First UFC Fighters In MMA History (Top 10 Pioneers)

First UFC Fighters In MMA History (Top 10 Pioneers)

Since its inception in 1993, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has hosted over six hundred events, grossing a $2 billion brand value in 2017. 1

However, such tremendous numbers have been amassed thanks to a small body of committed spirits blazed by an inextinguishable faith in their mission to succeed in one of the hardest sports in the world.

Hall of Famer and first tournament champion in UFC history, Royce Gracie, is one of such figures, and so true is UFC Superfight Champion Ken Shamrock in this regard.

We will now consider the first UFC fighters in MMA history as the promotion nears its third decade. Without further ado, let us begin!

Top 10 UFC Pioneers (First UFC Fighters)

10. Guy Mezger

Guy Mezger with belt

Nationality: American

The streets started hearing Mezger’s name in UFC 13, but the American first appeared in the promotion’s alternate bout when Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock were the big boys in UFC 4 and 5.

He returned to the UFC with a statement lightweight tournament victory against Tito Ortiz in UFC 13.

He would become one of the first technically sound fighters in the UFC, amassing a 30-14-2 record throughout his MMA career.

9. Oleg Taktarov

oleg taktarov posing with a fierce look

Nationality: Russian

Oleg “The Russian Bear” Tatkarov was adept in sambo and judo, using his skills to dominate opponents in his early UFC and MMA days.

He competed in the promotion’s fifth event, reaching the tournament’s semifinals. He eliminated all his opponents in UFC 6 to win the event, setting a record for the fastest submission in UFC history, forcing Anthony Macias to tap out in only nine seconds.

Many will also remember Oleg for his legendary fight against Ken Shamrock that ended in a draw after thirty-three minutes in UFC 7. 2

Oleg Taktarov has changed his course, creating a niche for himself as a famous actor; his latest appearance comes in the 2022 American action comedy film, The Man from Toronto.

8. Marco Ruas

Marco Ruas BELT

Nationality: Brazilian

Marco Ruas won the UFC tournament two years after the promotion’s inception, defeating Paul Varelans in the UFC 7 finals via TKO.

Having fought in a high-profile Vale Tudo bout in 1984, Ruas also fought in the Ultimate Ultimate 1995 and UFC 21 to become one of the sport’s early figures.

7. Gary Goodridge

Gary Goodridge

Nationality: Canadian

There was something about Big Daddy — his contagious courage, raw strength, and immense confidence that guided him to the UFC 8 finals, UFC 10 semifinals, and the Ultimate Ultimate 1996 quarterfinals.

He was among the first black UFC fighters, starting his UFC career on a strong note before dwindling performances due to doctor stoppage, dehydration, and fatigue in the UFC 9, 10, and Ultimate Ultimate 1996.

He forged on fighting in the Pride Fighting Championships and K-1; little did he know that he would be diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). 3

6. Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith WITH FRAME

Nationality: American

It is with deep sadness of fond memories that early UFC fans remember Patrick Smith following his demise in June 2019 when he lost to cancer.

Smith was a brave fighter, narrowly losing to Royce Gracie in UFC 2 after setting a record for most wins in one night by a Runner-Up (three).

He also shares a record with Gracie for most fights fought in one night (four).

5. Jason DeLucia

Jason DeLucia

Nationality: American

How could we talk about UFC pioneers and forget one of the two featured in the first-ever UFC match on November 12, 1993?

Jason DeLucia became the first-ever UFC matchwinner, defeating Trent Jenkins with a submission (rear-naked choke).

He would fight no more in the UFC after another victory against Scott Baker and a loss against Royce Gracie in UFC 2 but goes down to the archives as one of the foremost UFC debutantes.

4. Mark Coleman

Mark Coleman

Nationality: American

Nicknamed “The Hammer,” you cannot help but regard Mark Coleman as one of the pioneer UFC big names.

The American starred at UFC 10 and 11, winning both tournaments before defeating Dan Severn at UFC 12 to become the first-ever Heavyweight Champion. 4

Coleman’s name would be associated with many spirited nights, including the night he won his first UFC tournament after brushing off  Gary Goodridge and Don Frye.

We can rightly deem Coleman as one of the most influential UFC pioneers, considering the UFC inducted him into the Hall of Fame Pioneer Wing in 2011.

3. Dan Severn

Dan Severn

Nationality: American

The noble stag or big bad wolf; whatever you think of Dan Severn, he is what they call him — “The Beast.”

The Beast came to the big scene, appearing in UFC 4 finals, where he lost to Royce Gracie.

He responded brilliantly in the following tournament, winning UFC 5 before another victory in Ultimate Ultimate 1995 and against Ken Shamrock in UFC 9: Shamrock vs. Severn 2 Superfight.

Severn became the first fighter to receive a UFC title belt when he won the UFC 5 tournament and remains the only Triple Crown Champion in the promotion’s history. 5

He would amass a staggering 101-19-1 record and walk into the promotion’s Hall of Fame in April 2005.

2. Ken Shamrock

Ken Shamrock

Nationality: American

The 90s boys would never forget the legendary 36-minute fight between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock in UFC 5, a contest that announced the latter to the UFC faithful.

However, Ken Shamrock has competed in the UFC since its first tournament, losing to Gracie in the semis.

Remarkably, UFC 5: Gracie vs. Shamrock 2 was the beginning for Shamrock, who would win the next tournament to become the inaugural UFC Superfight Champion.

For a decade, “The World’s Most Dangerous Man,” as Shamrock is fondly called, was an opponent one would rather not encounter in the octagon. 6

He was more than worthy of an inaugural induction into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2003 as a pioneer wing member.

1. Royce Gracie

Royce Gracie black belt

Nationality: Brazilian

Here is a name the streets will never forget: one of the most influential figures in UFC and mixed martial arts history, and most importantly, a pioneer UFC fighter.

The Brazilian competed in the UFC between 1993 and 1995, becoming the promotion’s maiden tournament champion and a three-time champion following his triumphs in UFC 2 and 4.

Unsurprisingly, he became an inaugural inductee in the UFC Hall of Fame in 2003 as a pioneer wing member.

Royce Gracie will be remembered for being more than just a promotion pioneer. Many other early names, including his first-ever UFC opponent Art “One Glove” Jimmerson, have wandered out of remembrance.

However, Gracie made history, winning eleven tournament contests, the most in the promotion’s history.

He would be tied with Patrick Smith for most fights in a single night (four) and battled Ken Shamrock in a draw-ending match that became the longest fight in UFC history after thirty-six minutes of tireless efforts to find a winner.

Lest we forget, Gracie’s opponents tapped out in ten out of eleven contests; therefore, he has the highest submissions-per-win percentage in UFC history (90.91%).

Wrap Up

UFC thrills and bangs have lasted for decades, spiced by some of the most exciting talents in combat sports. Names like Kamaru Usman, Conor MacGregor, and Anderson Silva headline recent events, resulting in thousands of pay-per-view sales. However, early fighters whose performances contributed to the promotion’s evolution and success deserve our recognition.

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Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons

References & Notes

Facts Sources:
  1. Brand value of the sports company UFC from 2014 to 2017. Statista
  2. UFC 7.
  3. The Fighter Who Stayed Too Long. MMA Fighting
  4. Mark Coleman Recalls Winning the First UFC Heavyweight Title. MMA Junkie
  5. History of the UFC Belt.
  6. 10 Years of UFC: Ken Shamrock. UFC Mag

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