Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar will be inducted this summer. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
Before Anderson Silva attempts to successfully defend his middleweight title for the 11th time at UFC 162 on July 6, there will be a ceremony commemorating one of the most significant moments in Ultimate Fighting Championship.
It will be yet another opportunity to wax poetic about how the Las Vegas-based promotion would not be at the forefront of the “fastest growing sport in the world” were it not for the efforts of Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar at “The Ultimate Fighter 1” Finale; and the accolades will be well deserved. Griffin-Bonnar 1 was a where-were-you-when-it-happened event for the sport, a fight that attracted untold numbers of new fans to mixed martial arts. As a result, Griffin and Bonnar will be enshrined together as hall of famers.
If the UFC Hall of Fame were a tangible thing, a Las Vegas destination families or groups of friends could visit on their way to the next big fight, the moment could be forever immortalized for everyone to relive. An exhibit with memorabilia, video and pictures from that seminal showdown would appropriately honor everyone involved. Of course, the UFC Hall of Fame is more of an abstract concept at this point. Most of its inhabitants -- Charles “Mask” Lewis, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Royce Gracie, Mark Coleman and Randy Couture -- can be found by clicking a link at the bottom of UFC.com. Adding Tito Ortiz, who was inducted nearly a year ago prior to UFC 148, apparently is not yet a priority.
Cooperstown or Canton this is not. There is no 46-person selection committee, as the Pro Football Hall of Fame employs to scrutinize and analyze each potential candidate. Nor is there any type of set criteria for induction, such as that utilized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, although “put on exciting fights, sell pay-per-views and don’t tick off the boss” would seem to be a good starting point.
It appears the UFC selects candidates internally, but it is not clear how many members of the organization are actually included in the process. Usually, White reveals the latest selections to the media, their merits are briefly debated and we all move on with our lives after a mid-year induction ceremony. As it stands, choosing UFC hall of famers seems to be a rather arbitrary endeavor, with worthy candidates such as Frank Shamrock and Pat Miletich left out in the cold, all while Bonnar receives a coveted spot in cyberspace obscurity.
Perhaps it does not matter all that much. The UFC is not trying to be like its more established stick-and-ball brethren -- it wants to be bigger -- and as thorough and meticulous as the process is for selecting a hall of famer in say, baseball or football, the results still trigger plenty of indignation each year. Right now, the UFC’s hallowed ground almost seems like more of an afterthought, which is why the addition of Bonnar, who went an unremarkable 8-6 in the Octagon, has not generated much negative outcry.
While Griffin is not necessarily one of the greatest light heavyweights of all-time, he did win the historic fight with Bonnar, briefly held a title and beat a trio of icons -- Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson and Ortiz -- during his tenure. Bonnar is merely riding the coattails of a moment that happened eight years ago.
By designating a clear selection panel, whether it is media, retired fighters, UFC employees or some combination of the three, the promotion could eliminate some of the ambiguity from the process. As the sport continues to grow and more fighters pass through the promotion’s ranks, interest in who might be in and who might be out would only increase, as arguing the hall-of-fame merits of athletes in other sports has dominated many a bar or water cooler discussion over the years.
The next step would be to build a UFC Hall of Fame museum, a place where history would be on display. Las Vegas, as the home of the promotion and the host of countless big-ticket fights, is the most logical site. Is that a more significant undertaking for Zuffa than extending its international reach, solving the testosterone replacement therapy conundrum or stocking an ever-growing event schedule with compelling matchups? Obviously not, but it would serve to add some legitimacy to something that should matter more than it currently does.
Do “Stephan Bonnar” and “UFC Hall of Famer” even belong in the same sentence? For now it has to, because White said so, and until there is progression toward a selection committee, set induction criteria and eventually, a location, that will have to suffice.
In a little more than a month’s time, we will be regaled with tales of Bonnar’s greatness as his place in UFC history is cemented. Then, we will shrug our shoulders and wait to watch Silva, a surefire hall of famer if there ever was one, attempt to add to his legacy by defeating Chris Weidman.
When the time comes for “The Spider” to be inducted, it should be more than a footnote. The fighters, the fans -- and the UFC -- deserve more.