Paul Herrera and 10 Under-the-Radar, Influential MMA Figures

Matt Saccaro@@mattsaccaroContributor IIIDecember 23, 2012

Paul Herrera and 10 Under-the-Radar, Influential MMA Figures

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    The history of MMA has figures, such as Paul Herrera, whose considerable influence on the sport has been long forgotten by the majority of fans.

    MMA's "official" history—the Zuffa narrative—has replaced them with the usual suspects like Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta and Chuck Liddell.

    But the true history of the sport has influential people most fans haven't heard of before. Who are these people and why are they so important to MMA? Read and find out!

    Please keep in mind that "influence" can't really be quantified, so the members of this list aren't "ranked" per se; they're just listed.

Mitsuyo Maeda

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    Helio Gracie is considered to be the progenitor of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But he couldn't have "created" that art without Mitsuyo Maeda. 

    Maeda was a Japanese judo standout. He toured the world spreading the art of Kodokan judo in the United States and Central America via demonstrations as well as participating in prize fights and wrestling matches.

    His travels ultimately led him to Brazil where he met a man by the name of Gastao Gracie, father of Carlos Gracie and Helio Gracie.

    The origins of BJJ came from Maeda, who taught Carlos Gracie the Japanese art. 

    Of course, at the time, Jiu-Jitsu and Judo were interchangeable terms outside of Japan. So when Carlos Gracie's younger brother Helio made some modifications to Maeda's teachings, he called it "Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu" rather than "Brazilian Judo."

Gene Lebell

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    Forget Bruce Lee—Gene Lebell was the true grandfather of MMA.

    Lebell was a fierce Judo competitor who engaged highly-touted boxer Milo Savage in the nation's first sanctioned "MMA" bout.

    He was one of the first martial artists in the modern world to be truly well-rounded, and he was responsible for teaching grappling to martial arts greats like Bruce Lee and kickboxing champ Benny "The Jet" Urquidez. 

    Currently, he trains female MMA star Ronda Rousey.

Carley Gracie

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    Rorion Gracie gets much of the credit for bringing his family's brand of martial arts to the United States—he wasn't the first to do this. 

    He was preceded by Carley Gracie, who arrived in the early 1970s to teach BJJ in America. 

    As BJJ and the "Gracie" name boomed, Rorion became less and less appreciative of his relative's efforts to teach the art. He demanded that Carley and others stop applying the "Gracie" name to their systems. This resulted in Carley and Rorion being embroiled in a lawsuit that can be read here.

    It was eventually decided that Carley was still allowed to use the Gracie name, but alas, he was still forgotten by MMA history.

Nobuhiko Takada

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    How can a guy with a 3-6-2 record in MMA be influential at all?

    It's not about his record; it's about what he did before that record. 

    Takada was a Japanese professional wrestler who was instrumental in establishing the "shoot" style of pro wrestling—a style that emphasizes realism, resembling legitimate grappling but still with the predetermined outcomes of pro wrestling—in Japan. 

    The promotion he led, Union of Wrestling Forces International (UWFI), as well as other similar promotions helped lay the groundwork for MMA to become popular. 

    Just look at the attached video. Does that resemble a real fighting contest or a gimmicky pro wrestling match?

    Japanese viewers became big fans of this style and its real-life techniques, which enable PRIDE to come along and achieve such widespread popularity.

Masakatsu Funaki

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    Masakatsu Funaki was another legendary Japanese professional wrestler who helped MMA reach its destiny in the land of the rising sun.

    But whereas Takada led an organization with predetermined matches that simply looked real, Funaki co-founded an organization that featured real matches that, generally, didn't have predetermined outcomes (although there have been some grumblings over that).

    That organization was called Pancrase (in reference to the ancient Greek form of martial arts called Pankration). At the time, Pancrase 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.

    Funaki was a two-time King of Pancrase and had notable victories over legends such as Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock, Guy Mezger and Bas Rutten.

    Funaki is one of the most important men in the history of MMA due to his preservation and cultivation of MMA in Japan as well as his illustrious fighting career that came to an end in 2008.

Pat Jordan

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    Pat Jordan wasn't a fighter, a coach, a business man who bankrolled an organization or anything like that. 

    No, Pat Jordan was a writer who wrote an article about Rorion Gracie for Playboy Magazine in 1989. 

    This article, one that detailed Gracie's exploits and martial arts style, got Gracie noticed by the next person on this list, which started the UFC's creation.

    Had Pat Jordan not written this article, the martial arts world would've been an unrecognizable today.

Art Davie

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    Art Davie was a man who worked in advertising. He came up with a stunning idea when reading about Rorion Gracie in Playboy—a tournament that put practitioners from all the world's martial arts against one another to prove which was the best. 

    Davie and Gracie met in 1992 and decided on a concept called "War of the Worlds," but it would take another individual to help make their thoughts a reality.

Robert Meyrowitz

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    Robert "Bob" Meyrowitz was the owner of the Semaphore Entertainment Group, a pay-per-view company.

    After Gracie and Davie were turned down by basically everyone, Meyrowitz and SEG took them in.

    Meyrowitz and SEG would eventually claim sole ownership of the UFC, but their initial mismanaging of the organization (particularly the way it was advertised) nearly buried it, making it the target of politicians like John McCain, who said it was "a brutal and repugnant blood sport...that should not be allowed to take place anywhere in the U.S."

    Still, Meyrowitz deserves more credit than he's given in the official narrative of the sport's history.

Campbell McClaren and David Isaacs

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    While Meyrowitz owned SEG, it was Campbell McClaren and David Isaacs who really lobbied for SEG to give the UFC a shot. 

    And, according to Dave Meltzer, formerly of Yahoo! Sports, the two men also practically ran the organization while Meyrowitz just reaped the benefits.

Paul Herrera

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    Paul Herrera is famous for getting his head bashed in at UFC 8 in only 13 seconds. 

    But Herrera has more importance to MMA than that. 

    Herrera was actually Tito Ortiz's high school wrestling coach. He was also friends with UFC fighter Tank Abott. Ortiz used Herrera to get his foot in the door of the MMA world. Ortiz became one of Tank Abbott's sparring partners and then eventually found his way to the UFC. 

    Thus, Herrera is partially responsible for bringing one of the most influential fighters in UFC/MMA history into the MMA.

Jeff Blatnick

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    Some MMA fans might have heard of Jeff Blatnick because of his duties as a commentator in the early days of the UFC. 

    However, the Olympic gold medalist wrestler did far more for the sport than just talk into a headset and microphone. MMA fans need to know this. 

    Bleacher Report's own Jonathan Snowden expressed Blatnick's importance eloquently, saying the following

    Before Blatnick, only Japanese wrestling fans were familiar with "MMA." In the rest of the world, for years, we all called cage fighting "no holds barred" or, more often than not, NHB. It was the accepted nomenclature, written in stone. Until Jeff Blatnick made it his mission to change it.

    No holds barred, he thought, presented the wrong image, drudging up primitive combat between thugs in a bar. Street fighting. The past. With cable systems and states banning the UFC right and left, that old imagery had to go.


    Blatnick was a tireless advocate for MMA with regulators and television executives all over the country. His 1984 gold medal brought with the sport no small amount of credibility. He provided the rest, speaking honestly and passionately about a sport he had come to love. The UFC had, despite their own best misinformation campaign to make the sport seem more edgy, had always had rules. Now they needed those rules to carry the blessing of state athletic commissions.

    Blatnick indeed helped the sport. He's more than what fans know him as. Of course, Blatnick's tireless efforts don't fit in the Zuffa narrative of Zuffa adding the rules to a brutal bloodsport, so what Blatnick did is forgotten by too many people.