Hall of Fame: The mere words elicit images of grandstanding champions dominating their respective sports.
Through any and all means, each athlete worthy of such honorable mention must have broken records in a manner iconic of his or her sport. Definitive and declarative, entry into this upper echelon ought to be beyond argument.
Or so it should be.
Yet the UFC Hall of Fame is often discussed for all the wrong reasons. Debates and disagreements are sparked when certain UFC veterans are mentioned—in some cases the concern is over those who have not received their just recognition, whereas in others, the commotion revolves around names that have received far too much of it.
What specific accomplishments does a fighter need to gain entry? Championships in multiple weight classes? An undisclosed number of consecutive victories? Philanthropic efforts to promote the sport both inside the cage and out of it?
It's unlikely that we'll pacify all involved by continuing to induct fighters without an open standard. On the contrary, the UFC brass need to outline a firm set of criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame.
There are plenty of reasons that could make the list, but let's examine the most crucial ones.
At the UFC 160 post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White revealed plans to induct both Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar in the coming months. White placed emphasis on their now-iconic fight at the conclusion of the original Ultimate Fighter—that historic battle served to both resuscitate a nearly dying sport and to present the show's inaugural winner.
Before White even managed to step away from the microphone, a vehement public outcry had begun.
Could a single fight—however pivotal to the sport's development it may have been—warrant a pass into the UFC Hall of Fame? Complaints arose that Griffin and Bonnar proved how subjective and circumstantial the entire procedure truly is.
The UFC needs to apply an objective, reasonable and critical approach to the fighters that get in. The whims of Dana White won't suffice for a standard of entry.
Bonnar concluded his UFC run with a rather uninspiring 8-7 record—not to mention a pair of failed drug tests to further tarnish his reputation. It stands to reasons that similar fighters would never be shown such leniency.
If he's inducted, it sets a fairly low bar for future inductees. They can strive for a memorable fight and the good graces of the UFC president.
Instead, strict and objective requirements should isolate those who are rightfully worthy,
The prestigious UFC championship belt
Questionable inductees might impact more than standard requirements for the Hall of Fame—they might tarnish the reputations of the elite few already in it.
A mere glance at the former champions previously inducted—names like Matt Hughes, Royce Gracie and Chuck Liddell—makes it all too clear that these are identities worth cherishing. They fought valiantly for the organization before it even showed signs of becoming a multimillion dollar juggernaut.
Quite literally, they sacrificed physical well-being en route to (in some cases) championships across multiple weight classes. Their ranks shouldn't be muddled by names that inspire feelings of mediocrity.
The Hall of Fame should be unwavering in its prestige—that will only happen with stricter criteria for entry.
Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell
Fighters have fallen by the wayside in more ways than can possibly be mentioned—failed drug tests, consecutive defeats, and poor self-promotion can often seal the deal on a career spiraling downward.
Discussing the legacy of a given fighter has become somewhat of a time-honored trait in both casual and hardcore MMA circles. Records, stats and everything in between are openly dissected.
The conversations can go on endlessly but are sometimes impeded when a specific quality is called into question: credibility.
Ideally, a Hall of Famer needs to avoid these pitfalls and somehow maintain a nearly impervious air of authenticity.
Royce Gracie submitted gargantuan foes without hesitation. Chuck Liddell rendered more men unconscious than previously thought possible. Few would call into question the merit of such revered names.
Yet with fighters like Frank Shamrock openly questioning the merit of the the UFC Hall of Fame, casual fans may begin to question whether these halls might instead be empty echo chambers.
If criteria are established, the UFC can manage to avoid the bad publicity associated with questioned credibility. They can secure the quality of the Hall of Fame for either MMA purists or casual passersby.
UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre
Gone are the days of indomitable champions surrounded by ranks of mediocre challengers. The UFC is now home to an elite roster of the world's best cage fighters. Divisional standings are ever-changing and the battle to reach the top has never been more heated.
If the UFC Hall of Fame is to be the pinnacle, shouldn't these up-and-coming fighters pursue certain achievements and standards on their way to the top?
Some preach that numbers don't lie—the UFC win-loss record should paint a fairly accurate picture. Others claim losses are irrelevant if the victories were truly timeless. Whatever the standard measure ultimately becomes, it should be made public knowledge.
It certainly doesn't have to be written in stone—but it does need to be readily available to both fighters and fans.
The road from the amateur circuit to the venerable UFC Hall of Fame needs to be paved with solid obstacles—challenges that are both possible and, more importantly, worth overcoming.
The UFC can justify both current and future inductees in a myriad of ways—or perhaps Dana White will continue to wax rhapsodic about fighters of his choosing.
The wisest and most practical approach is to simply outline the what, when and how of the UFC Hall of Fame.