Martial arts are ancient combat practices which originated from Asia and the Indian subcontinent and eventually found their way to Europe. Land disputes and feudal power struggles led to the birth of fighters whose skills and techniques could not be outmatched.
Fighters would pass on their technique down the generations until fighting styles emerged which could be taught in schools. From these schools emerged the combat systems we still practice to this day; Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, and Judo to name a few.
Mixed martial arts, which combines strikes and grapples from many of these systems, has itself not been around for very long. In fact, it was only in 1993 that UFC 1 was televised.
Within its twenty-year life span, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has seen specular fights, and generated a new league of super fighters. If you’re a fan of UFC, then you might have heard recent rumours, pitting MMA star Conner McGregor against retired boxing champion Floyd Mayweather.
Famous as they are (and rich: McGregor earned a million dollars losing to Nate Diaz), there have also been some great MMA fighters whose names might not ring a familiar bell. Here’s a list of some of the best fighters you may have never heard of.
Jason DeLucia, a beat in the rage cage
Jason was in the ring in the early days, when the UFC was still getting its footing on sports cable viewership. Royce Gracie beat DeLucia to winn UFC 2, but not by much. DeLucia was a fierce fighter and went on to fight for Pancrase and Cage Rage with wins over Matt Hume, Ikuhisa Minowa, Funaki and Yuki Kindo.
Marco Ruas, the Brazilian Rocky
He looks a little like the Brazilian Rocky Balboa, and although the full-contact Vale Tudo (anything goes) existed in Brazil since the 1920s, Marco brought his own mix to the ring cleverly called Ruas Vale Tudo. It’s submission fighting meets kickboxing. In 1995 Ruas defeated MMA (and movie) star Keith Hackney. (Hackney appeared in Thurst, Pump, Cut and Superfights) Ruas also won the UFC 7 tournament belt.
Mikhail Illoukhine, K-1GB
Mikhail was a Russian fighter, a member of Russia’s Top Team and Japan’s MMA organisation, Pride FC. If anybody ever was a super fighter, it was Mr. Illoukhine, who in his hayday achieved a staggering 36 wins, 33 of which were submissions.
Hiromitsu Kanehara, so many losses he’s a winner
Not every UFC fighter is a legendary winner. Hiromitsu actually tied Mikhail, but his record might be best described as most times on the bench (and that’s of perhaps any MMA fighter). For some reason Kanehara was paired against every big name, single name, first name star in the industry – and lost to all of them: Shogun, Reem, Cro Cop, Hughes, Hendo and more.
Masakatsu Funaki, president, promotor, client
Funaki was not afraid of anyone. He was even one of a select few MMA pros who faced off against Rickson Gracie. Of course he lost, but he gave it his best shot. Funaki was more importantly the founder of Pancrase Inc. Hybrid Wrestling, a type of predecessor to UFC. As a fighter and lover of the sport, he was also a client. During his career in the arena he won against big names like Bas Rutten, Semmy Schilt, Frank Shamrock and others.
Not every fighter on this list has won a championship title to earn their place in the MMA hall of fame. Of course that might be why they’re no longer remembered, but their contribution to the sport has been undeniable nonetheless. From resilience in the ring to laying the foundations of UFC and MMA as we know it, these fighters deserve to be remembered for their contribution to the sport.