The sport of mixed martial arts as we know it is approaching 20 years of age. Since Royce Gracie introduced most of the world to Jiu-Jitsu and won three of the first four UFC tournaments without suffering a defeat, the sport has seen its share of dominant fighters come and go to help mold the sport as we know it today.
While Royce Gracie was displaying his dominant fighting skills on the ground, dominant strikers like Bas Rutten were displaying dominant standup skills and evolving that aspect of the sport.
Over the past 19 years, most fighters that created legacies in the ring/octagon became disconnected from the the sport after they retired. However, there are some fighters that continue to stay relevant in the sport and keep contributing to the sport even though they no longer step inside the cage themselves to fight competitively.
Here is a list of fighters that are still relevant and will likely continue to be relevant in the sport long after their fighting days are done.
Please feel free to add other fighters below that you think should have made this list. Keep in mind I tried to make sure these were all "ex-fighters" and tried to justify their current contributions.
I chose to put two of the members on the Gracie clan as honorable mention because neither one quite fits the mold as, "former fighter who is still relevant in MMA."
Royce Gracie is an obvious legend in MMA. Although it is believed that any member of the Gracie family could have probably won the first couple UFC tournaments, Royce is the one that won the events and got the glory.
After being the face of the sport after UFC 5, Royce Gracie would fight sparingly over the next decade. He went to pride and had a record of 1-1-1, with his only loss coming to Kazushi Sakuraba, a loss in which he would eventually defend. Royce's long anticipated return to the UFC came in 2006, a fight in which he was absolutely dominated by Matt Hughes.
Nowadays Gracie still goes on shows and hints about possible returns, but I don't even think his own brothers and cousins take him seriously.
He still is active in running Gracie Jiu-Jitsu camps, although by himself I don't think he still does enough to be actively relevant in MMA.
As for Cesar Gracie, he currently has a major impact on the sport. He runs Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Stockton, California—home gym of Nick and Nate Diaz, Jake Shields and Scott Smith.
I don't know if Cesar Gracie himself could be considered an ex-fighter though. He had one fight at 40-years-old in which he was knocked out by Frank Shamrock in Round 1.
I guess the Gracies and Shamrocks will never get along.
As a fighter, Frank Shamrock was known for many years as "Ken's brother." Mainly because Ken Shamrock was so famous for his epic battles vs Royce Gracie, Dan Severn and other early legends in the early days of the UFC.
As for Frank's career, his record speaks for itself. He recorded his first win against Bas Rutten in Pancrase in 1994 and his last win in 2007 vs Phil Baroni in Strikeforce, so there is no doubting Shamrock's longevity. During the prime of Shamrock's career in the late 1990s, he became the first UFC Middleweight Champion and left the organization undefeated in his UFC career.
Shamrock made this list mainly because he has been a commentator for Strikeforce for several years. He was calling fights for the organization before and after his final MMA fight—a TKO loss to Nick Diaz in 2009.
Shamrock's opinions and observations are still expressed through Strikeforce each time the organization has an event. However, Frank Shamrock and UFC President Dana White have had a beef for years. White has been quoted as calling Shamrock "A weird guy. A very, very weird guy." Considering Zuffa now owns Strikeforce, it is fair to question how much longer Frank Shamrock will be doing color commentating for fights.
When Shamrock is no longer calling MMA fights, he will probably be knocked off this list. As for now, Shamrock, or at least his voice, is still relevant in MMA.
Matt "The Law" Lindland was an MMA journeyman from 1997-2011. He fought mainly in the UFC from 2000-2004, then fought some of the top fighters in the world in Bodog, Strikeforce and the super-hyped yet short-lived Affliction organization.
Along with Randy Couture and Dan Henderson, Lindland was one of the original founders of Team Quest in 1999. Lindland is still one of the main owners and the gym has produced several of MMA's top fighters. With the three original owners, other fighters such as Chael Sonnen, Yushin Okami, Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Krzysztof Soszynski top the list of numerous fighters at the gym.
Although Lindland's contributions to Team Quest and his major current contributions while competing in MMA, Lindland has helped promote the sport to other sectors of society as well. Lindland is the Republican representative for Oregon's House of Representatives and has future political aspirations as well.
Like a few others that will be on this list, Lindland has also made various cinematic and television appearances.
This was one that I went back and forth on. Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell hasn't made the types of contributions that most of the others on this list have made as far as training and developing new fighters or promoting the sport as members of the media.
However, he is still probably the most recognizable MMA figure in the world. While nearly everybody on this list has made a couple appearances on television or the big screen, the "Ice Man" has the most impressive résumé on IMDB.
The exposure he gives the sports on airing commercials like "Total Gym" and the occasional gym openings that he attends helps keep him still slightly relevant in the sport.
Another important element to making this list is that we clarify that Chuck is an "ex-fighter". He recently said that if he ever fought again that he would want it to be for the title.
Considering Chuck lost five of his last six fights, most of them in somewhat brutal fashion, I'm sure Dana White cringed at the sound of that.
Frank "Twinkletoes" Trigg, another pioneer of the sport, had his first professional MMA fight in 1996. Trigg's overall record is 21-9 and his UFC debut was in 2003 vs Matt Hughes. He made a UFC comeback from 2009-2010 where he suffered defeats to some of the UFC's welterweight elites, Josh Koscheck and Matt Serra.
Outside of the cage, Trigg has been a notable voice in MMA since 2004. Trigg has co-hosted shows such as The Best of Pride Fighting Championships and used to call live Pride Fighting Championship fights last decade.
Currently "Twinkletoes" does the live color commentary for fights on HD Net and co-hosts MMA Insider's Radio.
Trigg has also helped MMA reach the mainstream with some movie and television appearances. He has also had an influence on the fashion industry with his urban street brand known as Triggonomics.
As a fighter, Pat Miletich was one of the original stars of MMA. His professional debut was in 1995 and he retired with an MMA record of 29-7, including an 8-2 record in the UFC. Miletich was also the first UFC Welterweight Champion and won the UFC 16 Tournament.
Even while he was fighting, Miletich was contributing to the sport in other ways. He started his camp, Miletich Fighting Systems, in 1997. Several of the sport's best fighters including former UFC Champions Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver and Tim Sylvia have trained there.
Militech has also been one of the most recognizable octagon-side voices for several years. In 2009, he began providing color commentary for Strikeforce. Miletich is also a guest commentator for ESPN's MMA Live and calls live fights for HD Net.
Miletich is currently the only MMA personality working for three different networks. He was also featured in L John Wertheim's "Blood in the Cage: Mixed Martial Arts, Pat Miletich, and the Furious Rise of the UFC."
Miletich currently is very relevant in MMA and it appears that he will stay that way for years to come.
As a fighter, Randy Couture's record speaks for itself. Couture fought 30 professional fights with 25 of them coming in the UFC. The majority of his UFC fights were either title fights or against other member's of the sport's elite. He was the first fighter ever to win championships at two different weight classes in the UFC. Those just happen to be the sport's two largest weight classes as well.
Couture was one of the original founders of Team Quest in 1999, and eventually started Xtreme Couture in 2006. Xtreme Couture now has gyms all over the United States and Canada.
Countless former and current UFC stars have trained or currently train at Xtreme Couture. Forrest Griffin, Amir Sadollah, Ryan Bader, Alistar Overeem, Frank Trigg and Couture's son Ryan Couture are only a small fraction of the gym's fighters.
Besides his contributions in the octagon and the gym, Couture has made a major impact on MMA from a fashion standpoint. Xtreme Couture, an offshoot of Affliction that began in 2007, is one of the sport's most marketable clothing brands.
Randy Couture has also done some color commentating in the past for UFC and did the pre-fight coverage for UFC on Fox as recent as this past weekend.
Couture also helps MMA reach the mainstream through his acting career. Expect the Couture name to be relevant in the world of MMA for decades to come.
El Guapo's life hasn't been all bad since his injuries in 1999
Bas "El Guapo" Rutten was truly a pioneer in mixed martial arts. He fought in nearly every Pancrase event from 1993 to 1998 before joining the UFC. Rutten would go 2-0 in the UFC and win the UFC Heavyweight Championship in his second fight in the organization against Kevin Randleman.
Unfortunately, a serious of freakish injuries forced Rutten to retire and he never got a chance to defend his UFC Gold. Seven years later Rutten would come back for one fight in 2006 and defeat Ruben Villareal by leg kicks. Rutten's official MMA record is 28-4.
Before even El Guapo's Pancrase days, he was 14-2 in professional Muay Thai with all 14 wins coming by knockout.
Although Rutten ended his career on a 22-fight unbeaten streak, he is probably more famous for everything that he has done outside of the cage/ring.
He was the host of Pride Fighting Championships when it was at its height in the early to mid 2000s. He is currently the host of Inside MMA on HD Net and a new show called Punk Payback on Fuel TV.
Rutten has also starred in several TV and movie shows including King of Queens and Martial Law. He is probably the most accomplished of all the former fighters who became actors.
Rutten also currently still trains MMA fighters with a focus on Muay Thai.