How many times have you sat around the bar, or your buddy’s house, and said “Man, I can’t believe that guy made it to the pros!” or “I bet I could do better than that guy!” We’ve all done it. Spike TV even made a TV show out of it, called Pros vs. Joes.
Most of the time that kind of head-in-the-clouds attitude is pointless, and completely misguided. Yes, some professional athletes are worse than others, but rest assured that each one of them is better, far, far better, than you or any of your buddies.
Having said that, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that once in a while, a completely underqualified, not quite ready for the big time player, makes it through the cracks. Most of the time, you can see the years of training, determination, and effort that separates amateur athletes from professionals. Sometimes, well, you can’t.
Those are the heroes that are being honoured here. Those brave men and women who, despite their lack of technical training and abilities, somehow managed to find a place and share a stage with the greatest athletes of their sports.
Whether it came to be through a well-timed phone call, an unusual stature, or some less-than observant scouts, these 10 athletes made it to the professional leagues. They are the world’s worst professional athletes.
10. Sean Gannon, UFC Fighter, Boston
Remember those Kimbo Slice YouTube videos? He had out-of-shape street fighters dropping like flies. But, years before he fell to pink-haired Seth Petruzelli, Slice was stopped by a big Irish police officer from Boston. His name was Sean Gannon, and apparently, someone at UFC was also a fan of Kimbo Slice videos, because they decided that Gannon had earned a spot in their organization. They did not take into account that Gannon lacked the stamina necessary for professional fighting.
In his only UFC fight, Gannon lost by TKO in the first round after being beaten to a bloody mess. He returned to his career on the police force, and the UFC head honchos decided to wait a long time before signing their next street fighter.
9. Robin Deakin, Boxer, England
Rockin’ Robin Deakin seemed to be properly qualified to become a professional boxer in Britain. He had amassed 40 wins as an amateur fighter before accepting payment for a fight. He even managed to win his professional debut in 2006. Since then, Deakin has gone on a 50-fight losing streak.
The British Boxing Board of Control was so worried about him, they revoked his license. Deakin, undaunted, sought a foreign license and received one in Germany, to continue his professional career. To this day, he has yet to win his second professional bout.
8. Vanessa Lima, Tennis Player, Brazil
The Brazilian-born Lima retired in 2011, but had a career that lasted 12 years and included absolutely zero set wins. In total, she won 22 games, just 5 percent of her total games played, with no sets and, of course, no victories out of 44 matches played.
Her losing streak lasted almost 12 years, between the years 1999 and 2011. In short, any player seeing Lima in their bracket could phone in their first round match.
7. Ali Dia, Striker, Southampton
Ali Dia is well known in the United Kingdom for his brief professional soccer career in the English Premier League. In 1996, Dia was a career minor-leaguer, toiling away in the lower divisions of French soccer, before being inspired to hit the fast-forward button.
Dia placed a call to Graeme Souness, former England national player and then-manager of Southampton, purporting to be Liberian soccer legend George Weah. “Weah” had an inside tip for Souness on a cousin of his, Ali Dia, who was a star in Africa.
Souness bought it, and had Dia brought in for a tryout. Though unimpressive, Souness and the Southampton management decided the word of George Weah deserved another chance. As fate would have it, Dia was named as a substitute in a Premier League match only 3 days after arriving in England.
Sure enough, a hamstring injury to another striker lead to Souness calling Dia into the match. He proceeded to play, according to a teammate, “like a deer on ice skates.” In professional soccer, managers only get to use three substitutions in a game. After using one to bring Dia into the game, Souness had no choice but to use another one to remove him after just 50 minutes.
By the time the players arrived for Monday morning training, Dia had fled the team. He resurfaced years later in lower league Gateshead, and is forever known as the worst player in English Premier League history.
6. Paul Deutsch, Goaltender, Minnesota Wild
In November 2011, 51-year-old beer league goalie Paul Deutsch got a call from his friend; his team needed a goalie for the night. Except this was no ordinary beer league team. The call was from Minnesota Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, and the Wild needed a backup goalie for their game that night.
The NHL has a rule that teams must have two goaltenders dressed for every game, and the Wild’s backup goalie had been injured in warmups. So, Deutsch took the call, and dressed for an NHL game after a hockey career that went no higher than college. Sadly, he never made it into the game, despite calls from the Wild players to send him in during the dying minutes. Deutsch is not the only goalie who has a story like this, but others were most often minor leaguers or local university goalies. Deutsch was a career beer-leaguer with no professional hockey experience.
5. Eddie Gaedel, Pinch Hitter, St. Louis Browns
The 1950’s in baseball were a wild time, and Browns’ owner Bill Veeck was the captain of the wild ship. He wanted his team, the Browns, to be the only game in town (One might notice that the St. Louis Cardinals still exist, while the Browns do not) and he was willing to do just about anything to gain popularity. Like signing 3-foot, 7-inch tall actor Eddie Gaedel to his team’s roster, and sending him up to bat. Gaedel’s microscopic strike zone led to a 4-pitch walk to first base, during which he stopped to bow twice. Gaedel was replaced by a pinch-runner as soon as he reached first, and that was the end of his baseball career. Sadly, Veeck didn’t think it would be as funny to put Gaedel at first base on defense.
4. Manute Bol, Center, Washington Bullets
Bol was a Sudanese import who stood a whopping 7-feet, 7-inches tall. That height alone could have been enough to make Bol an intimidating shot blocker and rebounder. Alas, Bol weighed just a shade over 200 pounds, and was frighteningly thin and weak. He looked frail. He could hardly jump or run.
His career high for points per game was 3.1, which he “accomplished” in 1989. For a player that could have dunked without jumping, Bol made the offensive side of the game look as complicated as disarming a bomb. He dropped the ball, missed layups, and generally had no idea what he was doing.
Bol used his fifteen minutes of fame for good, raising money for Sudan and paving a way for future African players, like Dikembe Mutombo and Serge Ibaka, to join the NBA. But, man, was he ever a terrible player. Think about it this way; If Bol had stood “only” 6-feet, 11-inches tall, he would have been laughed out of every gym in the country. Height matters in basketball, but not enough for Bol’s meagre skills.
3. Rusty Lisch, Quarterback, St. Louis Cardinals/Chicago Bears
Lisch was a somewhat successful college quarterback, although it took him 5 years at Notre Dame before he was named the official starting quarterback. He was fortunate enough to play backup to Joe Montana. Evidently, he didn’t learn much from the future Hall-of-Famer. After being drafted by St. Louis in the fourth round of the 1980 draft, Lisch was only able to throw one touchdown pass in five NFL seasons, and that one only went for one yard. He also managed 11 interceptions, and in his final year, his only one with the Bears, he played so poorly that he was famously replaced by running back Walter Payton. Lisch had brushes with two of the greatest NFL players of all time. And yet, he is widely regarded as the worst quarterback, and perhaps the worst NFL player, in history. And, in a universe where Ryan Leaf exists, that’s saying something.
2. Maurice Flitcroft, Golfer, British Open
Imagine Rodney Dangerfield’s character from Caddyshack, except with less golfing ability. That’s a pretty fair representation of Flitcroft, a shipyard worker who successfully entered himself into the 1976 British Open Championship as a professional, despite having played only a handful of rounds in his entire life.
To prepare for the tournament, Flitcroft read a golf instruction manual borrowed from his local library. His equipment amounted to nothing more than a faux-leather bag and half of a set of clubs.
Despite all of this, Flitcroft had managed to gain entry, and had the opportunity to prove his skills in the qualifying round. He recorded a disastrous 49-over-par, the worst ever score by a “professional”, and was summarily banned from golf courses all across England.
1. Robert Dee, Tennis Player, England
Imagine an athlete being so bad at their sport, that newspapers frequently refer to him as the “World’s Worst”. Then, in an attempt to remove that unsightly moniker, he sues those newspapers for defamation. That is the beginning of the story of Robert Dee.
In 2010, Dee had an unprecedented 54-match losing streak on the ATP tour. A Reuters article, published by several UK newspapers, was naming him as the “World’s Worst Professional Tennis Player”. Dee, whose pride was probably more damaged than his backhand, sued for defamation. Most of the major newspapers agreed to retract and offered Dee some settlement money. The Daily Telegraph, on the other hand, took a stance for journalistic integrity. They argued, in court, that Dee was in fact the worst, as evidenced by his incredible losing streak. The judge agreed with the newspaper, and Dee began a litigation losing streak.
In happy news, Dee did eventually snap his tennis losing streak in 2010.
So, the next time someone tells you that you’re not good enough, just think about these examples. Most athletes will repeat the mantra of “Work hard and practice.” But the best stories of athletes who were able to live out their dreams, preferred to stick with “Fake it until you make it.”
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