There have been many fighters who have come and gone in mixed martial arts for various reasons, but some early on were vital to the success of the sport. Here is a look at some of the most influential fighters in the history of the MMA.
Probably thee most influential fighter in MMA history, Royce Gracie brought Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to UFC 1, and wowed spectators with his ability to beat larger opponents by way of submission. At a time when fights had few rules, and matches were in open weight classes, Gracie impressed with his ability to put his opponents in undesirable positions. He dominated the first UFC by winning all three fights of the tournament-style format. He then went on to a streak of more submission victories, winning his fist 11 fights all by making his opponents tap out. Without Gracie, the sport would likely not have the art form of submissions like it does. In a lot of ways, the entire Gracie family has molded the sport through various fighting techniques used by fighters all over the world.
Griffin owes a lot of his notoriety to his opponent for the finale of The Ultimate Fighter. For the end of the first season of the hit reality show, Griffin fought Stephan Bonnar in one of the best fights in UFC history. A mostly stand-up fight, both contestants battled non-stop for three rounds in a very close contest. Griffin won, but Stephan Bonnar was also awarded a contract. While retiring with only a 19-7 record, Griffin also managed to build the sport by focusing on other avenues, such as writing best-selling books. His great fights which brought ratings to the Spike TV network, as well as his popularity that transcended the sport, makes Griffin one of the most important fighters in the history of MMA.
The aptly named “Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” was one of the first to gain notoriety as a personality to despise. Tito carried himself with more cockiness than others, and let his mouth do some trash talking at a time when fighters tended to go about their business. In part, the dislike toward Tito was also due to him being a good fighter. He beat the great Ken Shamrock three separate times. The hatred and greatness of Tito made him a big draw. For being the first notable bad guy in the sport, which would later inspire some other notable trash talkers, Tito deserves a spot in this list.
There was a period in the UFC where the Light Heavyweight division was stacked with talent. At the top of that stack for quite awhile was Chuck Liddell. Liddell managed to avenge his previous loss against Randy Couture and become champion at UFC 52. He was able to defend the title four more times, including against Tito Ortiz, and Randy Couture again, before losing the title to “Rampage” Jackson. He also had a cool care-free attitude that appealed to many fans. Because of his dominance within a talent-filled division, Liddell brought eyes to the sport.
St-Pierre has only lost two career fights–to Matt Hughes, and to Matt Serra, and both times he was able to rectify those losses. St-Pierre dominated the UFC Welterweight division. Although nicknamed “Rush” by the way he was able to score first round victories early in his career, St-Pierre later switched to a more technical approach following his loss to Matt Serra, and worked his opponents by wearing them down over multiple rounds. With the amount of title fight victories and technical precision, St-Pierre has become a legend in the sport.
Like Gracie, Shamrock was there for the first UFC event. Although ultimately losing to Gracie, he still dominated many of the contests and some found his style preferable to Gracie’s. From the UFC, Shamrock brought his victories to Japan, where he became the first individual outside of the country to become the King of Pancrase. Shamrock was also able to showcase his name value by moving into professional wrestling, melding entertainment and sport to bring an incidental cross-promotion between the two types of events. Shamrock is indeed one of the early founders of MMA.
At one time maybe thee most dominant fighter to ever put on a pair of gloves. Silva was able to defeat opponent after opponent to defend his UFC Middleweight Championship. The wins were enough alone, but the way Silva won was even more impressive. He seemed to toy with his opponents. To be able to win in such a manner in title fights made Silva a spectacle to watch. For years he was considered the best pound for pound fighter across the sport. Silva Is undoubtedly one of the most superior MMA fighters of all time.
Lesnar is for sure a controversial figure in the sport. Coming from his fame in professional wrestling, many doubted Lesnar’s abilities when he fought against Frank Mir at UFC 81. Although he lost against Mir, he showed incredible power that, if harnessed, could be deadly against opponents. Lesnar also had a strong amateur wrestling background that proved useful. Lesnar did indeed eventually show his ability, winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship by defeating Randy Couture. He was able to defend the title twice against Mir and Shane Carwin. Although his run was short, Lesnar was able to bring his fame from wrestling, and his ability to sell a fight, making him an incredible pay-per-view draw.
For a while there was difficulty with finding a female star to showcase women’s MMA. Rousey came along and won the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Championship, later appointed a UFC champion, and soon established herself as a star by being able to go on an incredible run of defending her title. She could also trash talk and sell a fight like no other. Because of her ability, she was able to become a main event fighter. By bringing respect to the women’s division like no other, Rousey is a trailblazer for the sport.
There are many other names that may be considered in this list, but these names brought a certain foundation to the sport, and all in different ways. Without these names, the sport would not be the way It is today.