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5 Most Significant Champs in MMA History
Posted on Thu, Dec 9, 2010 at 8:52 am
by IDMA Editor

Since the inception of ultimate fighting, the sport has adored many gifted and talented fighting champions. Beginning with Royce Gracie's three championships during the advent of the UFC which revolutionized the sport of mixed martial arts and brought Brazilian jiu-jitsu to North America.

Following Royce's term as champion, Mark Coleman introduced the effectiveness of wrestling within the Octagon as he became the UFC's first heavyweight champion at UFC 12 in 1997.

Stylistically a polar opposite to Mark Coleman, Maurice Smith claimed the heavyweight title from the Hammer with a jaw rattling head kick at UFC 14 in 1997 proving the effectiveness of kick boxing within the cage.

Over the years, champions have come and gone. Few have been able to defend their titles with longevity and continually adapt their game to take on up and coming hungry fighters.

Of all the champions within the various promotions of mixed martial arts, I believe the following have had the greatest impact on the sport during their championship reigns.

A fighter's global influence, impact within the media, business, sales and marketing as well as effectiveness in defending their championship and overall elevation of the sport of mixed martial arts were the factors I used in determining who made my list and their placement within the ranks.

There is one notable exclusion, that being Brock Lesnar. Brock earned the UFC's heavyweight championship after his destruction of Frank Mir at UFC 100 in July of 2009.

He has had significant impact within the sport elevating ticket sales and setting pay-per-view buy records (please refer to my article, "Brock Lesnar's Financial Impact on the UFC," in which I discuss in detail the profitability of Brock as champion).

Whereas Lesnar has had a global influence financially, his long term success as champion was never solidified. Therefore, he did not make my list.

The following is my list of the 5 most influential and significant champions of mixed martial arts history based on the criteria I have established.

Photo of George St. Pierre - by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

UFC Welterweight Champion, Georges St. Pierre

The No. 1 welterweight in the world and the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter by, Georges "Rush" St. Pierre is my unanimous choice as the most influential and significant mixed martial artist on the planet.

A Quebec, Canada native, GSP's presence is not only confined to the United States, but his legendary status is equaled in his home country of Canada. A two time Canadian athlete of the year, Georges popularity within the Canadian borders as a sports icon rivals that of Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby.

A two-time UFC welterweight champion with four successful title defenses, GSP's overall MMA record is 20-2. The events in which Georges headlines have a significant pay-per-view buy record as well as very impressive gate sales. GSP's earning potential is a tremendous value to the UFC and the mixed martial arts community in general.

Honored with Fighter of the Year accolades in 2008 and 2009 by various publications, Georges balanced fight game has stifled number one contenders for years.

"Rush" has the ability to defend his championship by beating his opponents at their own game. Winning the ground game against fighters with prolific wrestling background, i.e. John Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Sean Sherk, or winning in the stand up game against fighters whose strength is on their feet, i.e. Dan Hardy and Thiago Alves, GSP continues to dominate and successfully defend his welterweight championship.

Regardless of the fighting style matched up against GSP, his amazing fighting ability has ensured victories against the world's best welterweights.

Outside of the Octagon, Georges reach is global. The first mixed martial artist to be signed to a lucrative, Forbes 50 corporate contract, GSP is a spokesman for both Under Armour clothing and Gatorade.

Additionally, St. Pierre's charm and charisma will be on display in a commercial for ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Starring in this commercial will enhance Georges presence as a worldwide phenomenon as well as lending credibility to the sport of mixed martial arts and significantly enhances the UFC brand.

Georges "Rush" St. Pierre is not only the No. 1 welterweight on the planet and the No. 2 pound for pound fighter, his performance within the octagon has created the GSP brand. His brand reaches millions of homes worldwide with his endorsement deals with heavy hitters within the corporate world including Under Armour and Gatorade.

Additionally, his humble attitude and overwhelming charisma have enabled Georges to air in various television and media outlets.

All combined, Georges St. Pierre is without a doubt the most influential and significant mixed martial artist in the world today and my No. 1 pick on this list.

Photo of Randy Couture by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Former UFC Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight Champion, Randy Couture

At 47 years old, Randy Couture has competed in mixed martial arts for nearly 14 years. A highly decorated collegiate and Olympic wrestler, Randy's Greco-Roman background is his foundation of talent within the octagon.

The first fighter to hold championships within two weight classes, "The Natural" has been a formidable threat within the UFC's heavyweight and light heavyweight division for nearly a decade.

A three-time heavyweight champion, a two-time light heavyweight champion, a UFC tournament winner and a Hall of Fame fighter, Randy Couture's resume within the Octagon speaks for itself.

In addition to these amazing accolades, Couture also possesses the most championship reigns in UFC history with six, most championship fights in UFC history with 15 as well as numerous fight and fighter of the year awards.

Outside of the Octagon, Randy Couture's global mystique enabled a smooth transition onto the big screen. With film and television credits dating back to 2003, Randy's UFC dominance has made him a worldwide sensation for millions of adoring fans.

Randy Couture's trilogy of fights versus Chuck Liddell were monumental in drawing millions of new fans to the sport of mixed martial arts. In addition to capitalizing on enhancing the sport's popularity, the combination of Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell earned millions of dollars for the UFC in pay-per-view buys, ticket sales, merchandise as well as launching the UFC into American homes.

"The Natural's" success in the octagon spawned a variety of business opportunities for Randy. One such endeavor with a global impact is the licensing of the Xtreme Couture clothing line and fighting facilities.

Xtreme Couture clothing is sold worldwide and is one of the most popular MMA branded clothing lines. Additionally, his direct involvement with the advent of Xtreme Couture training facilities opened up the opportunity for millions of new fighters to be engaged in the sport.

Randy "The Natural" Couture, along with Chuck Liddell, are the pre-eminent names in the sport of mixed martial arts. The combination of these two fighter's success was the pivotal stage in America welcoming the UFC into their homes.

Individually, Randy's success and subsequent business ventures makes Randy's impact and influence worthy of being No. 2 on this list.

Photo of Fedor Emelianenko

Heavyweight Legend, Fedor Emelianenko

Emelianenko had been widely considered the best heavyweight fighter in the world for the last seven years. As of October 27, 2010, ranks him as the No. 4 fighter in the heavyweight division.

He holds the distinction of having held five separate major championships including the Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight crown, a title he never lost.

Many analysts, as well as former and current fighters, consider Emelianenko to be the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

Until tapping to Fabricio Werdum on June 26, 2010 from a triangle choke, Fedor was considered undefeated with a 32-2 MMA record. The only previous loss of his career occurred after he had been illegally injured and subsequently eliminated from a tournament.

With victories over the biggest names in MMA history including Andre Arlovski, Mirko Crocop, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mark Coleman, "The Last Emperor's" methodical and precision striking has dominated every opponent who has stepped foot in the ring.

A world champion judo and sambo specialist, Fedor's fight game is solid on his fight and on the ground. Deceptive in his appearance at just 6'0'' tall and 229 pounds, with a less than intimidating frame, Emelianenko's explosive striking and power has been to much for any opponent, outside of Werdum, to overcome.

So how does the arguably best fighter on the planet not be No. 1 on this list? That answer lies in the global marketability of Fedor Emelianenko. First, his management team, Red Devil Fight Club, has had combative discussions with Dana White and the UFC.

Because the two entities do not see eye to eye, Fedor has never fought for the UFC. The UFC is the top-ranked promotion in mixed martial arts worldwide and Fedor's absence from the UFC roster limits his exposure to the everyday fan.

Sure, Fedor Emelianenko is known to purists as the top fighter on the planet. But without a Hollywood appeal or television appearances here within the United States, "The Last Emperor's" media outlets are limited thus prohibiting the Fedor Emelianenko brand within the States.

His disagreements with Dana White and the UFC not only limit his marketability in America, but Fedor's choice of opponents is also diluted. The top heavyweights in MMA are all signed to UFC contracts including Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and the current UFC heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez.

If Fedor Emelianenko continues to hold out from signing with the UFC, he will not face the top rated opponents and subsequently will diminish his value. "To be the best, you have to beat the best," as Ric Flair used to eloquently state. Therefore, the world's best fighter and most destructive force needs to become a part of the UFC roster for his legendary status to maintain past 2011.

Photo of Chuck Liddell

Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Chuck Liddell

Not enough can be said about "The Iceman" Chuck Liddell and his impact on MMA and more specifically, the UFC.

A collegiate wrestler and long term kempo practitioner, Liddell's thunderous strikes have knocked out many opponents over his illustrious career.

Possessing a 21-8 MMA record, Chuck was crowned the UFC light heavyweight champion at UFC 52 after a vicious knockout of fellow hall of fame fighter, Randy Couture.

Defending his title successfully on four separate occasions, "The Iceman" dominated the light heavyweight division for almost two years.

A long standing rivalry with former training partner and friend Tito Ortiz laid the foundation for an epic duo of battles within the octagon. Knocking out Tito in both fights, the world gravitated towards their hatred of one another and millions of new UFC fans were born. Their saga produced some of the highest pay-per-view buy records in UFC history.

Besides Chuck and Tito's rivalry, Liddell has decisive victories over some of the biggest names in mixed martial arts history including Vitor Belfort, Jeremy Horn and Wanderlei Silva.

Along with Randy Couture, Chuck is the entity that brought mixed martial arts to millions of homes in America.

Outside of the octagon, "The Iceman's" charisma and global presence transitioned to Hollywood. Acting in a variety of films including "Blade: The Series" as well as HBO's "Entourage," Chuck Liddell is a household name here in the United States and is synonymous with the sport of mixed martial arts.

His worldwide impact on the sport is priceless. Tremendous revenue earned by the UFC for pay-per-view, gate and merchandise sales as well as global exposure are all a result of Liddell's hall of fame career within the octagon.

He is truly an ultimate fighting phenomenon influencing not only the sport of mixed martial arts, but the residual business and entertainment avenues spawned from his success.

Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell is a deserving choice at No. 4 on my list of most influential and significant champions of mixed martial arts history.

Photo of Anderson Silva

UFC Middleweight Champion, Anderson Silva

The pound-for-pound top fighter in the world by, Anderson "The Spider" Silva has dominated the UFC middleweight division since he won the title in 2006 at UFC 64.

With an undefeated UFC record and all overall 27-4 MMA record, "The Spider" has been injecting fear into the hearts of his opponents through his unorthodox, yet highly effective, striking since 2000.

With 13 consecutive wins, Silva holds the longest winning streak in the UFC. Defeating high-caliber fighters including Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Forrest Griffin, Anderson also holds the record for most consecutive title defenses in UFC history with seven.

The recipient of Nnumerous Knockout of the Night, Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night awards, "The Spider's" fight game is extremely dynamic and until recently with a comeback victory over wrestling sensation, Chael Sonnen, was not tested in the octagon.

Every fight fan knows the name Anderson Silva. The path of destruction he has laid is undeniable. He is truly the most decorated middleweight champion in UFC history.

His championship reign lacks global impact, however. Whereas Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Bas Rutten have parlayed their octagon success into film careers which reaches millions of new fans, Silva's Hollywood appeal has not been realized.

Additionally, Anderson's lackluster approach to his recent title defenses have many experts wondering if Silva remains motivated and focused on his MMA career. This change in his fighting style has alienated many fans and has left the UFC management questioning his heart and drive to compete.

Because of Silva's lack of global appeal as well as his change to the ordinary in his fighting technique, I did not place him higher on this list.

However, even though he does not possess the worldwide exposure of other fellow fighters, he is still known globally as a destructive force within the cage and is rightfully the No. 5 most influential fighter in MMA history.

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