Our sport is young, but already we have seen legends rise and fall, men whose abilities and accomplishments left an indelible impression on martial arts, combat sports, and popular culture. For this reason we are proud to announce the creation of the FIGHT! Magazine Hall of Fame.
The criteria for inclusion are as follows: Fighters must have had at least 20 verifiable professional fights, must be at least 35 years of age, and must have an exemplary body of work and a quantifi able impact on the sport up to their nomination.
Fighters may still be nominated while active, but there are no automatic elections based on achievement (i.e.; winning a championship belt does not necessarily qualify someone for nomination). Exceptions to the above will be made for promoters, managers, media persons, and announcers starting in 2010. A nominee must receive a nod from 75% of the voting body to be elected to the FIGHT! Magazine Hall of Fame.
Spirited discussion among a select group of MMA journalists led to a long list of candidates for our inaugural Hall of Fame, but only four of them received the votes needed to join the prestigious first class. It’s no coincidence that fights between members of this first class represent some of mixed martial arts’ early defining moments. Congratulations to Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Bas Rutten, and Kazushi Sakuraba, living legends and members of the inaugural FIGHT! Magazine Hall of Fame.
14-3-3 UFC 1 Tournament Winner UFC 2 Tournament Winner UFC 4 Tournament Winner
Royce Gracie looked serious when he walked into McNichols Sports Arena in Denver on November 12, 1993, but few, if any, observers knew the weight he toted into that Octagon. With his family’s pride and decades-long legacy slung over his shoulder, the young Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player carried the Gracie name to international acclaim over the course of three bare-knuckle fights at the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, changing the way people thought about self-defense and laying the groundwork for a new sport in the process.
The Gracies, long known in Brazil for making open-weight, no-rules challenges to fighters of all stripes, came to America looking to generate buzz for their brand of grappling. The UFC was a marketing tool, vale tudo for the Yankee audience, and it worked. Americans were thrilled and horrifi ed by this slender man in a gi as he torqued and submitted opponents in the first UFC, and then the second, and was on his way to doing so in the third before dehydration and injury forced his family to throw in the towel.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became a craze, like karate and tae kwon do before it, and Gracie returned to win UFC 4. He fought emerging American star Ken Shamrock to a 35-minute draw at UFC 5 and did not fight in a mixed martial arts-rules match again until 2000, when he returned for a string of fights in PRIDE (including his 90-minute classic with Kazushi Sakuraba), K-1, and the UFC.
He never again enjoyed the success that he did between 1993 and 1995, but Royce Gracie’s place atop the pantheon of MMA greats was secure. Through him, Gracie Jiu- Jitsu changed the way the world thought about fighting in the ring, the cage, and on the street.
27-13-2 First King of Pancrase First UFC Superfight Champion
Greatness isn’t found in quick success but in the struggle against great odds. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was built on the shoulders of Royce Gracie, but there was no gripping drama until he fought Ken Shamrock to a draw.
Shamrock, born Kenneth Wayne Kilpatrick, was already seasoned in Pancrase, but was beaten quickly by Gracie at UFC 1. Convinced that his catch wrestling could solve the problems posed by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Shamrock returned to fight in UFC 3 but left the arena when he found out that Gracie had thrown in the towel before his second fight of the night. Shamrock wanted nothing but to avenge his loss, and he got his chance at UFC 5 in 1995.
The then-King of Pancrase faced off against Gracie — the threetime UFC tournament winner — and while he beat the smaller man badly, neither was able to finish the fight and the 35-minute contest was declared a draw according to UFC rules at the time. Shamrock won the UFC Superfight Championship against Dan Severn at UFC 6 and held it until losing to Severn at UFC 9, all while winning virtually every one of his matches in Pancrase.
Shamrock left the sport after Ultimate Ultimate 1996 and worked as a professional wrestler for the next 4 years. The exposure made “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” the first crossover pop culture star in “no holds barred” fighting, permanently linking Shamrock with the UFC in the public’s imagination.
The fighter returned to active competition in 2000, fighting for PRIDE, the UFC, and regional promotions. Even when it was clear that his best days were behind him, Shamrock’s second and third losses to Tito Ortiz in 2006 scored huge PPV buy rates and television ratings, proving that even a decade later, MMA fans wanted to see Shamrock do his thing.
28-4-1 Three Time King of Pancrase UFC Heavyweight Champion
Many mixed martial arts fans have no memory of Bas Rutten’s fighting career. They know him only as the English-language color commentator for PRIDE, the trainer and instructional video pitchman, and the ambassador of the sport smiling from the set of Inside MMA. But the retired Bas is an aftershock, meaningless outside of the context of his fighting career.
Rutten was already an experienced and successful Thai boxer by the time he traveled to Japan to compete on the inaugural Pancrase hybrid-wrestling card. Staged a full two months before the fi rst Ultimate Fighting Championship, Pancrase was filled with fighters already well-versed in submission wrestling. Rutten was immediately successful but realized that his grappling needed to improve if he was to thrive in this emerging combat sport.
He fought 29 times in the next 4 years, squaring off against the likes of Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock, Guy Metzger, Masakatsu Funaki, and Maurice Smith, adding fearsome submissions to his already devastating Dutch-style Muay Thai and becoming one of the first true mixed martial artists in the process.
The reigning King of Pancrase and a bona fide star in Japan, Rutten fought only once in 1998 before traveling to America to fight in the UFC. After a victory at UFC 18, Rutten defeated Kevin Randleman at UFC 20 to secure the vacant Heavyweight title. Unfortunately, the fighter was injured while training for his next UFC appearance and didn’t fight again until 2006, a TKO victory against an overmatched Ruben Villareal.
It’s impossible to know what Rutten could have accomplished in the United States had he not been injured, but Rutten’s continued popularity and influence is a testimony to his skill and innovation as a fighter.
24-12-1 Defeated 4 Gracie’s UFC Ultimate Japan Tournament Winner
With just one major title to his name (he defeated Marcus Silveira to win UFC Ultimate Japan), Sakuraba’s legacy isn’t preserved in a trophy case or neatly summarized in print. But no discussion of mixed martial arts greats gets very far before talk turns to him.
A decorated grappler at the university level, Sakuraba performed as a professional wrestler after graduation, learning the arcane tricks of catch wrestling along the way. When the popularity of Japanese pro wrestling fl agged in 1996, Sakuraba made the jump to submission fi ghting. He won UFC’s Ultimate Japan in 1997, joined PRIDE a year later, and began taking out some of the top fighters in the world.
His resume boasts wins over Carlos Newton, Vitor Belfort, Guy Mezger, Quinton Jackson, Ken Shamrock, Kevin Randleman, and Masakatsu Funa
ki when each man outweighed him by 20 pounds or more. It includes losses to Ricardo Arona, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, and Melvin Manhoef, during which Sakuraba took such savage beatings that observers worried about his long-term health. But as great as these battles were, Sakuraba’s defining fight was the second of his four victories over members of the Gracie family.
Sakuraba became a target for the entire family when he defeated Royler Gracie in a controversial 1999 fi ght. Royce Gracie entered the 2000 PRIDE Grand Prix in the hopes of avenging Royler’s loss, and the Gracie’s arranged for special rules if the fight were to happen. Sakuraba nearly submitted, and was nearly submitted by Gracie that night, but after 90 minutes of accumulated damage and having the vaunted Gracie ground game stymied by Sakuraba’s catch wrestling, Royce’s brother Rorion threw in the towel.
More than wins and losses, Sakuraba represents the fearless will to fight and the martial spirit of a nation. Battered but smiling, Kazushi Sakuraba is the face of Japanese mixed martial arts.