1992.
It may not be unusual to see male basketball players taller than 7 feet, but it’s a rarity in the women’s game. At 7 feet 2 inches, the late Margo Dydek is the tallest layer in WNBA history. Picked first in the 1998 WNBA draft by the Utah Starzz, she was at her peak when she played center for the Connecticut Suns. In 2008, she retired as the WNBA blocks leader with 877 to coach for the Northside Wizards in the Queensland Basketball League. Sadly, Dydek died in 2011 after complications following a heart attack, while she was pregnant with her third child.
Dekoda Watson looked more like a bodybuilder than a football player, but he made his name as a linebacker for the Denver Broncos of the NFL, after playing college football at Florida State University and being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He may not be one of the biggest names in NFL, but at 245 pounds, he’s up there with the heaviest.
NFL running back and return specialist Christian Jackson McCaffrey, who currently plays for the Carolina Panthers, hasn’t always looked as big as he does now. But recent pictures of him going through drills with the Panthers show some impressive muscles following new fitness principles.
“We’ve seen crazy results. He’s extremely fit, strong right now, speed is great, change of direction, he’s healthy,” said McCaffrey’s track coach Brian Kula. “We want to make him as explosive of an athlete as we can.”
Croatian high jump champion Blanka Vlasic, who is coached by her father (decathlon record holder Joško Vlašić), has a total of 16 international medals — 12 gold, three silver and one bronze — despite living with a hyperthyroid condition. Clearly height is an advantage for this sport, giving 6-foot-3-inch Vlasic an edge over shorter competitors. She was named IAAF World Athlete of the Year 2010 and European Athlete of the Year in 2007 and 2010.
The Great Khali
Indian professional wrestler Dalip Singh Rana, born in 1972, is best known by his ring name The Great Khali. Standing at 7 feet 1 inch tall, he became WWE’s World Heavyweight Champion in 2007, the first Indian in WWE history to do so. Outside the ring, Rana has appeared in four Hollywood films, including “Get Smart” (2008), “The Longest Yard” (2005) and “MacGruber” (2010), as well as two Bollywood films and many television shows.
Hafthor Julius ‘Thor’ Bjornsson
At 6 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 400 pounds, Icelandic giant Hafthor Julius Bjornsson may be most familiar from HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones,” in which he played Ser Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain. Before he was an actor, Bjornsson placed in the top three of the World’s Strongest Man competition for six years in a row, and currently holds the titles of Iceland’s Strongest Man and Europe’s Strongest Man.
Eric ‘Butterbean’ Esch
What boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch lacks in height — he’s not quite 6 feet tall — he more than makes up for in girth; he’s knocked out dozens of opponents with his 400 pound-plus weight. After success on the Toughman Contest scene, Esch moved on to professional boxing in 1994 and subsequently won the World Athletic Association (WAA) heavyweight and IBA super heavyweight championships. He started kickboxing and MMA in 2003.
Paul ‘Big Show’ Wight
Longtime professional wrestler Paul “Big Show” Wight, born Feb. 2, 1972, is still one of the biggest attractions of the WWE — literally. At 7 feet tall and weighing 463 pounds at one point, he’s a seven-time world champion and an 11-time world tag team champion, has headlined multiple pay-per-view events for WCW and WWF/WWE since 1995, including the 2000 edition of WWE’s premier annual event, WrestleMania, and has a slew of movies and TV shows under his belt, including “Jingle All the Way” (1996), “The Waterboy” (1998) and “Burn Notice” (2007-2013).
Sharon Alexander came late to sumo wrestling; she was 41 before she started but quickly made up for lost time, winning a total of four gold medals in international tournaments. The former nanny from London weighs 448 pounds and holds the title of the heaviest sportswoman in the world. She is one of a select few women recognized by the British Sumo Federation as a professional sumo wrestler.
Loek Van Mil
Dutch baseball player Loek Van Mil (full name Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil) never made it to the major leagues, but at 7 feet 1 inch, he does hold the unofficial title of the tallest pitcher in professional history during his time in the minor leagues. In 2013, Van Mil pitched in the World Baseball Classic for the Netherlands and served as their closer in the 2015 Premier 12.
John Daly, who weighs in at 216 pounds, made a name for himself on the pro golf circuit for his impressive drives, earning the nickname Long John in 1997 for hitting regular 300-yard shots. As well as winning the 1991 PGA Championship and the 1995 Open Championship, he has triumphed at accredited pro events in Canada, Turkey, South Africa, Germany, Swaziland, Scotland and South Korea.