First was Royce Gracie. I think anyone with my age would give the same answer, maybe even the younger guys from today. But for me it was Royce Gracie. He was the one who started it all, he was the one who made us turn our heads and say: ‘wow, what is going on out here?'. One guy weighing 170 pounds beating everybody. I didn't know that could happen. The style, the way that he did it, it was all brand new stuff.
While Royce was a typical jiu-jitsu master in a one-dimensional era of the sport, the next Sonnen hero was one of the people that made everybody realize the importance of really mixing the martial arts:
My next favorite was I guy named Marco Ruas. He called himself the ‘King of the Streets'. He was a very complete fighter, particularly for that time. He could do the punching and the kicking as well as the grappling. Everything evolved from there but those were the two guys. Royce was the one that got me started and Marco Ruas was who I wanted to emulate and be like. I used to call myself a ‘vale-tudo' fighter. I didn't even know what that meant, those aren't English words, but that was what Marco Ruas called himself and that was what I wanted to be for at least ten years of my career because of him.
The origin of Marco Ruas's nickname was because the word "ruas" in Portuguese means "streets".