There are many people who come into MMA with the proper mindset or proper game plan to compete but there are others who you notice that add that little extra something.
Their style, personality, and even their appearance all have an impact with fans around the world; brawlers, wrestlers, submission specialists, and boxers all appeal to an audience in their own way. These are people who eventually become fan–favorites and their favoritism leads to legendary status along the way. The fights they compete in, the merchandise they sell, and the fans they attract, only adds on to the legacy they create for themselves.
These are the Top 10 Most Influential Figures in MMA.
Ken Shamrock is another pioneer of MMA to be included on this list, like Gracie, he was also known for submission holds. When MMA began to emerge in the early 1990’s, Shamrock was one of the premier stars and according to his half-brother Frank Shamrock, he was “untouchable” to submission holds in his prime.
Shamrock headlined and co-headlined 15 UFC events and as a result, held huge drawing power and became a household name.
Due to his drawing power, WWE CEO and co-owner Vince McMahon came calling for Shamrock in 1995 after the UFC champion felt burnt out from MMA and ultimately transitioned into professional wrestling. At the time, Shamrock was widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
However, injuries would occur and Shamrock’s MMA career never was the same again.
Since returning to MMA in 2000, Shamrock has lost 10 of his last 15 bouts, compiling a record of 27-14. It is evident the 46-year-old's skills have deteriorated but he continues to fight.
This is certainly not the Ken Shamrock that fans are familiar with, and in fact have almost feel sorry for. Hardcore MMA fans will likely think of ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’ when his name is mentioned, and erase the bad memories of what Shamrock has recently turned out to be.
Another fighter who has displayed superior wrestling skills is none other than Matt Hughes. A former UFC Welterweight Champion, Hughes is arguably the most dominant Welterweight of his era, holding victories over Georges St-Pierre, B.J Penn, Frank Trigg, and Royce Gracie and defending the Welterweight belt a record of seven times.
Hughes has dominated and punished his opponents with brutal ground and pound.
He is well known among UFC fans for his two clashes against Frank Trigg and his trilogy vs. Georges St-Pierre. He showed resiliency vs. Trigg in their rematch after being blatantly struck in the groin by his opponent, Trigg. Hughes picked him up, carrying him across the octagon, and proceeded to slam the helpless Trigg before pounding him and securing the win by rear naked choke.
It is one of the most impressive come-from-behind wins in UFC history.
The 36-year-old still competes in the UFC today and is one of the most beloved and recognized figures in MMA.
Before guys like Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz were slamming their opponents to the mat, there was Mark Coleman.
Coleman, the first UFC Heavyweight Champion, was one of the first fighters to utilize wrestling in MMA and ground-and–pound his opponents, and as a result was credited with the distinction as “The Godfather of Ground and Pound.”
Throughout his career he competed in MMA organizations UFC and Pride FC.
He would go on to have some memorable matches in Pride with fighters like Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, Fedor Emelianenko, and Antonio Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira.
In 2000, he won Pride’s Grand Prix Open Weight tournament.
Coleman will always be remembered by MMA fans as one the first Americans to become successful in MMA, dominating opponents with his strength and superior wrestling skills.
He revolutionized wrestling in MMA, where ground-and-pound was once used as a strategy and is now a regular aspect.
When you mention the name Tito Ortiz, two words come to mind: success and controversy.
Ortiz is undoubtedly one the greatest mixed martial artists of all time and perhaps the most controversial too.
"The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" has made a career out of voicing his opinion and it has helped him become a huge draw for UFC. Ortiz holds wins over some of the best fighters of all time including, Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, and Ken Shamrock.
Known for his superior wrestling skills and dominant ground-and-pound, Ortiz has gone on to become the most successful light-heavyweight champion for UFC, defending the crown five times.
More recently Ortiz has been less than impressive, going 0-4 since 2006 and has suffered from back injuries.
Now 35 years old, Ortiz plans to make a comeback in the UFC later this year but his opponent has yet to be determined.
Rumors are running rampant that his opponent could be Chuck Liddell for a third time but it is likely that Liddell will retire from UFC following a knockout loss and winning once in his past seven fights.
It is unlikely Ortiz will reclaim the light-heavy championship again but fans can’t disregard his dominance and impact in MMA
One of the most successful fighters in UFC history, Randy Couture is a legend in the sport of MMA.
He is only the second fighter in UFC history to hold two belts in two different weight classes and he is a former five-time UFC champion. Upon debuting in the UFC at the age of 36, Couture won his first four fights prior to receiving a Heavyweight title shot and from that point on, ‘The Natural’ has seen nothing but success in his career.
Couture certainly lives up to his moniker, as he is a well-rounded fighter, shows tons of heart and has stood and fought with the best fighters in the world including Chuck Liddell, Antonio Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira, and Pedro Rizzo.
He is perhaps best known for his trilogy with Chuck Liddell, where both fighters showed resilience and determination in each battle, propelling both fighters to become popular among fans.
Although Couture is on the downside of his career, at the age of 45, he always shows fans a fight to enjoy and is a legend in UFC.
Couture is living proof that age is only a number in MMA.
Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell has done it all in MMA and has beaten a list of who’s-who to break onto this list.
At one time, Liddell was the most feared striker in UFC and it’s pretty hard to argue that statement. He bulldozed through the light-heavyweight division on route to successfully defending the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship for two years. He’s squared off against Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, and Wanderlei Silva and has beaten all three of them.
Competing in both Pride FC and UFC, Liddell always was a threat to whoever stood across from him. His mentality was simple; knock out his opponents.
He was also one the first fighters to perfect the sprawl and brawl style of fighting, as he would use his wrestling skills to keep the fight on the feet. Liddell had incredible knockout power in his hands and put each opponent to sleep, earning 16 wins inside the octagon, second behind Matt Hughes with 17 wins.
While his best days are now behind him, fans certainly roar in approval every time they see or hear about Liddell, reminding the former champion how much they appreciate him.
To say Wanderlei Silva is influential in MMA is an understatement; he’s loved and praised all over the world.
The Brazilian is known for aggressive style of fighting, which consisted of knees and unorthodox striking that earned him knockout victories left and right.
Perhaps his most memorable fight is with rival Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and their two bouts in Pride FC. Both fights resulted in a knockout for Silva but each one more brutal than the other, as Silva repeatedly landed knees to the face and head of Jackson.
From there, Silva went on to capture Pride’s Middleweight Grand Prix tournament.
Silva was so dominant throughout his career, in which he had gone unbeaten for five years, picking up 14 knockouts and Pride Middleweight Championship in that time.
Although Wanderlei Silva still continues to fight in UFC, he is a former shell of what he once was.
"The Axe Murderer" will always be loved and appreciated by MMA fans for his aggressive style and willingness to fight anybody.
The outspoken UFC boss has helped turn the company upside down, once potentially bankrupt, into the premier organization of MMA.
Along with childhood friend Lorenzo Fertita, White purchased UFC when the company was seeking a buyer and soon enough Fertita and his brother Frank bought UFC for $2 million in 2001 and positioned White as president of the company.
Often very colorful at times, White knows how to deliver fights to the fans. He sets up fights between marketable fighters and promotes them with great value.
He is attentive towards the UFC fans and at the same time very passionate about the sport, considering at one time he used to be a boxing instructor.
Along with Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, he helped launch UFC into the limelight with the reality show The Ultimate Fighter.
Without his colorful personality, or even being involved with the company, it is doubtful the UFC would achieve similar success.
White might not be the traditional, well-mannered and educated businessman, but he knows how to promote the UFC and do his job his way.
There is an aura and mystique to the name of Fedor Emelianenko, arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.
The Russian fighter stormed through each fighter he’s faced,having either dominated them or showed resiliency to earn a come-from-behind victory. He beats his opponents with relative ease, scoring a KO or submission. He has been widely regarded by MMA critics and fans as the best heavyweight for the past nine years.
Competing in organizations all over the world, Emelianenko displayed his most dominant and impressive victories in Pride FC.
Emelianenko has been through some wars with some of the all-time greats in MMA, including Mirko Cro Cop, Antonio Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ Nogueria, and Kevin Randleman. Each victory more impressive than the last, he earned the reputation for being unbeatable.
In fact, he would go unbeaten for nine years.
Earlier this year, Brazilian heavyweight and BJJ specialist Fabricio Werdum shocked the MMA world by submitting Emelianenko 69 seconds into the bout via armbar.
Despite suffering only the second loss in his career, Emelianenko is still considered by many to be one of the best heavyweights in the world.
To not include Royce Gracie on this list would be like not inducting Babe Ruth into the MLB Hall of Fame.
The Brazilian is synonymous with MMA and is one of the true pioneers of the sport. He and his family introduced Gracie-Jiu-Jitsu to MMA and he holds the most submission victories in UFC history, tallying 11 from UFC 1 to UFC 4.
Back when UFC was a no-holds barred sport filled with behemoths, Gracie was atop of the UFC, compiling wins over other legends such as Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn. Fighters were much bigger and stronger than Gracie, but that made no difference once the BJJ specialist mounted and submitted them. In fact, majority of his wins came in the first round.
Gracie has retired since 2007, but the Gracie name and BJJ continues to live on through his cousin Renzo Gracie and other submission specialists in MMA today.