The 11 Most Important Figures in MMA That You've Probably Never Heard of

Matt SaccaroContributor IIIAugust 28, 2011

The 11 Most Important Figures in MMA That You've Probably Never Heard of

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    The underdog story of mixed martial arts is a long and interesting one. It is filled with such characters like Royce Gracie, Chuck Liddell, and Dana White.

    However, it is also filled with unsung heroes who were just as important as the legends of the sport.

    Unfortunately, many of these men and their accomplishments have been forgotten for one reason or another.  They have become buried in the mythos of MMA history that glorifies only a few select characters.

    Who are these forgotten men and why are they so crucial to the history of mixed martial arts?

    Read and find out!

Gene Lebell

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    It is unfair that the name "Bruce Lee" is synonymous with martial arts (and more recently mixed martial arts, of which he has become known as one of the founding fathers) yet the name "Gene Lebell" elicits nothing but shrugs and awkward looks. 

    "Judo" Gene Lebell was the man who taught Bruce Lee about grappling and he even took part in the first televised proto-MMA fight in the 1960s when he fought boxer Milo Savage. 

    Lebell was therefore one of the first MMA fighters in the country since he actually participated in mixed rules fights and was one of the first martial artists to truly be well rounded.  He spread the gospel truth to many other fighters such as Bruce Lee and and kickboxing champion Benny "The Jet" Urquidez.

Gastão Gracie and Mitsuyo Maeda

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    The surname "Gracie" is recognizable but only when attached to names such as "Helio," "Royce" or "Rickson."

    Who is Gastão Gracie and why is he important?

    Gastão Gracie was the father of Carlos Gracie and a business partner of Japanese judoka Mitsuyo Maeda. 

    Had Gastão Gracie and Maeda not become acquainted, Carlos Gracie would've never learned judo (or jiu-jitsu; the terms were interchangeable then) under the skilled Japanese fighter.  Helio Gracie would've never been able to learn the art under his brother, eventually leading to the creation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. 

    Without Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the Gracie family would be naught but fruit vendors on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Rorion Gracie would never have gone to the United States and started the UFC. 

    Thus, Gastão Gracie and Mitsuyo Maeda were key figures in the creation of MMA that don't get a lot of attention from a vast percentage of fans. 

Masakatsu Funaki

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    Upon reading the title of this slide almost all readers will probably ask "who?" but Masakatsu Funaki is a figure in MMA history who should be known.

    Funaki was a legendary professional wrestler and legitimate catch wrestler in Japan. 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.

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

    In fact, he is the only man to have victories over both Shamrock brothers and Bas Rutten.

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

Pat Jordan

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    Pat Jordan is one of the most esoteric names in MMA but also one of the most important. 

    Who is he?

    In 1989, Pat Jordan wrote an article about Rorion Gracie for Playboy magazine simply titled "Bad" in which the exploits of Rorion Gracie were publicized. A full transcript of the article can be read here.  

    Without this article, Rorion Gracie would've never gained the attention of the next person on this list and the UFC would've never been formed, therefore making Pat Jordan's contribution to MMA invaluable.   

Art Davie

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    Art Davie was an advertising mogul that came up with a brilliant idea when he read about Rorion Gracie in Playboy: a tournament that would pit martial arts masters from each discipline against one another, including a representative from Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

    Davie met with Rorion and the initial stages of the UFC's (then abbreviated WOW for War of the Worlds) fruition were put into action.

    Without Pat Jordan, Art Davie would've never heard of Rorion Gracie or Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.  Without Art Davie to help pitch the idea to the pay-per-view companies there would've been no UFC or MMA. 

    But there were others involved that helped in the birth of the UFC...

Campbell McClaren and David Isaacs

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    After Davie and Gracie were turned down by every self-respecting pay-per-view company, they set their sights on the Semaphore Entertainment Group or SEG. 

    The two men who lobbied hardest for SEG to take the new, edgy content were none other than Campbell McClaren and David Isaacs.

    According to Dave Meltzer of Yahoo Sports, the two men practically ran the UFC while the original owner, who will be discussed shortly, reaped the benefits.

    These men were in part responsible for the UFC's rise, making them very important indeed. 

Robert Mayrowitz

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    Robert "Bob" Meyrowitz was the owner of SEG, which ended up owning the UFC. Even though McClaren and Isaacs were the driving forces at SEG behind the UFC, the buck stops at the top. 

    Meyrowitz was the man in charge and the UFC could not have continued without his blessing. 

Michael Abrahamson

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    Michael Abrahamson had a small but extremely meaningful contribution to MMA.  He created the name "Ultimate Fighting Championship" for the no-holds-barred promotion that was born in 1993. 

    Can you imagine another name being so successful?

Minoki Ichihara

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    Why was the Japanese Karate stylist Minoki Ichihara so important? His loss to Royce Gracie at UFC 2 helped demystify the legends that were karate black belts back before MMA became popular. 

    People thought that a black belt in "karate" was nigh invincible.  When you added that he was from Japan, it was a guarantee that Ichihara was tough to kill a man with one focused strike.

    Ichihara's crushing defeat at the hands of Gracie helped bury this myth. Even though it was Gracie who got the win, the lesson could not have been learned without Ichihara.

    In addition, let Ichihara represent all of the fall guys that Gracie needed to make himself and his art popular.

    While Gracie went out and fought, the result was practically predetermined since he knew many of the fighters he faced were in over their heads.

    Without fighters like Ichihara to beat, Gracie could have never become so popular and MMA would've never taken off like it had.

    Furthermore, Ichihara is significant to the grand scheme of the UFC's legacy in the martial arts world as a whole (i.e. disproving the effectiveness of traditional martial arts).