Who is the most important fighter in UFC history?
Sean Covington, Columnist – Covington’s Corner
Nov 12, 1993, UFC 1; no weight classes, no rules, win by only submission, knockout or throwing in the towel. It was the hardcore nature and sheer bad-assery of the event that appealed to sports fans. The winner of that event was Royce Gracie; the name that has become synonymous with mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
In the modern era, fighters like Conor McGregor greatly benefit from social media, giving them multiple platforms and outlets to promote fights and market themselves. In a time where MMA was seen as nothing more than a fun VHS tape to pop in, Royce Gracie legitimized the sport and later elevated the game by inspiring fighters from all over. Gracie won UFC 1, 2 and 4; at UFC 5 he had a fight that ended in a draw against the only other man I would consider the most important fighter, the first Conor McGregor, Ken Shamrock.
So there you have it, it’s either Royce Gracie and after that Ken Shamrock. I could even argue that it’s Shamrock for how marketable he was in the early going of the company.
Christian Moore, MMATorch Contributor
I think when people hear this question, they’ll think who is the best fighter. So we may get some Anderson Silva, GSP, or Jon Jones answers. Or we may get Ronda Rousey who was very important to women’s MMA, but the answer is simple, and to me it’s two men. Forrest Griffin, and Stephen Bonnar. Sure, someone like Ronda influenced women’s MMA. These two men saved the UFC. Without that fight, the UFC goes bankrupt, and MMA never surges. No Ronda Rousey to help women’s MMA, no knowledge of Silva, GSP, or anyone else. The UFC doesn’t carry on, and MMA in general could’ve possibly died, so Bonnar and Griffin are the beyond obviously the most important fighters in UFC history.
Frank Hyden, Columnist – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
It’s hard to make an argument for just one, as you can make convincing arguments for several fighters. Royce Gracie for his early successes, Ken Shamrock for being the first real star in the UFC, Chuck Liddell for being the first superstar, Anderson Silva for his many legendary moments, Brock Lesnar for being the biggest draw in UFC history until Conor McGregor turned himself into the biggest draw in UFC history. Ultimately, I suppose I would go with Shamrock because even though Gracie is iconic, I think Shamrock is the guy most fans would think of first when they think of the UFC’s early days. Gracie was obviously great but I think Shamrock was more well-known.
Michael Hiscoe, MMATorch Managing Editor
In order to answer this question effectively, we need to define “important.” To me, important means more than just “good” or “successful.” I would equate importance with someone who is irreplaceable. Which UFC fighter would be impossible to replace and replicate his or her personal success and what they brought to the promotion and the sport. Royce Gracie is important because he taught audiences that a fighter doesn’t necessarily look like what everyone thought a fighter would look like. He also taught us what techniques were most effective in a real fight at that time. But Gracie could have been replaced by one of his brothers and history would have played out nearly the same. Royce was the right choice for the early UFC’s due to his unassuming physique and demeanor, but you could argue he was replaceable.
Brock Lesnar is also very important. He brought over an audience of pro-wrestling fans who hadn’t bought UFC events before and exposed them to the product for the first time and creating many long-time fans. Conor McGregor is also important for maintaining many of those fans and bringing the ceiling for how much a UFC event can make to new heights.
But the person who I think is the most important and irreplaceable fighter in UFC history is Ronda Rousey. Like Lesnar, Rousey created a new set of fans who hadn’t purchased a UFC event before. She also gave UFC a level on mainstream credibility that they were unable to break through to before she came along. Yes, Gina Carano did predate her and UFC could have opened up women’s MMA with her, but her in-cage success would not have come close to what Rousey was able to achieve in a short period of time.
Rousey’s success transcended her sport and through 2013-2015, Rousey was a cultural icon, and as Joe Rogan once said, her fights were more than just fights, they were cultural events. Rousey’s success in UFC inspired WWE to look at how they utilize female performers on their programming. She influenced WWE so much that they actively recruited her to appear on their shows while she was at her fighting peak, and now that her fighting days are over, she is a regular performer on WWE TV.
For all of these reasons, Ronda Rousey is the most important fighter in UFC history.
Cole Henry, Live Event Reports
I would say the options are Royce Gracie, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor. Royce Gracie was the first superman, and let’s be honest, if a guy named Tom with a background in Ninjutsu, or Aikido who just so happened to train out of Mobile, Alabama had won the first UFC, it’s possible the sport never would have taken off. But Gracie won, and sparked the interest of a lot of people and the rest is history. For that reason, I am picking Royce Gracie, because without him I am not sure we would have the others. Now McGregor is hugely important in a different but similar way. He didn’t establish the sport, but he did bring in a lot of viewers that otherwise weren’t watching, and he changed the game when it came to his self-promotional skills and his ability to cash in. But still without Gracie who knows if Conor McGregor would even be on our radars.