Guest Blog Post: The Five Fighters That Made The UFC What it is Today

The Ulitmate Fighting Championship has not always been the product you see on TV today. After being founded in 1993, it has gone through waves of growth. It began with UFC 1 selling 90,000 pay-per-view buys while the event replays were made at video rental stores. In 2022, events now air on ESPN. The company’s growth was led by a handful of people including UFC president Dana White and others, but the fighters are the people that pulled on the heartstrings of fans and caused the sport to boom in popularity. Let’s take a look at five UFC fighters that helped shape the future of the organization. To avoid confusion, this list is in chronological order starting with the earliest fighters. 

1. Royce Gracie

(Getty Images) Source: Yahoo

Royce Grace became the first champion in UFC history as he came out of UFC 1 victorious. UFC 1 was a unique event and the first of its kind. In 1993, the UFC set up the event as an eight-man tournament that pitted eight martial art masters against one another. The goal was to determine what mixed martial art was the most effective in a fight. Here are the eight fighters and the style they represented: 

  • Royce Grace- Brazilian jiu-jitsu
  • Gerald Gordeau- Savate
  • Ken Shamrock- Pankration
  • Kevin Rosier- Kickboxing
  • Teila Tuli- Sumo
  • Zane Frazier- Kenpo
  • Art Jimmerson- Boxing
  • Patrick Smith- Taekwondo

With Gracie walking away victorious it completely changed the course of UFC history. His performance proved that grappling was a necessary skill for MMA while highlighting Brazilian jiu-jitsu on a national stage. Oh, and Gracie did all of this while being the smallest fighter in the tournament. Gracie’s performance was an underdog story that captivated fans. At the same time, he showed that MMA was more about skill and technique than anger and brutality. Gracie opened the world’s eye to the idea that MMA could become a legitimate sport. With him, there is a good chance that you would have never heard the term MMA. 

2. Chuck Liddell

(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) Source: UFC

If you are a long-time UFC fan, there is a good chance you are a Chuck Liddell fan. That is understandable as Liddell was the first UFC superstar. Sure, other fighters like Tito Ortiz, Frank Shamrock, and the aforementioned Grace were popular, but Liddell’s stardom jolted outside of the UFC’s initial niche audience. Liddell embodied the sport of MMA. He looked like the stereotypical tough guy as he rocked his classic mohawk that exposed the tattoo on the side of his head. You can’t forget about his classic “Iceman” fight shorts either. Liddell had a massive impact on small genres of American culture during the early 2000s. If ever you saw someone wearing an Affliction tee at that time, there is a good chance Liddell is the reason. 

Liddell’s superstardom and cultural impact were well deserved as he had one of the best three-year stretches in UFC history. From 2004 to 2006, Liddell went 6-0 and won every fight by knockout. This included a title light heavyweight title victory over Randy Couture and four title defenses. If you are anything like me, you grew up rewatching this legendary title run on YouTube as you fell in love with the UFC. 

Ultimately, Liddell helped the UFC elevate its brand. The company was struggling to find sustained success and Liddell used his star power to pull the company up as he was the company’s first bonafide pay-per-view star. 

3. Georges St. Pierre

(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC) Source: UFC

As more money began to pour into the UFC due to the success of the fighters from the previous era, like Liddell, the organization began to evolve. This evolution came in the form of young, uber-talent champions like Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva. Now, if this list was six fighters long Silva would have probably been included. I will not go in-depth, but his role in the growth of the UFC was massive. St-Pierre does slightly edge out Silva though. If you want to disagree, I would understand your point. 

St-Pierre is one of the greatest fighters of all time. I will not engage in the greatest of all-time discussions in this blog. Unlike other sports, the MMA greatest of all time debate is a tough call. At the end of the day, that comes down to preference. I will say, St-Pierre is at worst a top-three fighter in sport’s history. St-Pierre finished his career with a 26-2 record. He avenged both of those losses. Of his 26 wins, 13 came in title fights. 

What made St-Pierre special was his skill set. He was one of the first fighters to have elite skills in multiple areas of MMA. St-Pierre had elite striking, elite wrestling, and great submissions. His tremendous skill set raised the expectations for every fighter that came after him. Was St-Pierre a pay-per-view star? Of course, but his impact on the evolution of the sport was far more important. As of right now, there is a good chance that your favorite UFC champion was inspired by St-Pierre, directly or indirectly. 

4. Ronda Rousey

(Jason Da Silva/ USA TODAY Sports) Source: USA TODAY

Do you like watching women’s UFC fights? If you, you have Ronda Rousey to thank. In 2011 UFC president Dana White said that women would never fight in the UFC. Rousey changed that. In 2012, she became the first female to sign with the UFC. From there, she only continued to make history. She was named the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion making her the first female champion in UFC history. She went on to defend that championship six times while winning each fight with a finish. 

At the same time, Rousey was massively popular. As a pay-per-view headliner, Rousey was able to hit sell one million pay-per-views, twice. At the end of the day, Rousey helped pave the way for women to join the UFC while becoming one of the biggest stars in the company’s history. You can’t ask for much more.

5. Conor McGregor

(Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images) Source: Bleacher Report

I am sure you saw this one coming. Conor McGregor is certainly one of the most impactful UFC fighters of all time. There is a good chance that he is number one too. McGregor took the UFC to another level. He did this by attracting attention and getting eyes on the sport. I mean just look at how many pay-per-views McGregor has sold and how that sits amongst the UFC pay-per-view records. 

  • UFC 229: 2.40  million, 1st 
  • UFC 257: 1.60 million, tied for 2nd 
  • UFC 202: 1.60 million, tied for 2nd 
  • UFC 246: 1.35 million, 4th
  • UFC 196: 1.31 million, 5th 
  • UFC 205: 1.30 million, tied for 6th
  • UFC 194: 1.20 million, 9th 

McGregor’s massive pay-per-view numbers have helped expose more potential fans to the UFC while making the company a ridiculous amount of money. If that was not enough he boxed Floyd Mayweather in an event that pulled in 4.30 million pay-per-view buys. That is just more exposure for the UFC. 

McGregor is more than a salesman, he is a great fighter too. McGregor lit the UFC on fire upon entry. He went on a legendary seven-fight win streak that included six knockouts. This was headlined by his 13-second knockout against Jose Aldo, the number one-pound-for-pound in the world, to win the featherweight championship. After, he took part in one of the greatest rivalries of all time against Nate Diaz and he became the first simultaneous double champion as he won the lightweight belt against Eddie Alvarez. His UFC career began to unwind after that, but do not let that diminish your opinion of his initial UFC run. 

Today, McGregor’s fingerprints are still all over the UFC. He was the catalyst behind the organization’s booming growth over the last decade. Without McGregor, the UFC would still be in a great spot due to the other legends we discussed, but McGregor allowed the UFC to become the worldwide powerhouse it is today. McGregor is not even retired yet. Who knows, the Irishmen could help the UFC take yet another leap in the sports world. 


The one constant in the story of the UFC has been growth. The company has constantly evolved to a bigger and better version of itself. If you look at each of those evolutions, the names Royce Grace, Chuck Liddell, Georges St. Pierre, Ronda Rousey, and Conor McGregor served as the catalyst that pushed the sport forward. Without these fighters, the UFC would be far different and not in a good way. These five names worked together to mold the UFC into the company that you and I love. 

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