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PHOTO: Mark Wahlberg Graces Sports Illustrated Cover

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Michael O Neill/Sports Illustrated

Mark Wahlberg not only received glowing reviews for his undertstated performance as the real-life junior welterweight Mickey Ward in The Fighter, but he unexpectedly landed a national magazine cover.

Sports Illustrated features the actor, 39, stripped down to fighter gear, and lauds the film as the “Best Sports Movie of the Decade.” This also marks one of the rare times in the 56-year history of the publication (which, like PEOPLE is part of Time Inc.) that a non-athlete has graced the cover.

Wahlberg’s Fighter costar, Christian Bale (who plays Mickey’s older half-brother and trainer, Dickie Eklund), poses with him.

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“As somebody who always dreamed of being a professional athlete,” Wahlberg says, “to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated is an amazing accomplishment.” In fact, it’s a knockout.