Twenty years ago this week the UFC made its debut from the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado. Eight quarterfinalists and two alternates stepped into an Octagon to test their martial skills against all comers.
Karate masters, kung fu artists and judoka matched wills with jiu-jitsu players, wrestlers and street fighters. Called human cockfighting by critics, it was compelling from the jump.
The winner—a skinny grappler who just happened to be the promoter's brother—became the sport's most iconic fighter. Royce Gracie, who went on to win three of the first four tournaments, was the UFC's first great fighter.
He wouldn't be its last.
Every fighter who competes in mixed martial arts has guts aplenty. The best also have the brains, talent and artistry necessary to outlast even the fiercest opponent.
In the course of 252 UFC events, thousands of men (and a handful of women) have stepped into the cage. These are the 20 most important. Disagree? Let us know in the comments.