In 2006, one of my fighters was headlining in a match against world kickboxing champ Duke Roufus in an event in Milwaukee Wisconsin. After the show, a fan approached us after we exited the arena and asked me for my autograph. When I stopped to greet him, he said to me, “It’s great to meet a legend.” This was the first time someone had ever told me that I was a legend. For a moment, I entertained this fanatical statement, but quickly shook it off. I was perplexed. I would never describe myself as being of this status that, in my opinion, symbolizes only a special few of the world’s icons. Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson, Robert De Niro and even Mickey Mouse…those are legends in my mind.
Since then, several articles and videos that have been written about me attaching this very title to my name. To me, this is a defamation of the word that is rooted in prestige, a word that should be held sacred.
I’ve discovered that defining what a legend is remains to be ambiguous, as it seems everyone has their own interpretation of what the word means. I have to admit that I myself have overused this word a few times, describing some of our MMA fighters. I can’t help it because I am a fan of the sport. I’m guilty of adding to the obscurity, and it’s because of this that the significance of the word has been devalued. Many of our dictionaries simply define it as ‘an extremely famous or notorious person in a particular field.’ (Mirriam-Webster, Oxford, Macmillan, Cambridge, etc). With this definition, it’s no wonder why nowadays we have “legends” everywhere.
Within the spectrum of combat sports, there is not a lot that I have read that clearly defines a legend. However, in my findings, consistent words like ‘rare’ and ‘greatness’ are associated with it. It is safe to say that they epitomize the best that the sport has ever seen. They embody greatness. I would go even further to say that a legendary fighter can never be forgotten.
A boxer’s ring performance, achievements, dominance, and mainstream appeal are The Boxing Magazine.com’s criteria for having legendary status. Some journalists categorize them. Henry Armstrong is regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time. He held three world titles at the same time in the 1930’s. Floyd Mayweather will be remembered as a legend because he will have an undefeated career fighting the best in his era. Mike Tyson is a legend because he was the symbol of the ferocity and knockout power that pugilism offered. Manny Pacquiao is an eight division world champion and a fighter of the decade. He is regarded as a ‘National Treasure’ by the people of the Philippines. If you have been given this status by your own country, I think you’re pretty much a ‘shoe in’ for being a legend.
In muay thai, a nak muay’s legacy was not by having an impeccable career (I say this because muay thai fighters fought anyone and didn’t believe in the safekeeping of their pro record) so we should define them by their talent, the competition they faced, and how they performed historically. Epidej Sit Hirun is a true legend in the sport of muay thai because of his talent as a fierce kicker in the ring in that he literally broke his opponents arms. He had over 300 fights and was recognized as the muay thai fighter of the century by the King of Thailand! The late Ramon Dekkers is a legend because he was a savage in the art of eight limbs even capable of subduing the most relentless opponents. And although mixed martial arts is a relatively new sport, there are legends in the making. Many will debate as to whom they are, but in my opinion, the Gracie name is synonymous to the word.
My personal definition of a legend is “a person who does something truly extraordinary; someone whose coolness extends beyond time and space.” Many years ago, I read Oyama, The Legend the Legacy by Michael Lorden, which was the portrayal of legendary karate fighter Mas Oyama who was said to have fought 100 men in a single day and killed a bull with his bare hands. Now that is the stuff of legends! To me, time makes a legend. It’s a person who is worthy of inspiring stories and capturing the imagination of the young and old alike and retelling their story.
Defining a legend should not be complex. While I think it should be a blend of all of those attributes, it can just be someone who has done something so great that they will be remembered even after their death, or someone who simply is universally recognized as the ‘baddest man on the planet’. Who are your legends?