MMA: Why the Sport Needs a True HOF and Who Should Be in It

Levi NileContributor IIINovember 16, 2012

MMA: Why the Sport Needs a True HOF and Who Should Be in It

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    Many years from now, when fans look back on the sport, they will be able to recognize several important men who were celebrated for their contributions and achievements in the sport by way of the UFC Hall of Fame.

    Sadly, should they content themselves with that accounting they will never know such fighters as Frank Shamrock, Fedor Emelianenko, Jeremy Horn, Kazushi Sakuraba and othersmen who either fought for other promotions or who simply weren’t on Dana White’s list of friends.

    The UFC Hall of Fame is a great thing, but it will never be a true HOF for the sport because it is totally dependent on the whims of a single man who is not above ignoring the contributions of others if he does not like them.

    A true HOF is not dependent upon the selections of one man. The International Boxing Hall of Fame has five categories (Modern, Old-Timer, Pioneer, Non-Participant and Observer). Those inducted are chosen by an international panel of boxing historians and members of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Votes are cast and tabulated, and inductees can become members.

    And that is just what the sport of MMA needs: a true HOF that recognizes fighters and other contributors to the sport with no biases for or professional prejudices against. It would be a committee of many minds and sensibilities, not an army of one, and from there, recognition and induction would be the byproduct of a concerned consensus.

    Which is how it should be.

    As great as the UFC is, the sport is too big to have its HOF members decided upon by a single man.

    So, who should be inducted without hesitation or delay once such a HOF is born?

    Here are the names of 25 deserving individuals for your consideration.

Frank Shamrock

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    Category: Dual (Fighter and Pioneer)

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1994-2009

    Accomplishments: First UFC Middleweight Champion, King of Pancrase, WEC Light Heavyweight Champion, Strikeforce Middleweight Champion

    Argument For Induction: When Frank Shamrock first entered into professional competition, no one knew how far he would go, but the former Lions Den fighter would go on to become a legend of the sport.

    He not only won numerous championships, but he was also a tireless advocate of the sport. While many newer fans know him mainly by his feud with Dana White, Shamrock was the prototype for current fighters like GSP: a cross-trained wrecking machine who never let a fight go to a decision in his brief, but stellar, UFC middleweight title reign.

    Shamrock will never be inducted in the UFC HOF, but given his accomplishments and service to the sport, his is a name that should be enshrined and recognized with pride for generations to come.

Ken Shamrock

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    Category: Dual (Fighter and Pioneer)

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1993-2010

    Accomplishments: UFC Superfight Champion, King of Pancrase

    Argument For Induction: As one of the first fighters to compete in UFC 1, Ken Shamrock carried the sport on his shoulders when Royce Gracie left after UFC 5. The sport needed a face the fans knew and would accept, and Shamrock fit the bill.

    He also knew how to fight.

    Shamrock would come back to the company and help Dana White and Zuffa put on the big PPV success at UFC 40. Since that time, Shamrock has seen his career go downhill, hand-in-hand with his age, but his impact on the sport is undeniable.

    He was also a star in Japan, becoming the first ever King of Pancrase, and trained a slew of fighters who would go on to become champions in the UFC and lesser organizations.

Jeff Blatnick

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    Category: Observer

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1994-2012

    Accomplishments: Olympic gold medal winner, MMA Commentator

    Argument For Induction: Jeff Blatnick was one of the true champions of the sport, not only while commentating for the UFC from 1994 to 2001, but behind the scenes. He spread the word about the sport and lent it the credibility of his name and accomplishments in the world of wrestling.

    He also authored the Mixed Martial Arts Council Manual which detailed rules, codes of conduct and procedure. These exist in some form or another to this day.

    His passing on October 24 of this year was a tremendous loss to the sport, one which we will continue to feel for years to come. Thankfully, many of his contributions have been the cornerstones for the foundation of our growing sport. This is enough for him to be recognized and enshrined in the HoF.

Charles "Mask" Lewis

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    Category: Contributor

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1997-2009

    Accomplishments: Founder of TapouT clothing

    Argument For Induction: Some people take and some people give. For those who prize the latter, Charles Lewis (who died in 2009) was head and shoulders above his peers.

    The man known as “Mask” founded the TapouT clothing line (with Tim "Skyscrape" Katz and Dan "Punkass" Campbell). Along the way, Lewis gave anything and everything he had at his disposal to fighters—on the rise or establishedand was a friend indeed to fans in need.

    When you think of the word “contributor” and how it is associated with the sport, Lewis was "the Man." As in the case with Jeff Blatnick, words fail to describe just how much Lewis meant to the sport and those around him.

Pat Miletich

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    Category: Dual (Fighter and Pioneer)

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1995-2008

    Accomplishments: First UFC Welterweight Champion

    Argument For Induction: Some men seem born to play many roles. In the case of Pat Miletich, he was not only born to fight, but coach other fighters as well as teach toward the end of serving his community.

    In competition, Miletich was a well-rounded bulldog who never shied away from a scrap, no matter where it took place. As the UFC’s first welterweight champion, he defended the belt four times before losing it to Carlos Newton at UFC 31. Newton didn’t get to keep the title for long, however, as it was ripped from his waist by Matt Hughes, Miletich's student.

    As a coach, his tutelage saw three pupils (Hughes, Jens Pulver and Tim Sylvia) become UFC champions. Others, such as Jeremy Horn, won belts in so many “lesser” organizations that the amount of title belts organized under the MFS banner was so numerous that they were akin to the loose change found in a rich man's pocket.

    While so many people today talk about Greg Jackson and other notable coaches and gyms as having no rivals, Pat Miletich still stands the test of time as a teacher and motivator par excellence.

    Should the UFC ever make changes for The Ultimate Fighter to allow coaches who are not fighters, a team coached by Pat Miletich would probably run the table. 

Jens Pulver

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1999-2012

    Accomplishments: First UFC Lightweight Champion

    Argument For Induction: Jens Pulver, the first UFC Lightweight Champion, not only got his name in the history books but realized a lifelong dream. He was  recognized as the best, and defended his title against all comers, including BJ Penn, who looked as unstoppable then as Anderson Silva or Jon Jones does now.

    The rise of Pulver was in many ways a Cinderella story that was simply too short. But history is history and deserves to be marked and remembered.

    Jens Pulver should be inducted without reservation.

Matt Hughes

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1998-2011

    Accomplishments: Two-time UFC Welterweight Champion (seven title defenses)

    Argument For Induction: Two title reigns as UFC Welterweight Champion for a total of seven title defenses against some of the best in his division make Hughes the greatest champion the division has ever seen.

    A wrestler with enormous power, Hughes slammed his way into the title, and from there he ruled the division with an iron fist. He also proved to be a constant student of the game, turning into a highly accomplished submission artist along the way.

    As it stands, Hughes seems to have retired from the sport that he served as well as anyone. That is saying a great deal indeed.

Randy Couture

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1997-2011

    Accomplishments: Three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion, two-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion

    Argument For Induction: What needs to be said about Randy Couture that hasn’t already been said a hundred times before?

    As a courageous fighter with a mind for the game, Couture proved that the limitations of age can bend to the will of dedication and enthusiasm. And if ever there was an enthusiastic fighter in the sport, it was Couture.

    As a coach, he is as dedicated as they come, pouring everything he has into those in his charge. Couture holds nothing in reserve and serves his students first, last and always.

    Some things are indeed self-evident. It should go without saying that Couture deserves induction into any MMA Hall of Fame with no questions asked.

Chuck Liddell

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1998-2010

    Accomplishments: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion

    Argument For Induction: A true walking definition of a fighter, Chuck Liddell was born to compete. Whenever you saw him walking to the cage, there was no dread or worry, only a near-poisonous joy about him; he was getting to do what he loved, and he knew how lucky he was.

    Countless times he stepped up for the UFC, and during his career he fought and defeated some of the very best in the sport by keeping it simple: stuff the takedowns and blast them out on the feet.

    When they made Chuck Liddell, they broke the mold. Men like him should never be forgotten.

Tito Ortiz

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1997-2012

    Accomplishments: UFC Light Heavyweight champion

    Argument For Induction: No matter what moniker he has chosen through the yearsbe it the bad boy or the people's champTito Ortiz has been one of the most recognized figures in the history of the sport.

    No matter what people may think of him, he clearly is a fighter. Ortiz's first foray into the UFC was unpaid; back when fighters were making peanuts, he fell in love with the sport. He pursued it with such a passion that he became a superstar, and along the way became the longest-reigning Light Heavyweight Champion the UFC has ever seen.

    He’s been involved in some of the biggest PPV cards the sport has, and his name is forever linked to his feuds with Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell and Dana White.

    No matter if Jon Jones breaks his record or not, Ortiz will never be forgotten.

Dan Severn

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    Category: Dual (Fighter and Pioneer)

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1994-2012

    Accomplishments: UFC Tournament Champion (X 2), UFC Superfight Champion

    Argument For Induction: Although he hasn’t fought on the biggest stages for many years, Dan Severn still continues to fight. Considering he made his first appearance at UFC 4, that is an accomplishment in itself.

    Severn loves to compete; that passion still burns within his breast. While not the most charismatic or explosive fighter, Severn has proven to be consistent not only in the cage but also outside of it. And he promotes the sport tirelessly on a grass roots level.

    Severn was just as significant as Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie. Years from now, when on his deathbed, he can speak of MMA and say: “I had a hand in all of that.”

Don Frye

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1996-2011

    Accomplishments: UFC Tournament Champion (X 2)

    Argument For Induction: One of the first true double-threats the UFC had ever seen, Don “The Predator” Frye was a very good wrestler who had some of the best striking of his time. Coupled with his hard-as-a-coffin-nail attitude, he won two UFC tournaments and enjoyed a successful career in Japan.

    Frye also engaged in some serious wars that are still talked about to this day, including his gut-check performance against Ken Shamrock at Pride 19: Bad Blood.

    Frye was one of the original tough guys; were John Wayne alive today, he’d be a passionate fan of Don Frye.

Fedor Emelianenko

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: Russian

    Years: 2000-2012

    Accomplishments: Pride Heavyweight Champion

    Argument For Induction: No matter what Dana White or any other detractors say, Fedor Emelianenko is without a doubt the greatest Heavyweight Champion the sport of MMA has ever known, and one of the top pound-for-pound greats in history.

    Quiet and reserved, the man known simply as Fedor never felt the need to engage in any kind of trash talk or needless bravado: he simply showed up, calm as a cup of water, and then more often than not annihilated his opponent. Then he quietly slipped out of the ring, humble as a priest at a funeral.

    Owner of a 28-fight winning streak at the height of his power, Fedor defeated some of the greatest fighters of his era, often times making it look like child’s play.

    There can be no doubt that “The Last Emperor” deserves a high place on the wall of any true MMA HOF, and to suggest otherwise is folly.

Royce Gracie

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    Category: Dual (Fighter and Pioneer)

    Nationality: Brazilian

    Years: 1993-2007

    Accomplishments: UFC Tournament Champion (X 3)

    Argument For Induction: Royce Gracie is yet another man whose impact on the sport has been so significant that to imagine a MMA HOF without him it to not imagine a HOF at all.

    He’s the man who started it all, and that in itself will continue to speak for itself for generations to come. In The Elements of Style, there is a rule about writing: omit needless words. So, in that spirit…

    Royce Gracie: MMA HOF member, pioneer, legend.

    Enough said.

John McCarthy

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    Category: Contributor

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1994-Present

    Accomplishments:

    Argument For Induction: As iconic as the UFC Octagon itself, “Big” John McCarthy is forever linked to the UFC not only because of his impassioned “Let’s get it on!” fight commencement, but also because of his Octagon presence. The term “Octagon control” might be a criteria for judging a fighter's success, round-by-round, but it is also the providence of a good referee.

    Big John is just about as good as it gets.

    When Big John is in the cage, you know things are going to be fair; he will be utterly impartial and the rules of the sport will be observed. Thus the sport will be served, as has been the case since he first stepped into the Octagon at UFC 2.

    He has a kind of gravitas about him that is terribly needed in the world of combative sport, and that is why fighters and fans love him so. An induction into a MMA HOF would be a fitting tribute to a man who has been tireless in his attention and service to the sport.

Jeremy Horn

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1996-2011

    Accomplishments: 2000 Rings Stars Middleweight Tournament winner, IFC Middleweight Champion, KOTC Light Heavyweight Champion, Elite 1 MMA Light Heavyweight Champion

    Argument For Induction: While he may never have grabbed a UFC title, Jeremy Horn has been one of the most active and successful fighters the sport has ever known with his current record standing at 89 victories, 21 defeats and five draws. This is an astonishing number when you consider that he’s only been fighting for 15 years.

    Some men love fighting so much and do it with such verve that they are happy to promote the sport from the grass roots up, sometimes even fighting in small, budding promotions for free in order to give the fans and other fighters the attention their name brings. Horn has done that on more than one occasion.

    He’s fought in just about every meaningful MMA organization on the planet, and the men he’s fought comprise a staggering list of “who’s who” in the sport.

    Jeremy Horn is a legend of a different kind, and men such as that are one of the reasons why we watch.

Mark Coleman

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1996-2010

    Accomplishments: UFC Tournament Champion, UFC Heavyweight Champion, Pride Grand Prix 2000 Champion

    Argument For Induction: The "Godfather of Ground-and-Pound," Mark Coleman took the MMA world by storm at UFC 10. Since that time, he has had a storied career that eventually saw him not only win the first ever Pride open-weight Grand Prix in 2000, but also saw him fight at UFC 100.

    A powerful wrestler with a ferocious attitude in the cage, Coleman was a major force in the sport. His style of fighting and dedication to wrestling endured until his final days of active MMA competition.

    If ever a man deserved HOF recognition, it would be the Godfather.

Bas Rutten

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    Category: Dual (Fighter and Pioneer)

    Nationality: Dutch

    Years: 1993-2006

    Accomplishments: UFC Heavyweight Champion, three-time King of Pancrase

    Argument For Induction: As one of the first true strikers in the early days of MMA to actually be successful, Bas Rutten was a dominant force in the rings of Pancrase, beating Frank Shamrock, Maurice Smith and Guy Mezger.

    He made a successful transition to America and became the UFC Heavyweight Champion, albeit via disputed decision.

    What is not in dispute was just how great a fighter he was. As fighters like Shogun Rua are to today’s MMA, so was Rutten to his era. (Perhaps more so.)

    A colorful and knowledgeable commentator, Rutten continues to educate and entertain. But for those of us who recall the early days of the sport, he’ll always be remembered as a true fighter.

Dana White

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    Category: Contributor

    Nationality: American

    Years: 2001-Present

    Accomplishments: President of the UFC/Strikeforce

    Argument For Induction: Although he is perhaps the most brash and outspoken figure in the sport of MMA, Dana White has been working knee-deep in the trenches since the first day he became President of the UFC. Most of the battles he has waged in service of the sport will forever remain unknown to the vast, critical majority.

    For that alone, he should be enshrined.

    While many of his detractors point fingers and cry “Unprofessional!,” White is also very transparent and open. And his generosity should never be questioned; how many times has he donated money or helped to pay for operations for those in need?

    The answer to that question is “More than most.”

    White never looks for praise or uses his acts of generosity to deflect heat away from himself (or his position) as the man who makes the unpopular decisions. Aside from the UFC 151 debacle, White has always been the one to say “The buck stops here.”

    That is exactly what the sport needs.

The Fertitta Brothers

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    Category: Contributor

    Nationality: American

    Years: 2001-Present

    Accomplishments: Owners of the UFC/Strikeforce

    Argument For Induction: Few people have the nerve and resolve to put their money with their mouths are. If the UFC had been bought by lesser men than the Fertitta brothers, it would have probably died a quiet death.

    Thankfully, the Fertitta brothers had faith, and when the going got toughespecially on their wallets, to the tune of over 40 millionthey went “all in." The result was a steadily growing brand, now on FOX, which enjoys nearly all of the advantages of a mainstream sport that attracts more fans day-by-day.

    Thanks to the Fertitta brothers, fighters also have insurance.

    While many are quick to point out their shortcomings, it is always the first step that is the hardest and that draws the most criticism.

    When they bought the UFC, they didn’t just give employment to the fighters in their stable; in many ways they saved the sport in America.

    That should never, ever be forgotten.

Masa Funaki

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    Category: Dual (Fighter and Pioneer)

    Nationality: Japanese

    Years: 1993-2008

    Accomplishments: Co-founder of Pancrase, two-time King of Pancrase

    Argument For Induction: While men like Ken and Frank Shamrock, Maurice Smith, Bas Rutten and countless others have made names for themselves in the Pancrase organization, none of them were as adored as Masa Funakidubbed by Josh Barnett as “the symbol of Japan.”

    Although he is mainly known as a professional wrestler these days, Funaki is widely regarded as one of the greatest mixed martial artists Japan has ever produced. When considering his role as co-founder of Pancrase, you can add pioneer to his list of accomplishments.

    What Royce Gracie is to Brazil, Funaki is to Japan.

    That is history worth memorializing.

Kazushi Sakuraba

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: Japanese

    Years: 1996-2011

    Accomplishments: UFC Heavyweight Tournament Champion

    Argument For Induction: Some men love to fight so much that they cannot seem to turn away from any contest, no matter the consequences to their health or legacy.

    Thankfully for Kazushi Sakuraba, when he was in his prime, his time was not wasted toiling in smaller shows. He became a superstar in his country of Japan thanks to his brilliant run.

    Even now, during the twilight of his once brilliant career, he will always be remembered as “The Gracie Hunter.”

    Watching Sakuraba fight in Japan when he was young and utterly fearless was simply incredible. He was easily the biggest star the country of Japan has seen in the sport, and for those of us who watched him submit opponent after opponent, we will never forget.

Maurice Smith

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: American

    Years: 1993-2012

    Accomplishments: UFC Heavyweight Champion, Extreme Fighting Heavyweight Champion, WKA Heavyweight Champion, K-1 standout

    Argument For Induction: The first time most MMA fans saw Maurice Smith, he was stepping into the cage to fight UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman. To be honest no one thought he stood a chance.

    After the fight was over, we all knew differently. But Smith and training partner Frank Shamrock were not in the least surprised.

    Smith was the first real striker who went about learning the ground game. From there, he was able to prove that strikers could not only survive in the sport, but thrive at the championship level.

    Smith not only was a UFC and kickboxing champion, he was also an excellent instructor, teaching fighters such and Frank Shamrock and Randy Couture the finer points of the standup game.

Marco Ruas

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    Category: Fighter

    Nationality: Brazilian

    Years: 1984-2007

    Accomplishments: UFC Tournament Champion

    Argument For Induction: Much like his countrymen of the Gracie last name, Marco Ruas is another Brazilian to find a successful career in the sport during the early days when the pay wasn’t nearly as good and the weight classes didn’t really exist.

    His renown preceded him into the UFC, where he became the first fighter to show just how devastating leg kicks could be in MMA.

    What Ruas brought with him is akin to the other side of the coin the Gracie family brought with them to America: an accomplished submission grappler with a high level of striking skills.

    Ruas proved that Jiu-Jitsu was not the only art practiced in Brazil.

Renzo Gracie

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    Category: Dual (Fighter and Pioneer)

    Nationality: Brazilian

    Years: 1992-2010

    Accomplishments: World Combat Championship 1 winner

    Argument For Induction: As far as inductees go, Renzo Gracie squeaks in quietly, with an easy smile and a comforting laugh that is so honest it’s disarming.

    A noted teacher of his family's brand of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Renzo is one of the most respected and sought after instructors in the country; his passion for his students has never been questioned. His technical expertise has seen him win many grappling contests and MMA fights, and his travels have seen him compete in Brazil, Japan and America, acquiring devoted fans along the way.

    As a fighter, Renzo was unabashedly passionate. He won with grace and accepted defeat as humbly (and happily) as a man who truly loves what he does and knows how blessed he is to do what he loves.