Every fighter in the UFC, whether champion, legend or debutant, has to start somewhere. That somewhere usually isn’t the big show. Occasionally, multiple future stars end up gathered on a single regional card. At the time, this card may not seem significant, but years down the road, we can look back in hindsight and marvel at how stacked that event turned out to be. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this series, called History Lessons.

So, let’s jump in the time machine and travel back. The date was April 17, 2004, and the location was the Win River Casino in Redding, Calif. It was time for Rage on the River.

Ten years. In the world of mixed martial arts, a decade can seem like it’s not a long span of time. After all, headlining fighters from the sport’s earliest stages of infancy, such as Dan Severn, were still competing as recently as two years ago. Yet, a decade also seems like a very long span of time indeed when one considers that the sport of MMA in its modern form is only 20 years old. Just a week after he meets Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC Fight Night 39 on April 11, Roy “Big Country” Nelson will celebrate the 10th anniversary of his professional MMA debut.

Long before Nelson was beating everyone in the IFL not named Ben Rothwell—and years before his enormous belly and frequent attempts at wit drew the ire of UFC President Dana White during season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter—Nelson was just starting his MMA career. His first foray into the sport came in Rage on the River’s four-man, one-night heavyweight tournament. It was one of three tourneys set for the evening’s card, alongside brackets in the welterweight and light heavyweight divisions.

Nelson’s first task was to get past Bo Cantrell. Cantrell is most famous for his 19-second submission (by strikes) loss to Kimbo Slice under the EliteXC banner in 2007, in what would be Cantrell’s final fight. In 2004, though, “Redrum” was a 3-2 fighter whose only losses had come at the hands of James Irvin.

In the third round of their clash and with just eight seconds remaining in the contest, Nelson secured a hammerlock to submit Cantrell and advance to the tournament finals.

Nelson was left to await the winner of the other semifinal fight in the bracket. That contest featured Jerry Vrbanovic, a journeyman who held a 3-4-1 mark coming into the evening, and Josh Haynes, a prospect with a 6-1 mark that made him one of the favorites to win the tournament.

Vrbanovic had already suffered losses to Jimmy Ambriz, Ron Waterman and Mike Kyle by this point in his career. He was coming off a fight against Severn that ended in a draw. The best fighter he had defeated up until that point in his career sported a 3-1 record when they met. For one night, however, “Scary” Jerry came through. He outworked Haynes through three three-minute rounds to take the unanimous verdict.

Haynes would lose three of his next six outings, but he made it into The Ultimate Fighter 3 house as a light heavyweight in 2006. On the reality series, he bested Tait Fletcher and Jesse Forbes to earn a spot opposite Michael Bisping in the finals. Bisping scored a second-round TKO over Haynes, and Haynes lost his subsequent UFC appearances to Rory Singer and Luke Cummo before exiting the promotion. He continued his frustrations on the regional circuit with just five wins in eight tries before going inactive in 2010.

Vrbanovic’s win over Haynes put him in the finals with Nelson, and the middling fighter would once again prove a difficult task for a future UFCer. When all was said and done, Nelson had eked out a split verdict on the scorecards.

Vrbanovic only fought four more times—two wins and a loss in 2004 and a loss in a 2010 return to action. Nelson, meanwhile, went on to much bigger things. He only fought once more in 2004. Already gaining a reputation as a tough opponent, Nelson struggled to find fights and was inactive until 2006. He won three of his four fights in 2006 and, as a member of the Lion’s Den at the time, he was invited to join the IFL’s Nevada Lions, coached by Ken Shamrock. Nelson’s only IFL loss came to Rothwell, and “Big Country” managed to pick up the league’s heavyweight title and defend it twice before the IFL crumbled.

In 2009, more than five years after his pro debut, Nelson competed on The Ultimate Fighter, where he famously defeated Kimbo Slice. He defeated Brendan Schaub to win the UFC contract and has compiled a 6-5 record inside the Octagon. Despite only standing one win above the .500 mark, Nelson has stood on the verge of title contention for much of his time with the UFC, and his losses come against a respectable list of opponents: Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir, Fabricio Werdum, Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier. He’ll get an opportunity to move further away from the .500 mark when he meets Nogueira next weekend.

The heavyweight bracket was one of three tournaments held that night. All three produced at least one future UFC fighter.

The light heavyweight tourney was the shortest of the three, since it did not feature a final. It did, however, feature Chael Sonnen and Emanuel Newton.

Newton was up first, and he was fighting Tim McKenzie, a future UFC fighter, in the semifinals. Newton, who now holds Bellator’s light heavyweight title, was off to a slow start in his professional MMA career. He had debuted in late 2003 to the tune of a TKO loss courtesy of Brian Ebersole. Newton was still seeking his first win when he locked horns with McKenzie.

McKenzie appeared to be the more promising prospect at the time. Whereas Newton was 0-1, McKenzie was undefeated through six fights under the IFC and WEC banners. “The Wrecking Machine” earned the victory over Newton by way of a unanimous decision, but it came at a price. McKenzie injured his ribs against Newton and could not continue in the tournament.

The win for McKenzie was the last victory in the longest winning streak of his career. He lost his next two fights and went 5-5 before making his UFC debut in a losing effort against Aaron Simpson. It was McKenzie’s only Octagon appearance, and he went just 2-3 after departing the promotion. He has not fought since 2011.

Newton, meanwhile, turned things around after the loss. “The Hardcore Kid” picked up his first pro win in his next outing, which came in the WEC cage. By late 2008, his record stood at 10-3-1 and he had signed with Canada’s Maximum Fighting Championship promotion. He went 4-2 with the MFC and held the organization’s light heavyweight title. In 2012, he joined the Bellator roster. He has gone 6-1 with the promotion, and he avenged his lone loss in Bellator when he defeated Attila Vegh recently to unify the Bellator light heavyweight championship and the interim belt.

With McKenzie injured, that left the winner of the other Rage on the River light heavyweight tournament semifinal bout as the default winner of the entire tourney. It was up to Sonnen, who stood at 10-2-1 through 13 fights, and debuting pro Justin Bailey to determine the tournament champion. Bailey didn’t stand a chance.

Through the present day, Sonnen has seven wins by some form of knockout. What makes his win over Bailey unique is that it came via a flying knee. That’s not a move that many would normally associate with Sonnen. The UFC veteran and broadcaster is now known for his grinding style of wrestling, but his victory over Bailey took just 40 seconds.

Bailey went inactive for the next two years before returning with two wins and a loss in 2006. He hasn’t fought since then. Sonnen lost his next three fights—two to Jeremy Horn and one to Keiichiro Yamamiya—before winning three of four to earn his first entry into the UFC. Between 2005 and 2006, Sonnen made three Octagon appearances and lost twice, including another defeat to Horn. After a brief stretch on the regional circuit, he headed to the WEC and then, in 2009, he re-entered the UFC. Like Nelson, Sonnen is now 6-5 in his current stretch with the promotion. He has been featured in recent months as a coach on the third season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil and is set to meet Wanderlei Silva at the end of May.

The event’s other tournament came at welterweight and featured perhaps the most promising prospect in the lineup, Drew Fickett. Fickett had blasted out of the gates five years earlier to an undefeated 12-0 start to his pro career. By the time he took part in the Rage on the River tournament, he was 18-2 and already held a victory over one of the other three participants.

Fickett’s first fight of the night came against another future UFC fighter, Carlo Prater. Prater was also undefeated, standing at 10-0-1. He had submitted Melvin Guillard just four months earlier.

Fickett and Prater went to war that night. With 35 seconds remaining and potentially down on the scorecards, Fickett was able to secure a fight-ending guillotine choke to advance to the finals.

It took Prater nearly eight more years before he landed in the UFC, where he ultimately lost two of three fights before receiving his pink slip. Along the way, Prater made stops in the WEC, MFC and Strikeforce. Prater’s lone Octagon win came when Erick Silva was disqualified for throwing punches to the back of Prater’s head. Since parting ways with the UFC, Prater is just 1-2 and last fought in May 2013.

Fickett awaited the winner of the other semifinal bout, which featured Shaun Beckett and Travis Doerge. Beckett was just 4-4 entering the night, and Doerge was just 3-2. This was the weak side of the bracket, and one that featured a fighter—Beckett—who had already lost to Fickett. Beckett needed just over two minutes to wrap up the submission win by way of an arm-triangle choke. Doerge, who had appeared under the WEC banner earlier in his career, won his next fight, but lost his next five before bowing out of active competition in 2009.

The final was set—a rematch between Fickett and Beckett. Their first meeting in 2003 ended in the second round when Fickett finished Beckett via choke. The end result of their tournament final bout must have felt familiar to the two men, then. Fickett again secured a choke in the second round to notch the win. For Beckett, like for Doerge, the tourney loss was the beginning of the end. Unlike Doerge, however, Beckett never won another fight. He was knocked out by Brandon Melendez in 2005 and suffered a TKO loss in 2008. Those two losses closed out his 12-fight career.

Fickett found much different results—at least for a while—after defeating Prater and Beckett to take top honors in the tournament. He won four more fights, including one against Kenny Florian, to move his record to 24-2 before getting the call from the UFC. Fickett made his Octagon debut at UFC 51 in a losing effort against Nick Diaz. After two more wins on the regional circuit, Fickett returned for his second stint with the UFC, in which he went 4-2. He won his first four fights after departing the UFC and moved his record to 34-5. It was mostly downhill after that.

After a 34-5 start to his career, Fickett now stands at 42-21. He has gone 8-16 since 2008 and most recently suffered defeat in March at a CES MMA card. His decline has included a five-fight losing streak and two stretches of four straight losses, including his current skid.

Though he may have been the biggest prospect on the card at the time of Rage on the River event in 2004, Fickett certainly stands as the least successful among a crowd that also includes Nelson, Sonnen and Newton. Yet, the presence of these four men on one card in 2004 is certainly enough to make Rage on the River an important event in the history of MMA.