"Perhaps one of the most prestigious honors an athlete can receive is to be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame," – Marshall Faulk, Hall of Fame running back
In the majority of professional sports, we constantly hear how Player A is a "sure fire Hall of Famer", and "a first ballot HOF player". These sports typically rely on a group of knowledgeable men and women (typically sports writers) to vote on eligible players to get into their exclusive club. Unfortunately, where MMA is such a young sport, there is no Mixed Martial Arts Hall of Fame. The closest thing we have, is the UFC Hall Of Fame. It is not ideal, as it really limits who can get in (you have to have fought in the UFC for some time to qualify one would think) and it is primarily controlled by Zuffa. This is unfortunate as it means that anyone who Dana isn’t particularly fond of (I am looking at you Frank Shamrock) would never have a shot of being enshrined where perhaps they should be.
With that being said, I recently was thinking about who we could see going to the UFC HOF over the next few years. We have not seen anyone inducted since Matt Hughes was admitted in May of 2010 (while still an active fighter, that always seemed so odd to me). Below I have broken it down into 3 categories.
We have The Locks, which pretty much everyone can agree will find themselves enshrined (unless they manage to piss Dana off in the next few years).
Then we have On The Cusp (meaning they are not sure fire "first ballot", but could arguably find themselves there someday, with either a good run to close out their careers or simply just cause).
Then we have the Outside Looking In. These guys would need something spectacular to happen in order to be considered a Hall of Famer, but it is not completely outside the realm of possibility.
So, I am sure this will inspire some debate (or at least I hope to). Lets start off with The Locks.
The Locks: (First Ballot Hall of Famers)
UFC Record: 14-0
UFC Career Highlights: Longest winning streak in UFC history. Defended Middleweight Championship 9 times
Why : What needs to be said about Anderson Silva? Arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, he has completely dominated the competition since he debuted in the Octagon in June of 2006. He owns the record for most consecutive wins in UFC history, as well as title defenses. He has made highly trained fighters look stupid, and has a highlight reel that is perhaps the finest in the sports history. He is the owner of the best significant strike accuracy in UFC history (68.4%). His blend of Muay Thai and BJJ is virtually unbeatable. He has completely cleaned out an entire division, and has made fighters at 205 look foolish. He is as close to Mohammed Ali that this sport potentially will ever see (in regards to his abilities as a fighter, certainly not even close when it comes to the media and trash talking opponents). There is not a chance he does not end up in the HOF under any circumstances.
UFC Record: 16-2
UFC Career Highlights: 2 time Welterweight champion. Second longest consecutive title defenses in UFC history. 9 – 2 in title bouts
Why : If Anderson Silva is the Wayne Gretzky, then GSP could be a Mario Lemieux. Perhaps the finest all around athlete the sport has ever seen, St. Pierre has been a force since entering the UFC and defeating Karo Parisyan (back when that meant something) in January of 2004. Since his debut, he has defeated two of the greatest fighters of their generation twice (Hughes and Penn) and outside of his upset loss to Matt Serra, has been basically unbeatable. He is ranked in the top 10 for significant strike accuracy in UFC history (currently 7th with a 56.2% landing accuracy). Although he takes a lot of criticism for being very conservative after the Serra loss, very few fighters have as high of a fight IQ of GSP. He is a master of focusing on opponents weaknesses and attempting to exploit them as best he can with as minimal damage sustained to him as possible. He has evolved his game from a karate base, to a excellent wrestler and is one of the most well rounded mixed martial artists in history. He is one of the most watched UFC fighters of all time, participating in 6 of the top 15 most watched PPVs in the history of the UFC. Like Silva, he is as close to a lock as you can get for the HOF.
UFC Record: 15-9-1
UFC Career Highlights: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Defended LHW championship 5 times. 6 – 2 in title bouts
Why : Very few fighters in the history of the UFC are as polarizing as Tito Ortiz. He is a fighter that you either love him, or you despise him, there is no middle ground. Owner of perhaps some of the most feared ground and pound in the sports history (specifically when doing so from his opponents guard), Tito was an unstoppable monster early in his career, making his MMA debut at 22 years of age way back at UFC 13 where he literally destroyed Wes Albritton in 31 seconds. Despite losing to Guy Mezger later that night, Tito had put himself on the map. He would go on to win the vacant UFC LHW title at UFC 25, defeating Brazilian legend Wanderlei Silva via unanimous decision. He would go on to dominate the light heavyweight division for the better part of the next 5 years, defending the belt 5 times (still the most any fighter has defended the LHW title). He has been part of two of the most epic rivalries in MMA, with his one sided rivalry with Ken Shamrock, and his legendary rivalry with former training partner Chuck Liddell. Despite having only 1 victory over the last three years, you cannot denounce how good Tito was early in his career, and how he helped the UFC get to where it is today.
UFC Record: 12-6-2
UFC Career Highlights: One of only two fighters to hold championships in 2 different weight classes. Defended LW championship 3 times, the most in the title’s history.
Why: One of only two men to win titles in two different weight classes, BJ Penn epitomizes the phrase "pound for pound best". Notorious early in his career for not training perhaps as hard as he could, no fighter in UFC history has gone as far as Penn has on pure talent alone. He owns crisp boxing, is a BJJ black belt and has a chin made of granite. These three things have made him almost impossible to finish (having only been TKOed only by GSP and Matt Hughes). A determined and well trained Penn is a treat to watch and a tough out for anyone at both 155 and 170 lbs. He will go down as arguable the greatest 155 pounder in the UFC’s history, as he sports a 10-3-1 record as a LW and defended the LW strap a record 3 times. Although he and Dana have had a rough relationship, you have to believe that BJ Penn is a sure fire HOF when his career finally comes to a close.
UFC Record: 4-2
UFC Career Highlights: Only man to hold HW titles in both UFC and Pride.
Why: This one was a little tougher to call. Considering the majority of his success was during his run in Pride, I think Dana has enough respect for the man that he would want to see him enshrined in the UFC HOF. One of the greatest heavyweights of all time, Big Nog is the only man to ever hold a UFC and Pride HW title. Renowned for his ability to take a beating and pull out a win, there was no better display of that in his UFC career than his victory over Tim Sylvia for the Interim HW championship at UFC 81. He managed to pull a submission out after being beaten unmerciful by the big heavyweight for the better part of 3 rounds. Although he has only fought 6 times in 5 years with the UFC, due to a litany of injuries, his track record speaks for itself. With a recent win over Brendan Schaub in Rio, Big Nog is attempting to make one more run at relevancy to help solidify himself as one of the greats, and a sure fire UFC Hall of Famer.
On The Cusp (these would be guys that wouldn't be "First Ballot", but can would be considered and probably get in after a few years)
UFC Record: 8-1
Notable UFC Wins: Gary Goodridge (x2), Tank Abbott
UFC Career Highlights: UFC 8 tournament champion, Ultimate 96 tournament champion
Why: Owner of the manliest mustache in MMA history, Don Frye was one of the very first mixed martial artists to combine several disciplines into his fighting style. He was a college wrestler, as well as a pro boxer and a Judo black belt. All of these things helped him amass an impressive 8-1 record in the UFC (his lone loss coming to future UFC HOFmer Mark Coleman). He was a two time tournament champion, winning the UFC 8 tournament by winning 3 fights in just over 3 mins total (including a then record 8 second KO of Thomas Ramirez). Known for his granite chin and gravel voice, Don Frye was one of the true pioneers of the sport and deserves to be enshrined with his former training partner Dan Severn in the UFC Hall of Fame. Why he is not already there is beyond me.
UFC Record: 5-2
UFC Career Highlights: UFC 17 tournament champion, fought for 2 different championships in two different weight classes.
Why: Hendo has been one of the most successful mixed martial artists of his time. He is the only man in MMA history to simultaneously hold two championships in two different weight classes at the same time (the Pride 205 lbs and 183lb titles). Originally just a wrestler, Hollywood Henderson has adapted his game to include solid boxing, and one of the most powerful right hands in the history of the sport (as demonstrated against Michael Bisping in one of the most epic and iconic knock outs in UFC history) . Although only having 7 fights in the UFC, he has twice fought in championship bouts (unifying title fights with both Rampage Jackson and Anderson Silva) as well as won the UFC 17 tournament in his first year of MMA competition. If this were merely the MMA HOF, he would be a lock without a doubt. Rumored to be coming back to the UFC after a successful run in the Strikeforce promotion, Hendo looks to continue to build on his legacy and continue to work his way towards being a sure fire Hall of Famer.
UFC Record: 13 – 5
Notable UFC Wins: Tank Abbott, Tim Sylvia, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria
UFC Career Highlights: 2 time UFC HW champion
Why: Another one of those "love’em or hate’em" fighters, one cannot deny what Frank Mir has done in his career. Bursting onto the scene with a quick submission of Roberto Traven back at UFC 34, and following it up with another quick sub of Pete Williams, Mir looked to be the future of the HW division. Winning his first UFC championship at UFC 48 by breaking Tim Sylvia’s arm, the sky was the limit for Frank Mir. It all came crashing down 3 months later, when he was thrown from his motorcycle in an accident with a car. This caused him to break his femur, and destroyed the ligaments in his knee. After being laid up for 20 months, and being striped of his title, he returned to the Octagon at UFC 61. He went 2-2 over the next year and it appeared he would never get back to where he was pre-injury. Then came the first Brock Lesnar fight, and the Hail Mary kneebar. This lead to a fight with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, where he went on to win his second UFC Heavyweight championship. Since that win, he has gone 3 -2 (with loses to Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin) but has firmly entrenched himself into the top 10 heavyweights in the world. At only 32 years of age, Mir has the potential to go down as one of the best heavyweights ever before his career his finished.
UFC Record: 11 – 1 – 1
Notable UFC Wins: Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Thiago Silva, Rampage Jackson, Tito Ortiz, Michael Bisping
UFC Career Highlights: UFC Light Heavyweight champion
Why: With only 1 loss in 13 fights in the Octagon, Rashad Evans holds one of the best winning percentages in UFC history. A veteran of The Ultimate Fighter season 2, Rashad Evans started his career in the UFC as a heavyweight. After winning the show, he dropped down to a much more natural 205 lbs and began to tear up the LHW division. Notorious for being a "lay and pray" wrestler early in his UFC career, he began to show more growth as a striker with knock outs of Sean Salmon and the legendary Chuck Liddell. After defeating Forrest Griffin for the Light Heavyweight title and losing it to Lyoto Machida, he has bounced back with 3 straight wins. With an 11 – 1 – 1 record, and should he get another title shot versus the winner of Jon Jones and Rampage Jackson, and should he win it and possibly defend the title, it would further cement him as a potential UFC Hall of Famer.
UFC Record: 7- 2
Notable UFC Wins: Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Lyoto Machida
UFC Career Highlights: UFC Light Heavyweight champion
Why: One of the more popular figures in MMA history, Rampage Jackson was catapulted to a title shot based on his previous defeat of then champion Chuck Liddell. He would end up defeating Chuck at 1:53 of the very first round to win his first major championship. He would defend it in a unification bout with Dan Henderson before dropping a controversial decision to Forrest Griffin. Since his lost to Forrest, he has gone 4 – 1, with his only lose being to Rashad Evans. Owner of some of the most devastating slams in MMA history, as well as a powerful boxing skills and a solid chin, Rampage has consistently been one of the top 10 light heavyweights on the planet for the better part of 6 years. What seems to be his downfall is his dislike of training for fights and cutting weight, he has been considered "lazy" by a number of fans. Similar to BJ Penn, you sometimes don’t know which version of Rampage will show up on fight night. But, when it is a focused Rampage Jackson, there are few in the sport better. With an upcoming title shot versus Jon Jones coming up, Rampage has an opportunity to solidify himself as one of the great LHW in MMA history should he be able to pull out a victory.
UFC Record: 9 – 5
Notable UFC Wins: Tank Abbott, Wanderlei Silva, Randy Couture, Rich Franklin
UFC Career Highlights: UFC 12 tournament champion, UFC Light Heavyweight champion.
Why: When hardcore MMA fans hear the words "Vitor Belfort", many of them think of "wasted potential". Bursting on the scene as a 19 year old, "The Phenom" knocked out his first 3 opponents, all in less than a minute and a half each. After a loss to Randy Couture, and two more UFC wins, he would leave the organization until returning in 2002. He would have less success in his second run with the organization, despite winning the Light Heavyweight Title from Randy Couture (due to a cut on Randy’s eye, forcing a stoppage). He would lose the title in a rematch with Couture 7 months later, and ended his second UFC run with a 2 – 3 record. He would return to the organization a third time, this time at 185 lbs, after Affliction folded in 2009 with a KO of Rich Franklin. He then received an immediate title shot with Anderson Silva (which was pushed back numerous times due to injuries to both fighters). He subsequently received a front kick in the face for his efforts in his fight with Silva. At 34, Vitor still has another run left in him, and a chance to try and vault himself into the Hall of Fame.
UFC Record: 12 – 5
Notable UFC Wins: Evan Tanner (x2), Ken Shamrock, Yushin Okami, Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell.
UFC Career Highlights: UFC Middleweight champion, defended the title twice.
Why: One of the more popular fighters in UFC history, Rich Franklin is truly an enigma when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration. Although he was a champion at 185 lbs, his utter destruction at the hands of Anderson Silva seems to be what most fans remember about his run in the middleweight division. People forget that prior to the first Silva loss, Rich had only ever lost to Lyoto Machida (in a fight in Japan in 2003). Since he was too good to be fighting all the contenders at 185 lbs, but not good enough to defeat the champion, he moved up in weight to the light heavyweight division. He did have 2 "super fights" at 195 lbs (affectionately referred to as "Franklinweight", due to the fact as it is the perfect weight for Rich) splitting the two fights with Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort. Since those two fights, he has only fought twice, splitting a win and a loss with Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. He definitely sums up a guy on the fringe of HOF consideration, as he has had a very good career, but whether it is good enough to get him enshrined is a tough question to answer. Maybe a few more big wins at 205 lbs can catapult him up the ladder.
UFC Record: 13 – 1 – 1
Notable UFC Wins: Thiago Alves (x2), Diego Sanchez, Paulo Thiago
UFC Career Highlights: Recorded 8 victories in a row prior to his lose in title fight with Georges St. Pierre
Why: This one I am sure will cause the most debate. Should Jon Fitch be a Hall of Famer? If GSP never got into MMA, then yes, Fitch would be a sure fire HOFmer. This is due to the fact that I am sure Fitch would be the welterweight champion by this point and possibly hold the spot that GSP holds. The constant #2 welterweight in the world for the better part of 3 years, and is trying to claw his way back to a title fight after getting absolutely dominated by GSP back at UFC 87. A look at his resume also leads you to say that he would need a couple more big name wins in there to be considered HOF material. It also probably doesn’t help that 56 % of his wins come via decision (and typically fairly boring). But there is no denying his skills, as he is one of only a handful of fighters to have 8 wins in a row in the Octagon. At 33, Fitch still has a couple of good years left in him, as he hasn’t taken much damage through his career (due to his smothering top game.) It remains to be seen if he can ever get to the point where people wouldn’t look at you as if you were high if you mentioned Jon Fitch as a potential Hall of Famer.
Outside Looking In (Also known as The Art Monk division. May take them a few times to get in)
UFC Record: 9 – 5
Notable wins: Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson, Rich Franklin, Shogun Rua, Stephan Bonner (x2)
UFC Career Highlights: Winner of The Ultimate Fighter Season 1, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, sold more books than any other mixed martial artist.
Why: One of the most beloved fighters in UFC history, Forrest Griffin is the everyman in the sport. His sense of humor and willingness to scrap has made him a fan favorite since he debuted on the 1st season of The Ultimate Fighter. His fight with Stephan Bonnar on TUF 1 final has been called the most important fight in UFC history, as the two of them went to war in front of a national audience. That fight helped propel the UFC into what we know it as today. Since that fight, Forrest has had some extreme highs in his career (win over Shogun Rua fresh from his run in Pride, as well as a title victory over Rampage Jackson) and some lows (getting KOed by Rashad in his first title defense, being made an absolute fool of by Anderson Silva). Forrest has never been the most talented LHW, but his work ethic and willingness to do almost anything to win has made him a borderline Hall of Famer. He would still need another good run to close out his career in my opinion to get there, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility. He is only 32, but has indicated he doesn't have the desire to fight like he once did.. He has become a successful author, and recently a father. He has time to get his career to a HOF level, it is whether he still wants to is the biggest question.
UFC Record: 10 – 10
Notable wins: Matt Serra, Dan Hardy
UFC Career Highlights: Owner of most Fight Of the Night bonuses in UFC history, second in Fight Night bonuses behind Anderson Silva
Why: I can already hear the rage. "How dare you mention Chris Lytle as a potential HOFamer!". Lytle owns the record for most FOTN bonuses, and trails only Anderson Silva for most Fight Night bonueses ever. The reason for this was that Lytle was willing to throw away his dreams of possibly becoming a champion (which were somewhat slim to begin with) to become a fan favorite. You always knew that when Lytle was involved in a fight since his lost to Matt Serra at the TUF 4 finale, that he it was going to be a scrap. Even after his loss to Serra, he still ended up fighting top fighters in his weight class, such as Matt Hughes, Thiago Alves and Josh Koscheck. Realistically I can't think he will make the Hall of Fame, as his wins came against lower tiered competition, but Dana and the Fertitta brothers have a lot of respect for Lytle and his go for broke style, so maybe he will sneak in.
UFC Record: 4 -2
Notable wins: Randy Couture, Frank Mir, Shane Carwin
UFC Career Highlights: UFC Heavyweight champion, successfully defending the title twice. Headlined or co-headlined 4 of the top 10 UFC PPVs of all time
Why: When I first thought about putting him on this list, my first reaction was "Maybe if he started earlier this would have been more realistic". But, when you look at what Brock did in his short period of time (as someone who has had surgery from diverticulitis, I will not be shocked if he is unable to continue his career post surgery) it is hard to deny him the honor. After his controversial loss to Frank Mir, he crushed Heath Herring, then took the title from Randy Couture. He defended the belt twice (which is easier said than done, considering he is tied for most consecutive HW title defenses of all time). He headlined or co-headline 4 of the top 10 UFC PPVs of all time. The man drew in the fans, and proved to be a very dangerous heavyweight. Sure we have found out that he doesn't like to get hit, and he may have lost the best athletic years of his MMA career, but it doesn't mean he has not been a successful mixed martial artist.
UFC Record: 10 – 4
UFC Career Highlights: 2 time UFC Heavyweight champion, defending it once during his first reign, and twice during his second.
Why: Please, before you dismiss me as some sort of idiot lunatic (if you haven't already), hear me out. I am not talking about the current, out of shape 2011 Tim Sylvia. I am talking about the guy that was in pretty much every big UFC heavyweight fight from 2003 until 2008. Before he was losing to guys like retired boxer Ray Mercer and TUF contestant Abe Wagner, during his prime with the UFC, he headlined 5 PPVs, and co-headlined 4 more. He is 5 - 3 in title fights. He is one of only 3 men to defend the belt more than once (Lesnar and Couture being the others). I will be the first to admit he was not the most fun fighter to watch (his stinker of a title fight with Jeff Monson is one of the worst fights I have ever seen), but there is no arguing the man's credentials. He maybe a somewhat running joke now, but during his hayday he was one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world.
So, that is pretty much it. I would like to think that the UFC as it continues to grow will attempt to utlize the HOF a bit more (dare we dream an actual UFC Hall of Fame in say Vegas where fans could visit like the Pro Football Hall of Fame). I would like to think that the majority of these guys will have a good shot to make it there someday