Sergio Non has a great piece up -- one I wish I'd written. He makes a top 9 list of pro-wrestlers who have impacted MMA:
UPDATE: As a result of reader feedback right here on BloodyElbow, Sergio has added two more to his list. They're #10 and 11 above.
- Kazushi Sakuraba
UFC lightweight contender Kenny Florian last year said that if MMA had a Mt. Rushmore, Sakuraba's face should be on it. One of the sport's leading trade publications calls him "the greatest fighter in the history of MMA ... by such a wide margin that his skill level may never actually be met by another competitor for generations, if ever."
Even UFC President Dana White wanted to borrow him from Pride, back when White still believed promotions should share fighters.
Sakuraba earned that status by saving pro wrestling's reputation as a legitimate fighting style.
- Ken Shamrock
- Masakatsu Funaki
- Akira Maeda
Modern MMA arguably began when Maeda formed the Rings organization in 1991 after the collapse of his previous pro wrestling organization, the Universal Wrestling Federation. Maeda favored a pro-wrestling style called "shoot" wrestling, which emphasizes realistic-looking performances, and eventually Rings evolved into a full-fledged MMA group that groomed many fighters who later starred in Pride, K-1 Hero's and UFC.
- Dan Severn
- Kiyoshi Tamura
- Kazuyuki Fujita
- Nobuhiko Takada
- Antonio Inoki
He didn't engage in many actual fights, but he was already well on his way to becoming Japan's version of Hulk Hogan when he started a series of bouts against fighters in other disciplines, including a match-up with Muhammad Ali that was the most notable mixed martial arts fight of the 1970s. The action stunk because Inoki did nothing except kick Ali's legs and flop to his back, but nevertheless, it was a real fight that left the boxing legend's legs in the worst shape they'd ever been after a competition.
- Bob Sapp
- Satoru Sayama, aka Tiger Mask
He never fought in MMA, but he founded Shooto, the oldest continuing organization in the MMA (world). Sayama and Maeda were rivals in UWF, and their very real feud eventually led to Sayama leaving to form Shooto.
Go read the whole thing. A couple of my history of MMA pieces relate: I: UFC 1 Pancrase meets BJJ, III: More on Japan, IV: Rickson Brings Jiu Jitsu Back to Japan, VII: A New Phase in the UFC, XV: Pancrase, RINGS, and Shooto 1996, and XVII: The Lion's Den Roars.
If I can ever settle down and focus the next couple of installments will focus on PRIDE and Sakuraba's great early fights and another piece on Akira Maeda and RINGS late evolution into MMA -- the 1999 and 2000 King of Kings tournaments that arguably set the course for MMA through the first decade of the 21st Century.