Few men have left a mark on the sport of MMA quite like John Lewis. A heralded jiu-jitsu practitioner who was just the fourth American to be awarded his black belt, Lewis became one of the first men to identify as a mixed martial artist when No Holds Barred fighting was still oriented around pitting single-discipline combatants against one another. He fought for Extreme Fighting, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Vale Tudo Japan in between a solid 20 unsanctioned fights. In 1995, he took Carlson Gracie Jr. to a draw he would have won on the scorecards if judges existed and did the same opposite Rumina Sato a year later in Japan.
Lewis’ feats in the cage — where he earned a deceptively underwhelming 3-4-3 professional record between 1995 and 2000 — are far less important than his influence outside of it. It was, after all, Lewis who introduced UFC President Dana White, then a small-time MMA manager and boxercise instructor, to Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, and the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank, to the sport of jiu-jitsu — a discipline they took to enthusiastically as they began doing their due diligence on the fledgling MMA industry.
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