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.
Owen Hart Vs. Ken Shamrock Lion's Den Match (via juancrox)
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Dan Severn has been a wrestler his entire life. Before he was an international star in the professional ring, he was an amateur standout at every level. Severn was a four-time All American at Arizona State and was the favorite to represent America in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow before President Jimmy Carter made the call to boycott the event. Severn found some success as a midcard performer in Nobuhiko Takada's UWF-I and won the NWA World title years after the championship had any significance.
The mild mannered Severn was too timid to do what was necessary to defeat Royce Gracie at UFC 4, but when he made his return at the next event, Severn was like a different man. Encouraged to play "the Beast" character, Severn's aggression and wild arm waving riled up the crowd-and helped create a new star.
UWFi - Nobuhiko Takada - Naoki Sano Vs Gary Albright - Dan Severn - 1 (via mumiakickboxer)
UWFi - Nobuhiko Takada - Naoki Sano Vs Gary Albright - Dan Severn - 2 (via mumiakickboxer)
UWFi - Nobuhiko Takada - Naoki Sano Vs Gary Albright - Dan Severn - 3 (via mumiakickboxer)
Don Frye is a bit different than Shamrock or Severn. Unlike his predecessors, Frye wasn't a pro wrestler before coming to the UFC, but the Arizonan carefully watched his mentor Severn and patterned his character after "The Beast." Frye didn't just have a great mustache and a hilarious drawl-the man could also fight like a cornered animal.
When the money began to dry up as political pressure mounted against the UFC, Frye found his true calling. He was an immediate superstar in New Japan Pro Wrestling, losing to Antonio Inoki in the legend's retirement match and soon established himself as a bad guy by subtely breaking the rules and taunting his Japanese opponents. Like Shamrock, when he returned to MMA, he was a much more effective pitchman, selling his willingness to engage in insane slugfests as much as he sold his UFC pedigree.
Scott Norton vs Don Frye (via lhh4531)
Tank Abbott was the antithesis of the modern mixed martial artists. In a sport built on respect and honor, a precedent set early on when Ken Shamrock admitted to the referee that he had indeed tapped out to a Royce Gracie choke, Abbott was either a disgrace or a breath of fresh air (dependent on your point of view). Billed as a "pitfighter" the former jailbird was beloved by many for trash talk as powerful as his dynamite packed fists.
Abbott mocked Shamrock for leaving the cage for the professional wrestling ring mercilessly. That all changed when Abbott got his own six-figure a year offer. Abbott took the money and performed in a wide variety of goofy skits for World Championship Wrestling as that promotion was in the midst of a kamikaze dive right out of existence. Abbott too made an unsuccessful attempt to regain past glory, losing to a young Frank Mir in the early Zuffa era, and eventually falling to anyone with a pulse for any promotion willing to cash a check.
WCW: Tank Abbott Displays His Singing Talent (via chriscfgb)