Sometimes, there is a thin line between genius and madness and perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the world of sport.

Over the years we have witnessed some of the greatest exponents of certain sports perform miraculously at times and for many of these stars, they do so without too much controversy.

However, for a select few, their genius comes tainted with a touch of madness too, all of which can see them become highly volatile, leading to some explosive confrontations.

So, in this list, we are going to look at the ten most explosive sports stars of all time, those whose temperatures are already well on their way to boiling point before they have even become embroiled in the game.

This list includes people from the world of poker, as well as from more traditional sports. (Poker fans can sign up today with the latest bet365 Poker bonus code offer).

And when something goes against them, you really don’t want to be too close when they finally decide to vent some steam.

So who makes this top ten of hot-headed superstars? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

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The Ten Most Explosive Sports Stars Of All Time

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  • Earl “The Pearl” Strickland – Pool

Earl Strickland is rightfully revered as one of the best nine-ball players of all time, winning over 100 Championship titles and already in the Billiard Congress of America’s Hall of Fame.

However, his explosive personality has courted controversy with him arguing and swearing at fans, opponents, commentators, interviewers and even the referee. He had a prolonged spat with Steve Davis and spectators at the 2003 World Pool Championship, which included him arguing with fans, the referee and even the tournament organisers, during the game.

However, it is his Mosconi Cup antics that have earned him a place on this list, as he has argued with the crowd, fans and other players, refused TV interviews before and after games and when he has been interviewed, he has sworn and hurled abuse at players, fans, referees and tournament organisers.

He also had to be physically separated from Daryl Peach in the 2007 Mosconi Cup in Las Vegas after the referee felt their animosity could turn physical. He also broke his cue in temper against Thomas Engert (but still went on to win the match).

  • Phil Hellmuth – Poker

The self-styled ‘Poker Brat’ is well known for his meltdowns when something goes against him or he hits a bad beat in a game. What often follows is a long rambling diatribe where Hellmuth rails against the poker gods, cursing his own misfortune, or the complete luck of his opponent.

However, occasionally Hellmuth does go further. When Cristian Dragomir bluffed a better hand than Hellmuth’s Ace and King and forced Hellmuth to fold, the angered Hellmuth hurled abuse at his opponent and repeatedly calling him an idiot.

He has done similar at many other events and tournaments and richly deserves his Poker Brat nickname.

  • Eric Cantona – Soccer

Eric Cantona was a majestic footballer who achieved a great deal despite retiring at age 30. However, he was one of the most controversial and divisive figures to play the game.

His catalogue of misdemeanors is impressive. He landed a three-month suspension for a kung-fu tackle on a Nantes player in 1987, then in a friendly against Torpedo Moscow in 1989, he kicked the ball at the crowd and then when he was substituted, he ripped off his shirt and threw it away, which saw him earn a months ban from his club.

Prior to that he’d been banned from international games for a year after insulting the national team coach on live TV. He then threw boots at a team mate’s face and then in 1991 when playing for Nimes, after being angered by the referee’s decision, he picked the ball up and threw it at the referee.

At the disciplinary hearing, he was banned for one month, Cantona then went up to every member of the committee and called them an ‘idiot’ to their face. They increased his ban to two months.

After retiring, he was persuaded to come back and move to England where he played at Leeds before falling out with manager Howard Wilkinson and he then moved to Man Utd, where after three years of great success, he was banned from football for eight months after being sent off against Crystal Palace and then launching a kung-fu kick at a member of the crowd.

Since retiring, Cantona has become an award-winning actor.

  • John McEnroe – Tennis

“You cannot be serious…” was one of the great catchphrases of tennis in the 1980s and it was all down to one hot-headed American superstar; John McEnroe.

The supremely talented left-hander was as outspoken and forthright as he was talented and his numerous outbursts on court saw him handed fine after fine. Although to be fair to McEnroe, in the days without Hawkeye, a lot of the decisions he queried were bad calls against him.

It was at Wimbledon where McEnroe’s anger was most followed, but he would blow up at any tournament and at any judge, referee or opponent if he felt he was being harshly dealt with.

READ: Frequently asked questions on Wimbledon

  • Mike Tyson – Boxing

Mike Tyson was one of the most feared boxing superstars of all time. A multiple champion at heavyweight, however while all boxers are probably a bit hot-headed, Tyson was at the top end of the scale.

Not only did he spend three years in jail, Tyson also famously bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear during their second bout (and tried to chew his other ear too), he was embroiled in several other unsavory scandals and once forced a TV interview to be cut short following an expletive-lade tirade at the interviewer.

He also claimed that he wanted to eat Lennox Lewis’ “heart” and “children” in a controversial pre-fight press conference, which he would eventually go on to lose.

Bankruptcy and retirement followed for Tyson, but he has found a new niche market since in exhibition bouts and through his own cannabis company.

  • Mario Balotelli – Soccer

The ex-Manchester City, Liverpool and Milan star is one of the most controversial and unusual modern footballers. Emotionally unstable, his talent with the ball at his feet has often been secondary to off-the-field issues.

Fond of a party, Balotelli once caused huge damage to his home near Manchester by setting off fireworks indoors. He offended American fans and was substituted in the first half of a friendly game when after going through on goal, he attempted a spinning back heel finish and sent the ball wide, which many people found offensive.

Wherever he has gone he has courted controversy, falling out with fans, managers and fellow players from time to time, however, he was recently recalled back into the Italian National team by manager Roberto Mancini, the one manager who got the best out of this enigmatic superstar.

  • Serena Williams – Tennis

Serena Williams is an amazing talent and arguably the best ever female tennis player of all time, but she also has a more confrontational side to her, as show showed in 2009 when she threatened a line judge that she would killer he if she kept giving foot faults against her in a US Open tie.

She was at it again in the 2011 and 2018 US Opens, firstly for shouting as Sam Stosur returned what Williams thought was a winning point, the umpire giving the point to Stosur sent Williams into a rage with the umpire and similarly, after the umpire gave her a code violation for her coach giving her hand signals, she smashed her racket on the court and abused the umpire, for which she was given a game penalty.

  • Roy Keane – Soccer

Now a TV Soccer Pundit, Roy Keane was once an irresistible force in midfield for club and country at his very best. But there were many occasions when his performances were secondary to his tantrums.

He famously broke Alf-Inge Haaland’s leg after the Leeds midfielder accused Keane of diving when the Irishma had a bad knee injury in an earlier game. His run is with Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira were legendary and he once accused some home fans at Manchester United of knowing nothing about football and being more interested in the prawn sandwiches served at the game.

Red carded a record 13 times in his career in England, his most famous outburst came at the 2002 World Cup Finals with Ireland where exasperated with what he saw as the amateurish set up for the team, he walked out on his country and returned home after a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy.

  • Conor McGregor – MMA
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Conor McGregor has made a name for himself as one of the UFCs biggest draws. However, he also has a long list of controversies that have followed him around over the years. His brash, arrogant and disrespectful attitude towards other fighters and more, has rubbed people up the wrong way for many years.

As well as driving offenses, McGregor famously attacked a bus that contained Khabib Nurmagomedov and his team and the two were embroiled in an incident after a fight at UFC 229 that descended into chaos.

McGregor has also been accused of robbery and criminal mischief in Florida after smashing a mans phone, then he assaulted a patron of a pub in Dublin who refused to sample McGregor’s own brand Irish Whiskey.

Then in 2021, he was involved in an incident with Machine Gun Kelly at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards, when he tried to punch MGK after the rapper refused a picture with the MMA star.

  • Antonio Brown – American Football

Antonio Brown’s meltdown and departure from Tampa Bay made big news in the past NFL season, but it is not the first time the star has been in trouble.

After a solid start to his career in the NFL at Pittsburgh, he is alleged to have told defenders and defensive co-ordinators not to touch him in practice as “I’m the Franchise” according to safety Ryan Clarke.

He was fined for unsportsmanlike conduct after running backwards 20 yards in a punt return touchdown against Washington and in 2018, he requested a trade from the Steelers after falling out with Ben Roethlisberger after skipping practices in the lead up to a Week 17 game.

He was traded to the Oakland Raiders, but after an issue with his helmet and a fall out with GM Mike Mayock, he was released by the Raiders after they voided his guaranteed money in his contract.

A move to New England followed but after several issues there he was released early in September before ending up at Tampa Bay in October 2020.

However, this season, he misrepresented his vaccination status and then refused to go into a game against the New York Jets, leaving the field after taking off his pads and shirt in the game.

More Top 10 Lists

Check out out our other Top 10 Lists from Ian John: