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The Eras of MMA (Part 1: The Pioneers, 1993-1999)

When Joe Rogan declared the beginning of “the Machida Era” at UFC 98, the Dragon became just the latest in a string of dominant fighters who have defined MMA and its development with their unique styles. In this sport, there always seems to be one or two guys who are way ahead of the pack, just waiting for everybody else to catch up. So we decided to go back and recreate MMA’s historical timeline by “era” — starting with you know who…

The Royce Gracie Era: November ‘93 – April ‘95

If the first UFC events were “infomercials for Gracie Jiu Jitsu,” then Royce Gracie was the mothafuckin’ Slap Chop. Among all the dojo theorists and tough guys of dubious origin in the brackets at UFC 1-4, Royce was the only one who knew how to finish a fight in the real world, thanks to the grappling system his family had been honing for decades. And when martial arts enthusiasts saw the nondescript gi-clad fighter control opponents from his back and submit them with an arsenal of choke-holds and arm-locks, it was love at first sight.

Famously, the 170-pounder was chosen over his older, larger, and more intimidating-looking brother Rickson to represent the Gracie family in the UFC because Royce’s success would prove that a smaller man could beat larger ones through proper technique. Though Royce would take a five-year break from competition after his tedious 36-minute draw against Ken Shamrock at UFC 5, he’d fulfilled his objective by then: America had learned the Gracie name, and the BJJ phenomenon had officially begun.

The Dan Severn Era: April ‘95 – May ‘96

Standing 6’2”, weighing a stout 250 pounds, and sporting a ferocious mustache, Dan Severn was the UFC’s original big scary wrestler — the forefather of all the Brock Lesnars and Ryan Baders of the world. Though his first attempt to win a UFC tournament got derailed by a Royce Gracie triangle choke at UFC 4, the two-time All-American wrestler returned four months later to sweep the eight-man bracket at UFC 5. Severn went on to win the Ultimate Ultimate 1995 tourney, avenged an earlier loss to Ken Shamrock at UFC 9, and fought 100 more times after that. (Seriously, the guy just picked up his 88th career win last month.)

The Beast proved that you didn’t need to be a jiu-jitsu master to own people on the ground. His gameplan was simple but effective: 1) Take your opponent down. 2) Wrap your arm around his neck. 3) Get your hand raised by Big John. Strikers were immediately taken out of their element, and other grapplers were simply unable to deal with his size and power. Finally, America had its own Ultimate Fighting hero. But a new breed of wrestler would dethrone him before long…

The Mark Coleman and Mark Kerr Era: July ‘96 – October ‘97

Just like Dan Severn, Coleman and Kerr were highly decorated amateur wrestlers. But when they entered no-holds-barred competitions, they realized that getting on top of an opponent and punching (or head-butting) him into unconsciousness was often a lot more effective than struggling for a neck crank or keylock. The two Marks — whose friendship is chronicled in the essential 2002 documentary The Smashing Machine — were the true Godfathers of Ground and Pound.

Coleman came on the scene first, sweeping an eight-man bracket at UFC 10 that included Gary Goodridge and Don Frye, then another eight-man field at UFC 11, and finished his UFC blitzkrieg by submitting former top-dog Dan Severn at UFC 12, becoming the UFC’s first official heavyweight champion. Kerr took the baton from Coleman by smashing his way through the heavyweight tournaments at UFC 14 and 15 — where his average fight time was 1:18 — then moving to PRIDE where he went 5-0 with one no-contest in his first six fights. In the end, the only thing that could stop The Specimen was himself.

The Frank Shamrock Era: November ‘97 – September ‘99

Frank Shamrock was the first modern mixed martial artist. After learning submission grappling from his adopted brother Ken and spending two years competing in Pancrase, Frank developed his wrestling and striking to the point where he could be dangerous in all positions, at all times. He was a tremendous athlete who knew how to wield his body as a weapon, and a master strategist with a savant-like understanding of combat styles. The man could do it all.

The UFC brought Shamrock on in late 1997 following his legendary battle with Enson Inoue, and he needed just 16 seconds to catch Kevin Jackson in an armbar at Ultimate Japan and become the UFC’s first light-heavyweight champion. He would defend his title four more times — against Igor Zinoviev, Jeremy Horn, John Lober, and Tito Ortiz — before retiring from the Octagon, undefeated. And even to this day, “the Legend” still knows how to put on a show.

In the next installment: The Gracie Hunter, the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, the Axe Murderer, the Iceman, and the Country Breakfast.

Cagepotato Comments

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CanadianGreaser- June 6, 2009 at 3:40 pm
A prime Hammer would have murdered Shogun. Even Fedor couldn't stop the Hammer's take downs.

I just wish that Coleman would have been with a real camp throughout his career, not a porch with a punching bag called hammer house.
Da Truth- June 6, 2009 at 3:51 am
How can You put Baders name in the same sentence as Dan The Beast's?! criminal.
sPeLLcHeCkEr- June 5, 2009 at 9:39 pm
I HOPE you meant Couture.

LOCKCAPSHAL- June 5, 2009 at 5:29 pm
I HOPE that includes the COTURE ERA!!!!
poopiestick- June 5, 2009 at 4:35 pm
Yeah, I gotta say though -- I was in Shotokan when MMA broke out. It took the wind right out of Karate's sails. It was incredible.

Funny that things have come full circle and Karate is back in town. Cobra Kai!!
poopiestick- June 5, 2009 at 4:33 pm
Amazing story. I've seen all these fights. Kinda funny as we don't have any seasoned MMA journalists doing any more robust than reporting, this article may be used as reference material in the future.

And I just gotta say watching Paul Varlens get pummeled into the dirt makes me so happy. I loved it when Tank destroyed him.

raspberrymight- June 5, 2009 at 3:33 pm
its pretty interesting to look back, a lot has happened over a relatively short space of time.
hope it doesn't end with the Machida era, I dont know what thats about, he has mad skills, no doubt. But Rampage only has the one loss in the ufc, i think, the same with Evans, who went into that fight scared and just like GSP's first bout with matt hughes, and that decision was swiftly reversed twice over after that. I mean before the machida-evans fight the criticism was that sugar couldnt really be called a champion until he defended his title... so ima hold off on supporting the "machida era" until he's been tried and tested.
831 Son- June 5, 2009 at 2:46 pm
I do agree about the the dumb movie shit. But I wouldnt completely agree with the statement that Cung isnt even on his level. But yea, until Cung has another fight he is gonna lose mad respect from people.

Fuck the 323 idea, but good to know they passed the legalization of medical marijuana in Michigan. Fucking clowns whoever think weed is harmful and all the other shit they say about it.
Judo Im Right- June 5, 2009 at 2:30 pm
haha I probably don't know as well as you do, cuz it's not the same over here, though the MI just passed medical usage like CA, way more strict though

You can see above, I said Frank might be done for now, but this Blog proves that he is/was one of the greatest ever and Cung Le is not even in his league right now

and yeah I hate on Cung Le, his bitchass is vacating a Title Belt to do movies .... But you CA hollywood types would respect that wouldn't you ... you should change the name to 323 Son
831 Son- June 5, 2009 at 2:21 pm
Tell me something I didnt know.

I cant step away from the Cali green because you know as well as I do, it is bomb as fuck.

I was referring to Frank Shamrock is a joke now. A while ago, yes, he has beaten good guys. He just aint anything special now. You just have some hate for Cung Le and his sweet moves..

Just wondering, is Frank your idol?
Judo Im Right- June 5, 2009 at 2:07 pm
@ 831 - take a step away from that Cali green next time before you open your mouth and sound like an idiot again

I'm from the Planet where Cung Le has beat Sam Morgan, Tony Frylund, Jason Von Flue, and Brian Warren

Read the excerpt on Shamrock above and then realize who he has beat - Bas Rutten, Jeremy Horn, Vernon White, Elvis Sinosic, Cesar Gracie, Tito Ortiz n Baroni

don't be scared homie OOOOoooooooooo
831 Son- June 5, 2009 at 1:33 pm
@ Judo Im right, your a fucking tool. Frank Shamrock is a joke, now get over it. You are wrong, everyone else is right.

Healthy Frank would indeed lose to Cung le. What the fuck kind of planet are you on that I dont know about?
shiki31- June 5, 2009 at 12:49 pm
hold up...frank fricken shamrock the first modern mixed martial artist? c'mon cage need to look no further than ufc 7 and marco ruas. ruas used grappling and submissions, steady ground fighting and positioning and ultimately used strikes to defeat an opponent who outweighed him by 50+ pounds to capture the ufc 7 tournament. ruas was also THE first fighter in ufc history to utilize leg kicks in his game plan to defeat a much bigger opponent in paul varleans. sorry but i couldn't let that one slip by...especially since frank shamrock is a cock.
Judo Im Right- June 5, 2009 at 12:48 pm
tito let him slip his shoulder out to create a little space, by grabbing the head before locking the ankle behind the knee ... something someone like Maia wouldn't do ....

@LukeThePuke ... if it were up to you, you'd have fighters doing nothing but Shonie Carter spinning back fists, Copoeria, n bruce lee flying jump kicks wouldn't you?
Judo Im Right- June 5, 2009 at 12:36 pm
add the three W's to
LukeTheDuke- June 5, 2009 at 12:31 pm
Royce Gracie what the fuck? Someone missed the safety and sportsmanship seminar before the tournament.

scissor = sweet so shut your mouth.
Judo Im Right- June 5, 2009 at 12:05 pm
p.s. leg scissor take down = weakass not nasty
Judo Im Right- June 5, 2009 at 12:03 pm
But yea Frank's knees/entire body and reflexes may be shot too, since he didn't do anything against Diaz except get punched in the face - just saying there is no reason why a healthy Frank shamrock should lose to a Cung Le
Judo Im Right- June 5, 2009 at 11:55 am
Shit, Tito an American who just started in BJJ had machida in a deep triangle
Judo Im Right- June 5, 2009 at 11:52 am
No, from day one Frank was saying that he was going to "beat Cung at his own game." He wanted to beat him standing because he just got done destroying baroni on his feet. His pride/arrogance got in his way. just another example of grapplers trying to stand for some sorta pride reason ...

Cung le is a tough guy and good at Karate, but the bottom line is stuff like that flying scissor take down or other karate/TKD stuff is going to lose 9.5 times out of 10 to grappling arts like BJJ or shoot wrestling.

and don't reference Machida because there is no LHW right now with the amount of experience in grappling that Machida has in karate, Rashad just started mma a couple years ago and also wanted to stand for some reason.

The Gracie's need to find a Brazilian LHW that has been doing jitz since he was 5 like Machida has done karate to prove again what Royce did years ago

Earl Jones Jr.- June 5, 2009 at 11:48 am
Great job CP.

I was never comfortable watching Severn though. Something about a Freddy Mercury look-a-like in granny panties taking another man's back a little too often.
NateGetsIrate- June 5, 2009 at 11:44 am
I like lists. They make me happy.

Speaking of era's, Fedor is willing to fight at least once in the UFC. If I were Dana, i'd try to negotiate a 3 fight deal. Dana really needs to get it thru his head that Russian's, unlike Americans, fear being under any kind of authority. Just ask Aleks.
ArmFarmer- June 5, 2009 at 11:39 am
"Anyone else pissed that Frank let Cung Le's weakass movie-karate beat him by falling victim to the boxer-bug and not using any of his grappling!?"

1. Look up a Cung Le highlight, I wouldn't call that weak. Maybe not the best but it's far from weak. His leg scissor takedowns are nasty.

2. I think the general consensus is that Frank's knees were in really bad shape for the fight which made shots a lot more difficult, and probably grappling in general.
Judo Im Right- June 5, 2009 at 11:25 am
Awesome idea CP, this will be a really interesting series to follow

i'm from the coldwater area and the beast is still putting on small shows and runs a camp anyone can go to. If you go to a show he walks around and talks with everyone. I can't believe he's over 50 and still fighting! Sherdog has him born in 1954; wiki has 1958. When you see him, he's still a big guy I like how jim brown gave the mmm mmm mmm for the hooter's girl

Anyone else pissed that Frank let Cung Le's weakass movie-karate beat him by falling victim to the boxer-bug and not using any of his grappling!?
Titos Head- June 5, 2009 at 11:22 am
COME back to Tulsa!!