clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Leading Up to Brock Lesnar: The Four Professional Wrestlers Who Made the UFC

via <a href=""></a>

Brock Lesnar exploded like a super nova, quickly becoming the UFC's biggest star with his combination of charismatic presence, brutal fighting style, and immense size. Star quality is an intangible you can't teach or even predict-you just know it when you see it. Lesnar has it in spades. In the WWE, he went from his undercard debut to winning the world title from the Rock in a matter of months. 

There was something special about the mammoth Minnesota mauler, something that translated immediately to the Octagon. But Lesnar wasn't the first professional wrestler to create a stir in MMA, or even in the UFC. Wrestlers were involved in some of the sport's most amazing moments, long before Lesnar ever thought about laying the smackdown in cage.

From the very first fight in the Octagon, when Dutch pro wrestler Gerard Gordeau kicked Teila Tuili's teeth across press row, professional wrestlers made the engine of the UFC run. After focusing for the first two shows on determining which was the top martial art in a reality combat situation (spoiler alert, it was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) Semaphore Entertainment Group realized what Vince McMahon already knew: personalities sell. Four men stood above their contemporaries as the most entertaining fighters of the UFC's formative years. 

Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Don Frye, and Tank Abbott were among the top fighters of their era, but saw their MMA careers cut short when the all mighty dollar helped big time wrestling lure them away from the Octagon. The UFC was under intense pressure from politicians and cable companies at the time, struggling to make ends meet. Today the UFC takes home tens of millions a month-and fighters still aren't getting rich for the most part. Imagine how tight money was in an era that saw the UFC fall off of PPV? Pro wrestling, in the same era, was at an all-time peak and had plenty of money to toss at these real life warriors. At Cageside Seats I look at these four titans of the sport, including the top draw of the SEG era UFC.

Before Lesnar, Liddell, and Georges St. Pierre, Ken Shamrock was the biggest star in UFC history. Shamrock was a veteran of the independent scene, wrestling in the southeast with future stars like Dean Malenko and The Nasty Boys, but it was his experience with the Japanese "Shootstyle" promotions that led him into MMA. Shamrock's Adonis like physique and quiet confidence made him a comfortable presence in a new sport that in every other way was flipping combat sports upside down.

It wasn't until Shamrock's return from a stint in McMahon's WWF that he really amped his promotional efforts up to eleven. This new Shamrock engaged in some amazing prefight histrionics with Don Frye and Tito Ortiz and helped revolutionize MMA a second time in the Zuffa era.

Today the tables have turned. Wrestling is struggling and many of its stars are bailing out for bigger opportunities in the cage. But in the pioneer era, our favorite fighters had to stop working on their standup to concentrate instead on their vaudeville. Check out Cageside Seats for a couple of classic matches and Tank Abbott in a wacky skit.