There’s a famous quote from The Sandlot that goes: “heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” On November 12th, 1993 (this author’s third birthday), the Ultimate Fighting Championship held its very first event. At this event, 7,800 people saw Royce Gracie emerge from an eight-man tournament and become the winner. At UFC 2, Gracie defended his win and started to cement a legacy. After withdrawing from UFC 3 due to an exhausting quarterfinal win, Gracie rebounded with yet another legendary performance at UFC 4, eventually submitting Dan Severn.
Even though this was the infancy stage of what has become a combat sports juggernaut, the men who put their bodies on the line deserve to be remembered. Regardless if they won or lost, they made a lasting impact in people’s lives. Some of them stopped fighting right after one of these events. Some of them had a long and storied fighting career. Some of them chose to pursue other ventures after retiring, while others are still involved in the combat sports world.
This list is going to focus on what fifteen of the formative stars of the UFC are up to today. Unlike in the Sandlot, these men are both heroes and legends and are remembered as such.
15. Dave “Dangerous” Beneteau
At UFC 5, Beneteau put away Asbel Cancio and Todd Medina by strikes in less than three minutes combined, before running into Dan Severn in the finals. A keylock from “The Beast” ended Beneteau’s night after three minutes of fighting, but it didn’t end his fighting career. An appearance at UFC 6 ended in a front choke defeat in fifty-seven seconds to Oleg Taktarov, and a later appearance at Ultimate Ultimate 1995 ended with a submission loss to Taktarov again, this time to an achilles hold in one minute and fifteen seconds. However, Beneteau returned at UFC 15 and defeated Carlos Barreto by decision after fifteen minutes of war.
Beneteau continued fighting until 2001, when he retired with a professional fighting record of 6-5-1. Beneteau then made the transition from fighting people physically to fighting people verbally. He currently works as a corporate attorney after practicing as a criminal defense lawyer.
14. Patrick Smith
Smith’s first appearance in the UFC came in the quarterfinals of UFC 1 when he submitted to a heel hook from Ken Shamrock. Smith rebounded from his defeat by making it to the finals at UFC 2. On his way to the final match, he submitted Johnny Rhodes and Ray Wizard by guillotine choke and KO’d Scott Morris with elbows. All of those fights lasted less than one minute and eight seconds. When he got to the finals, Royce Gracie was there to meet him and submitted the striker with punches after one minute and seventeen seconds. Smith returned at UFC 6 and defeated Rudyard Moncayo with a rear-naked choke after one minute and eight seconds of fighting.
Although he never fought again for the UFC, Smith continued to fight until 2009 when he retired with a 20-15 record. However, he came out of retirement in 2015 and lost to Dave Huckaba.
13. Remco Pardoel
Remco Pardoel made his MMA debut at UFC 2 and defeated Alberto Cerra Leon with a forearm choke and knocked out Orlando Wiet with elbows before running into (guess who) Royce Gracie in the semifinals. Pardoel submitted to a lapel choke, but must have learned something in the process because when he returned to the Ultimate Fighting Championship at UFC 7, he defeated Ryan Parker with a lapel choke in just over three minutes. In the semifinals, Pardoel submitted to eventual winner Marco Ruas due to position, but continued his MMA career until 2003 when he retired with a 9-6-1 record.
Currently, Pardoel is a disc jockey, performing under the name “DJ Remco.” He plays sets every two weeks and has released all different types of club, house, and techno music. He also teaches brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, and thai boxing seminars and classes in the Netherlands. Pardoel’s teams regularly compete in tournaments and competitions.
12. Harold Howard
At UFC 3, Harold Howard knocked out Roland Payne with a punch forty-six seconds into the fight, and was then scheduled to fight Royce Gracie in the semifinals. As luck would have it, Gracie withdrew from UFC 3 due to fatigue after his winning keylock against Kimo Leopoldo, pushing Howard into one of the most interesting final matchups in UFC history. Unluckily, Howard was unable to win the tournament and was defeated in the final by Steve Jennum, who punched Howard into submission. Howard made one more appearance in the UFC, submitting to strikes from Mark Hall at UFC 7. Howard retired with a professional fighting record of 1-3.
After retiring from fighting, Howard spent five years in prison from 2010-2015 for attempted murder of his sister and nephew. He was released from prison in March 0f 2015. He still trains in all of the various disciplines of mixed martial arts.
11. Steve Jennum
The other half of the strange UFC 3 final, Steve Jennum didn’t even participate in the tournament until the last match. Jennum was an alternate and when Ken Shamrock withdrew due to an injury, Jennum stepped up and faced Harold Howard for the championship. He forced Howard to submit from his punches, becoming the winner of the UFC 3 tournament. Due to his win, Jennum was invited to participate in the UFC 4 tournament. At UFC 4, he armbarred Melton Bowen before withdrawing due to swelling of his hands. His final UFC appearance came at Ultimate Ultimate 1995, when he lost to Tank Abbott by neck crank. Jennum retired with a 2-3 fighting record.
Like many early fighters, they inspired future generations to become fighters. Georges St-Pierre has mentioned that watching Jennum win influenced his decision to compete in mixed martial arts. Jennum is currently a police officer in Nebraska, leading to his nickname, “Ninja Cop.”
10. Gerard Gordeau
Gerald Gordeau carved out his own legacy by being a part of the very first televised UFC bout. He will be be remembered by knocking out Telia Tuli with a head kick 26 seconds into the first round. He then defeated Kevin Rosier by corner stoppage before being choked out in the finals by Royce Gracie. After UFC 1, Gordeau only fought one more time professionally, losing by heel hook to Yuki Nakai.
Since his retirement from fighting, Gordeau has participated in Japanese professional wrestling events. The pull of fighting was too much for Gordeau to ignore though, and he teamed up with his brothers Al and Nico to purchase the Dojo Kamakura in the Netherlands. Together, the brothers have trained fighters in almost every category of combat sports, from karate to thai boxing. Currently, the three train Dutch K-1 fighter Mourad Bouzidi. The brothers have also trained Anil Dubar and Daniel Ghita.
9. Jason DeLucia
Sadly, Jason DeLucia did not get a chance to participate in the official UFC 1 tournament, but he was an alternate and can still say he was a winner that night in two ways. The first was that he was part of the first bout in Ultimate Fighting Championship history. The second was his victory against Trent Jenkins with a rear-naked choke submission. With that win, DeLucia prepared himself for UFC 2. This time, he was entered in the tournament and forced Scott Baker to submit to strikes before running into the buzzsaw that was Royce Gracie. With his submission to Gracie’s armlock, this was the last DeLucia was seen in the UFC until UFC 23. In between those five years, DeLucia was an active competitor for the Pancrase organization. When he returned to the UFC, he lost to Joe Slick due to a knee injury. After a 55-fight career, where he finished 33-21-1, DeLucia offers seminars and private trainings.
8. Emmanuel Yarborough
At UFC 3, Yarborough was defeated in his only UFC appearance by Keith Hackney. Although it was his only fight, Yarbrough became a spectacle to behold and had many different opportunities open up in his life.Yarborough fought occasionally after that, and retired with a 1-2 record.
Between fighting, Yarborough competed as a professional wrestler in Germany for the Catch Wrestling Association. After his retirement, he made an appearance for a Motorola commercial and appeared in a 1997 Bollywood film entitled Mr. and Mrs. Khiladi. Yarborough also played Clarence Seroy on the HBO television show Oz and appeared as himself in the German movie Sumo Bruno. After realizing that his weight was unhealthy, Yarborough embarked on a journey to make himself healthier. Thanks to the help of an obesity specialist, Yarbrough decreased his weight from 800 pounds to 670 pounds. Sadly, Yarborough passed away on December 21st, 2015 after a heart attack.
7. Kimo Leopoldo
Kimo Leopoldo’s first UFC appearance was at UFC 3, when he fell to Royce Gracie via armlock. However, due to the damage that Gracie sustained during the bout, he was forced to withdraw from the tournament. Leopoldo may best be known for his rivalry with Ken Shamrock. At UFC 8, Leopoldo submitted to Shamrock’s ankle lock and at UFC 48, he was knocked out by a knee from Shamrock. In between the fights with Shamrock, Leopoldo lost a decision to Tsuyoshi Kohsaka at UFC 16, beat Paul Varelans by corner stoppage at Ultimate Ultimate 96, and defeated Tank Abbott with an arm-triangle choke at UFC 43.
In between fighting, Leopoldo had some small parts in b-list movies. In 2006, Leopoldo retired from professional fighting with a record of 10-7-1. Since retirement, he has enjoyed acting in various low budget movies including, The Dog Problem, In the Closet, Bullet, and Avengers Grimm. Leopoldo has ten acting credits to his name.
6. Guy Mezger
Although Guy Mezger never officially participated in the earliest UFC tournaments, he still has two wins at the events. He stopped Jason Fairn by corner stoppage at UFC 4 and stopped John Dowdy with strikes at UFC 5. Mezger then departed from the UFC for two years and didn’t return until UFC 13 where he defeated Christophe Leininger by decision and Tito Ortiz by guillotine choke to win the UFC Lightweight Tournament.
After his retirement in 2005 due to stroke-like systems, Mezger has a laundry list of accomplishments. He has been a fight commentator for the World Combat League and DREAM, he has earned a PhD in Holistic Health and has formed a partnership with a doctor’s group named Optimal Health Specialists. He has also formed a combat sports club in north Texas where he teaches all aspects of combat sports. Guy Mezger’s Combat Sports Club offers classes in boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, muay thai, judo and much more.
5. Oleg Taktarov
Oleg Taktarov begin his lengthly UFC career with a submission win against Ernie Verdicia at UFC 5. He then made his way to the semifinals, losing to Dan Severn by TKO due to a cut. Taktarov rebounded by winning the UFC 6 tournament, submitting Dave Beneteau, Anthony Macias, and Tank Abbott, all by choke. He was rewarded by that showing with a fight against Ken Shamrock for the UFC Superfight Championship. Unfortunately, the fight went to the time limit after 33 minutes and was declared a draw. Shamrock kept the title, but Taktarov made himself a household name He continued fighting until 2008, when he retired with a record of 17-5-2. While fighting, “The Russian Bear” made a few appearances on television, but after calling fighting a career, Taktarov has been busy in Hollywood. He has appeared in nearly 50 productions, ranging from television episodes to feature films, including Predators, Rollerball, NCIS, Miami Vice, National Treasure, and Alias.
4. Tank Abbott
Although he may not have the best fighting record or the most wins, Tank Abbott might have the most violent highlight reel. So let’s ignore the tough times that the brawler fell on during the end of his fighting career. Abbott was a mainstay during the UFC’s early days. He reached the finals of UFC 6 by defeating John Matua and Paul Varelans by knockout before being submitted by Oleg Taktarov. He split wins and losses at Ultimate Ultimate 95 and UFC 11 before winning twice at Ultimate Ultimate 96. Each one of those wins was a finish. Abbott pioneered the brawling style that so many later fighters used and was always willing to take a punch in order to receive one. Fighters quickly learned that the best way to beat Abbott was to take him down and keep him down. I
n March 2016, Abbott was scheduled to fight Dan Severn, but had to pull out due to an inability to pass the mandatory medical tests.
3. Dan “The Beast” Severn
At UFC 4, Severn made it to the finals by choking out both Anthony Macias and Marcus Bossett before being choked out by Royce Gracie. Not to be deterred, Severn won the UFC 5 tournament by forcing Joe Charles to submit to a rear-naked choke and TKOing Oleg Taktarov, before submitting Dave Beneteau with an americana. He then fought Ken Shamrock at UFC 6 for the UFC Superfight Championship and lost by guillotine choke. Bouncing back, Severn won the UFC Ultimate Ultimate 95 tournament by winning a thirty minute decision against Oleg Taktarov. In addition to that, Severn won an eighteen minute decision against Tank Abbott and submitted Paul Varelans in 1:45. Perhaps the feather on his cap would be avenging his defeat to Shamrock at UFC 9 by winning a split decision.
Even though his scheduled fight with Tank Abbott was cancelled, Severn still plans to keep fighting for the UR Fight promotion at the age of 58.
2. Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock made his UFC debut at UFC 1 by submitting Patrick Smith with a heelhook before losing in the finals to Royce Gracie by rear-naked choke, igniting a rivalry. Shamrock came back at UFC 3 and defeated Christophe Leninger by TKO from punches and Felix Mitchell by rear-naked choke. Sadly, Shamrock didn’t have a chance to compete for the championship since he withdrew from the tournament due to an injury. This was a double whammy since Gracie would have likely beat Harold Howard and advanced to the finals. Fortunately, the two came back together at UFC 5 and fought for 36 minutes before the match was declared a draw. Shamrock won the UFC Superfight Championship at UFC 6 by defeating Dan Severn and defended it against Oleg Taktarov and Kimo Leopoldo before Severn defeated him at UFC 9.
Shamrock recently fought Royce Gracie for a third time at Bellator 149 and was defeated by a controversial TKO. Even though he’s 52 years old, Shamrock shows no signs of slowing down.
1. Royce Gracie
The three-time UFC tournament winner has become a true legend of the sport. Introducing Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the masses, Gracie revolutionized mixed martial arts and showed that David can indeed beat Goliath. Gracie’s wins include submitting Ken Shamrock and then TKOing him 23 years later, a triangle choke win over Dan Severn, an armbar win over Kimo Leopoldo, a rear-naked choke win over Gerard Gordeau, a submission win with punches over Patrick Smith, an armbar win over Jason DeLucia, a lapel choke win over Remco Pardoel, and many more. Gracie went into battle against bigger men and stronger men, and he chewed them up and spit them out. He was the UFC’s first star.
Since his ‘retirement’, Gracie teaches seminars and classes to students all over the world. He also has developed a special course called G.R.A.C.I.E. for law enforcement personnel. The course includes the best way to handle and disarm attackers. He recently came out of retirement to fight in Bellator against Ken Shamrock, in a match that he won by TKO.
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