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Who is on your Mount Rushmore of MMA?

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It’s one of the many mythical debates MMA fans like to engage in, and I’m here to lay out who is on my Mount Rushmore of MMA.

Fedor Emelianenko before his fight with Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in 2019. Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images

Like most sports fans, MMA enthusiasts like to debate things about the sport that are pretty much impossible to quantify. Pound-for-pound lists. Who would defeat who between fighters that compete for different organizations. Who the GOAT is. And so on. Another one of those debates is who should be on the Mount Rushmore of MMA.

You can define the “Mount Rushmore” idea in a few different ways. Is it the four best fighters of all time? Is it the four individuals that were most important to the sport? Is it just your favorite four people connected to mixed martial arts?

The actual Mount Rushmore, if you’re not aware, is a national memorial in South Dakota where four American presidents have their 60-foot faces carved into the granite face of a mountain side by side. They were meant to represent the “birth, growth, development, and preservation” of the country.

Taking that literally, and applying it to MMA, would create a wildly different foursome then just the four best of all time, for example. So I’ll try to stick to the spirit of the original one when I make my list.

Beware - you are highly unlikely to agree with me, so you can list your own in the comments. Or tell me I’m dumb for the ones I picked. Either works. And no, this isn’t some lame April Fool’s Day prank. This is my actual opinion.

Here we go.

Birth - Royce Gracie

It’s pretty hard to debate this one, honestly. You could carve out Art Davie, or Rorion Gracie, but they were just the idea men behind the original eight-man tournament that became UFC 1. Royce, the smaller Gracie brother, was chosen by Rorion to represent the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu legacy of his family, and it worked. He went on to win that original tournament, along with the tourneys at UFC 2 and 4 as well. If there is any figure that you could connect to the beginnings of the sport, it would have to be Royce.

Growth - Chuck Liddell

From 2001 through to the end of 2006, no one was more important to the sport than The Iceman. Once back on PPV, audiences connected to him and he carried the promotion until it had developed enough new stars to carry the sport on their own. His feuds with Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz were legendary, and him getting old and falling off should not be held against him for what he accomplished. I was very tempted to put Mirko Cro Cop here, but the sport actually continued to grow in North America past 2007, while it fractured and basically fizzled in Japan out following the destruction of PRIDE. Couture could deserve a nod too, because he helped in the evolution of training fighters as well. But I’m going with Chuck.

Development - Dana White

People are likely going to HATE this pick, but it’s kind of hard to deny. When the Fertitta brothers bought the UFC in January 2001 for two million dollars, the sport was banned from PPV and was in an era dubbed “the dark ages”. While it took a few years to make things profitable (turning the corner just after The Ultimate Fighter 1), White was the main architect (along with Joe Silva, arguably) that built the promotion into a four-billion dollar company in less than 20 years. You can disagree with him all you want, and he can’t take sole credit for it. But to me, it’s irrefutable that Dana did more to develop the sport than any particular fighter or executive from another company.

Preservation - Fedor Emelianenko

This category is by far the toughest one to take and try to carve out a set definition (pun intended). Taken literally, would it be the guy who runs the UFC Hall of Fame? Just who the hell is that, anyway? Dana? Could it be Dave Meltzer, who is one of the foremost historians of the sport? Maybe. But I’ll take it in a different direction. I’m going with a guy that has been around for pretty much the entire modern era of the sport, and didn’t need the UFC to promote him to reach great heights. A guy with such a mythical aura that we still clamor to see him fight, long after his skills have diminished. Fedor still evokes the last gasps of PRIDE, bringing us back to a time where MMA existed on a grand scale on multiple continents. If you had to take one guy that you would “define” the sport, it would be him. If there was one fighter we could preserve in a bubble, in his prime, and unleash him to fight twice a year for the next 40 years, it would be Fedor. He’s THE guy. So his stoic face deserves to be carved into our mythical mountain.