The Most Underappreciated Fighters in MMA History

Matt Saccaro@@mattsaccaroContributor IIIMarch 6, 2012

The Most Underappreciated Fighters in MMA History

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    The Georges St.Pierre's and Anderson Silva's of the world have a place in MMA history for all eternity through their skills and accolades. 

    However, there are less skilled men who still deserve to have their rightful place in history and are forgotten (or even outright insulted) through no fault of their own.

    These men deserved to be respected and remembered. 

Gene Lebell

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    Gene Lebell deserves the same praise that Bruce Lee gets, but hardly anyone outside the MMA world knows his name.

    He is a legend in the sport of Judo and is credited with teaching Bruce Lee how to grapple. Also, while Lee was theorizing about mixing martial arts, Lebell was out fighting in mixed martial arts; he was one of the nation's first true mixed martial artists. 

    He fought boxer Milo Savage in a mixed rules fight—really the first proto-MMA fight on television in the United States—and choked him out.

    Lebell deserves to be appreciated for his influence in the development of MMA in the United States; there really wasn't another figure quite like him.

Art Jimmerson

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    Yes, Art Jimmerson was a terrible mixed martial artist, but that's not the whole story. 

    The whole story is that Jimmerson was a decent boxer who helped the Gracie's become famous. 

    The Gracie family needed some hapless dupe for Royce to walkover and establish "Gracie" Jiu-Jitsu as the premier fighting system in the world. 

    Unfortunately for Jimmerson, he was this man, a sacrificial lamb for the Gracies. They needed strikers to build their grappling empire upon, and Jimmerson was the first unlucky one who ended up going down in MMA history as a sap (the fact that he wore only one glove at UFC 1 didn't help).

    However, he was more than that. Had Jimmerson not played his part, the rise of the Gracie's and BJJ would've never happened—and the rise of MMA along with it! 

    So, instead of mocking Jimmerson, let us remember him for what he did for MMA. 

Keith Hackney

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    It seems odd at first to call a 2-2 fighter "under-appreciated," but that's just what Hackney is. 

    He deserves to be remembered and appreciated because he was really the first Karateka to have moderate success in the UFC. 

    He fought well against Royce Gracie—certainly better than any other striker of the time—despite losing and was one of the first men in the SEG era to make an attempt at being well-rounded. 

    Hackney may not have been world class, but he deserves more love than he gets.

Marco Ruas

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    Marco Ruas is a forgotten name in MMA.

    Despite winning UFC 7, people still don't remember "The King of the Streets."

    Ruas is most famous for chopping down the massive Paul Varelans with leg kicks in the 13th minute of their bout.

    He came up short in the Ultimate Ultimate 1995 semifinals to Oleg Taktarov and was never seen in the Octagon again.

    Ruas is definitely under-appreciated as far as old-school fighters go. After all, he showed that the true skill of a martial artist will always overcome the raw power of a brawler/bully like Varelans.

Masakatsu Funaki

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    Masakatsu Funaki was a legendary professional wrestler and catch wrestler in Japan, one of the best of all time there. 

    He was the co-founder of the Pancrase organization which, at the time, was one of the only real "mixed" martial arts promotions in the world, due to the fact that many of its competitors could strike (albeit with open hands) as well as grapple.

    Think about it, without Funaki and his founding of Pancrase, MMA legends like Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock, Guy Mezger and Bas Rutten wouldn't have had a home for their skills!

    Funaki deserves to be remembered due to his preservation and cultivation of the martial arts in Japan, as well as his illustrious fighting career, which came to an end in 2008 when he retired.

Guy Mezger

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    Guy Mezger is one of the unsung heroes of MMA history.

    He has a 4-1 record in the UFC and managed to win the UFC 13 tournament, choking out future champion Tito Ortiz in the process.

    He went on to fight in Japan, but unfortunately lost most of his high-profile fights.

    Mezger was one of the few fighters in the early days to be well rounded in all areas, and he deserves to be remembered as an important fighter for it.

    Also, he should be remembered because him handing Ortiz defeat may have provided the young "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" with increased motivation and fire to get in the cage and dominate.

    In a world where fans only remember Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and Tank Abbott, Mezger sticks out as a guy who sorely needs to be preserved in our memories because of his skill relative to the rest of the world at the time.

Maurice Smith

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    At 12-13, Maurice Smith didn't have an exceptional career in MMA, save for the fact that he won the UFC heavyweight title by beating Mark Coleman at UFC 14. (It's worth noting that Smith was still below .500 when he did this.)

    However, Smith's true importance and what people should remember about him is that he was really the first striker to defeat a great grappler, showing both that striking arts had their place in MMA and that MMA was an evolving sport rather than one whose rules and axioms were set in stone.

Pat Miletich

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    Pat Miletich begins a part of the slideshow I like to call "The Forgotten Champions," which features fighters who captured a UFC title but are rarely (if at all) spoken of in MMA today the same way their more well-regarded contemporaries are.

    Miletich is hardly mentioned nowadays due to not getting along with UFC president Dana White.

    "The Croatian Sensation" already had 19 fights and a 17-1-1 record by the time he entered the UFC in 1998.

    He won the lightweight tournament at UFC 16. Miletich then became the first-ever UFC welterweight champion at UFC: Ultimate Brazil and had four successful title defenses—all of which took place while the UFC was owned by SEG.

    Militech would lose his title to Carlos Newton in Zuffa's second UFC event, UFC 31. Miletich only had four bouts in his career after losing his title.

    Miletich is without a doubt one of the most under-appreciated champions in UFC history.

Frank Shamrock

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    Frank Shamrock was one of the only true "undisputed" champions MMA had ever seen. He had beaten the best in Japan and the best in the United States.

    As the adopted brother of Ken Shamrock, Frank was shown the ways of submission grappling earlier than most, and he excelled at it, eventually becoming King of Pancrase.

    After his successful run in Pancrase, he became the first UFC light heavyweight champion at UFC Japan, defended the belt four times and then dropped the belt due to lack of competition.

    Frank Shamrock also was a champion in the WEC (before the Zuffa buyout) and in Strikeforce.

    An unfortunate rivalry with UFC president Dana White has kept Frank out of the UFC hall of fame and practically out of UFC history entirely.

    He is therefore under-appreciated since the UFC doesn't acknowledge what he's done and, as a result, many fans (knowingly or unknowingly) don't acknowledge his accomplishments either.

Tim Sylvia

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    Tim Sylvia is the butt of many jokes in MMA, some understandably so and some not. 

    Nevertheless, Sylvia doesn't deserve the amount of hate he gets on MMA forums. He was a former UFC heavyweight champion. 

    The 12 pounds of gold on his mantle is more than most of his detractors will achieve in two lifetimes. 

    Yes, he lost to Ray Mercer and Abe Wagner, but he's still a former champion and is worthy of respect. 

Frankie Edgar

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    People who are saying that Frankie Edgar should drop to featherweight after his loss to Benson Henderson are under-appreciating Edgar's skills.

    Edgar was the world champion at 155 pounds and managed to beat BJ Penn (a man who many considered to be the greatest lightweight of all time) and even knocked out a bigger, stronger Gray Maynard. 

    Despite his incredible success at lightweight, people are saying that he's too small to be effective at 155. How is he too small if he captured the belt and defended against Penn once and Maynard twice?

    For some reason, people refuse to give Edgar the credit he deserves. He needs to be seen for what he was—a champion.