Photo by Esther Lin via All Elbows
With Tito Ortiz' ascension to the UFC Hall of Fame imminent and early days pioneers Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock Dan Severn and Mark Coleman already honored with inclusion, there remains only one significant figure from the pre-Zuffa era not in the Hall of Fame: Frank Shamrock.
Shamrock, currently an announcer for Showtime's broadcasts of Strikeforce isn't shy and spoke out about the hall in a recent interview with Rebellion MMA Radio. Here's what Frank had to say on the topic:
"I don't think the(UFC) Hall of Fame has any credibility unless I'm in it. I was the first champion ever and set two world records and I've been pioneering for this sport since before there was weight classes and gloves. So, it kind of looks to me like the whole hall of fame is, it's up to Dana's own jock as to who decide to go in and unfortunately that does not apply in a real sport, in a real sport it is completely different, so."
It should be pointed out that Shamrock was not the first champion of the UFC. The Superfight belt was established in 1995 at UFC 6. Frank Shamrock was the first UFC Middleweight (then 200 lbs) champion however and his belt passed directly to Tito Ortiz and is now the UFC Light Heavyweight belt.
My argument in favor of Shamrock joining the UFC HoF along with the full Shamrock interview from Rebellion MMA Radio is after the jump...
First two important points:
- You can only evaluate fighters (or any athlete) based on how they stacked up against their contemporaries. No great boxing champ of the past, whether its John L. Sullivan, Jack Johnson, or Jack Dempsey, would have much of a chance against the Klitschkos and that doesn't matter one bit. The Hall of Fame is about actual accomplishments against real opponents, not hypotheticals.
- You have to evaluate a fighter's greatness by his peak. No one is complaining that Willie Mays barely hit .250 in his final 5 or so years in the major leagues, therefore no one should hold Shamrock's later years against his HoF chances. All that matters was how good was he at his peak and how long was his peak?
- All five fights were title fights. Shamrock finished all 5 of those opponents, 3 by KO and 2 by submission.
- His opponents were the best in the world at the time, in a division that had never before been united.
- Shamrock was truly the first mixed martial artist. His training with kickboxing and UFC champ Maurice Smith and RINGS star Tsuyoshi Kohsaka armed Shamrock with excellent wrestling, submission grappling and striking skills. His work training Smith to a UFC title should also be factored into his UFC HoF vote.
The thing about Frank's run from Inoue - Ortiz is that he essentially beat the #1 - #5 in the division and did it in extremely dramatic fashion. For my dollar Frank's title run is still the most thrilling thing I've ever seen in MMA.
- Enson Inoue was the shooto champ and was undefeated in the UFC. their bout was a title shot eliminator for the UFC. It was an incredible war that saw Frank survive being mounted for almost the entire first round only to come back and get a KO in a wild brawl. This wasn't a UFC fight, but it's relevant since UFC execs used it to determine who would face Kevin Jackson for the belt.
- Kevin Jackson was an undefeated Olympic Gold medalist in freestyle wrestling who brought an entirely new level of athleticism to MMA. When Frank beat him he was fresh off winning a UFC mini-tourney and destroying the Extreme Fighting #1 contender. Frank sub'd him in 22 seconds.
- Igor Zinoviev was the undefeated Extreme Fighting champ, had destroyed Inoue in 44 secs and beaten Mario Sperry - becoming one of the first non-BJJ fighters to get a stoppage over a major BJJ blackbelt. Frank beat him in 16 seconds and ended his career.
- Jeremy Horn was an unheralded nobody that Frank fought on short notice as a filler fight. Horn gave him everything he could handle through regulation, Frank came up with a knee bar in the OT.
- John Lober - while his record is spotty in retrospect, Lober fought Zinoviev to a brutal tie and had beaten Frank in Frank's first NHB match (as opposed to pancrase which didn't allow closed fist strikes). In the rematch Frank utterly destroyed Lober and made him beg Frank to stop.
- Tito Ortiz - Tito was pretty much the pioneer of weight cutting in MMA. He fought with an ~30 lb weight advantage and was fearsome and nearly unstoppable. Frank rode out Tito's dominance in the early rounds and came back for the KO win.
It's impossible for fans today to really understand what was so impressive about Frank's run at the top but no one who was watching at the time doubts that he was among the best of all time.