In this series of blog articles, I will adress the most important fighters in the history of mixed martial arts fighting. I am doing this in response to another blogs attempt to tackle the same issue. I was disgusted at many of his picks and instead of just complain I will instead show my picks and reasons behind them.
Let me begin by saying that I believe that all fighters are important relative to the era they compete and the other fighters in that era. Certain fighters make others great. As an example, without the greatness of Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop, how would we know that Fedor had a better 2000's than Dan Severn, who won far more mathches?
Helio Gracie and Kimura
Helio Gracie was a frail man. He was never more than 165 pounds soaking wet. According to conventional wisedom, he would be crushed if he fought another man. But time after time, he destroyed the limbs of his adversaries and choked them into unconsciousness. He showed that technique, in the hands of a real technitian could overcome power. He also made fighting a popular event to watch, especially famous matches between himself and Japans greatest grapplers. Chief among the Mas Kimura. This fued between Japanese grapplers and BJJ and the Gracies would lead to some of the most important moments later on in MMA, as well as showing that MMA could be profitable as a spectator sport.
Catch wrestling was a great sport. It was competitive and the matches were exciting. But it was undergoing drastic changes, and was becoming infested by character feuds and "works", or fixed matches. It was changing, and was appealing to a broader audience who wanted action, not necessarily real competition. It appeared that people no longer cared about who the real greatest combatant on the earth was. Until a man named Antionio Inoki from Japan with a huge chin and great talent at catch wrestling decided to declare himself the greatest in the world. He invited the other greats, like Russian Judo legends and Karate champions to challenge for his title, and almost always won. Whether these matches were "works" or "shoots" (real matches) is still in question, but that is not the issue that matters here. He proved that people wanted to see who the best fighter in the world was, no matter what syle or nation, under a set of fixed rules. And more than this they were willing to pay big money to see this. His highest point was also probably his lowest, when he fought Muhhamed Ali under a set of draconian rules that crippled his ability to fight and resaulted in a very boring match. However, people paid to see this clash of styles, and hungered for more of it.
Nobuhiko Takada, Yoji Anjo, and Masakatsu Funaki
These men, or at least the first two, may seem at first to not have had much of an impact on the sport of MMA. Upon closer examination however, there is more to be revealed. Pro Wrestling in Japan was struggling, and needed a boost. It's greatest champions decided that they needed to prove that they were among the best in the world if their product was to remain marketable. So they challenged the greatest fighter in the world at the time, and arguable the greatest of all time, Rickson Gracie to fight one of them in a worked match in Japanese Pro Wrestling, but Rickson refused. So Yoji Anjo, drawing on the drama of Helio vs Kimura, decided that he would be the next Japanese grappler to defeat a Gracie and hoped on a plane to challenge Rickson. Anjo invaded his gym with a Japanese film crew and challenged Rickson to a shoot fight, which Rickson accepted. Anjo probably wishes he hadn't, as Rickson beat him mercilessly into a bloody pulp. The pro wrestlers then did what would later become a Gracie staple, send another to challenge the fighter that the first had lost to. They challenged Rickson to fight Takada, an extremely popular pro wrestler in Japan, in a new event called PRIDE for a reported sum of 1 million dollars. Rickson accepted, and this time chose that instead of demolishing his opponent with striking to simply submit him and show that he had no buisness fighting him. A rematch went the same way. Then they sent yet another, this time Mas Funaki, the most accomplished shoot fighter of the crew. He was also struck down by Rickson, though he did fare better than the others. The Gracie and BJJ era was in full swing, and it appeared that it couldn't be stopped, either on the ground or standing. And the world was in awe of this talent and was transfixed by this almost mythic family of champions, of whom none of the current generation had ever lost in MMA or NHB, including Rickson, Royce, Royler, Renzo, Ralph, Ryan ext. They seemed unbeatable, and fans loved to watch them, love them or hate them. But BJJ's aura of invincibility was about to shatter, courtesy of an Ice Cold wind from the north and an old rival. And the fans couldn't get enough of it.
Next time, Part II: The Fall of BJJ