Mixed Martial Arts Hall of Fame: The First Class
The Hall of Fame. Every sport has one. Why should our favorite sport be any different? I know the UFC has one in place, but the sport is bigger than the UFC. There are many fighters who fought in other organizations, who are just as deserving of being in the pantheon of greatness as anyone in the UFC.
Being that many fighters continue to fight long past their shelf date, I feel the criterion of being retired is outdated. Instead, induction should be limited to those fighters who were dominant and/or changed the sport. An active contending fighter will not be listed unless they have truly transcended the sport, i.e. Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianenko. Anderson Silva will ultimately make the cut, as will Georges St. Pierre, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria, B.J. Penn, and Dan Henderson.
There are several fighters I considered including, such as Rickson Gracie, but unless someone comes up with proof he really is 400-0, which has been disputed by his own father, I have to chalk it up to bulshido.
Three names I will leave off the list may shock some: Evan Tanner, Jeremy Horn, and David “Tank” Abbott. I feel Tanner represents the Hall of Very Good. His death, while untimely and tragic, has many people believing he deserves consideration as an all time great. I disagree. Horn is in the same boat: A good fighter who never took that next step to greatness. Tank, was very popular and very dangerous, but his 10-14 record combined with losses to all top competition he faced knock him out as well.
If I left anyone off this list or if there are listed individuals that should not be on it, please comment.
So invoking the spirits of Canton and Cooperstown I present in order of precedence the first class of MMA Hall of Fame inductees.
20. Minoru Suzuki
MMA Record: 28-20
Record vs Jushin Liger: 1-0
Notable victories: Ken Shamrock (twice), Maurice Smith, Guy Mezger
The other co-founder of Pancrase along with Masakatsu Funaki, Suzuki gets less recognition than his more prominent partner, but was every bit as important.
Like Funaki he also came from a wrestling background, and was also a King of Pancrase. He was the first person to defeat Ken Shamrock twice, no small feat considering the victories came during Shamrock’s fighting prime.
In his post-fight career, he has worked as a motion-actor on Namco’s outstanding Tekken series of video games.
19. Jens Pulver
MMA Record: 22-11
Record vs World of Warcraft: 0-1
Notable victories: Joe Stevenson, John Lewis, Caol Uno, B.J. Penn
Pulver won the very first UFC Lightweight Championship. He then reeled off three-consecutive title defenses, including a decision victory against heavily favored B.J. Penn.
In a sport where weight cutting is the norm, Pulver fought and was successful at a weight higher than he should have. Pulver’s highlight reel knockout of John Lewis is one of the most replayed knockouts in UFC history, and ended the talented Lewis’s career.
18. Marco Ruas
MMA Record: 8-4-2
Record vs UFC 7 opponents: 3-0
Notable victories: Gary Goodridge
Despite his only notable victory being against the tough but underachieving Gary Goodridge, Marco Ruas is very deserving of a spot in the MMA Hall of Fame. He was one of the first truly well rounded fighters in the sport.
Like Rickson Gracie (a fighter he called out several times), Ruas is rumored to have had many unsanctioned bouts not on his official record. Unlike Rickson, he also had the stones to step in and fight in a major promotion, winning the UFC 7 tournament.
17. Oleg Taktarov
MMA Record: 17-5-2
Record vs Dolph Lundgren: 1-0
Notable victories: Marco Ruas, Mark Kerr, David Abbott
Oleg “The Russian Bear” Taktarov brought sambo to the forefront of the UFC. Taktarov lost in the semifinals of UFC 5 to Dan Severn, but he would return to become the UFC 6 tournament champion. He fought Ken Shamrock to a draw for the UFC SuperFight Championship at UFC 7.
His calm demeanor and durability are the stuff of legends. He retired to seek a career in acting, and has starred in several successful action movies.
16. Maurice Smith
MMA Record: 12-13
Record vs Opponents in kickboxing: 63-11-4 (45 KO)
Notable victories: Minoru Suzuki, Mark Coleman, David Abbott, Marco Ruas (twice), Bobby Hoffman
Do not let the 12-13 record fool you. Mo was a bad man. He began his career as a kickboxer, winning the WKC Light Heavyweight Championship, WKA World Heavyweight Championship, and ISKA Muay Thai Heavyweight Championships.
The first striker to win UFC Gold, he was also the first fighter to defeat the seemingly invincible Mark Coleman. He would go on to defend his title against Tank Abbott before losing a controversial decision to Randy Couture.
15. Guy Mezger
MMA Record: 30-14-2
Record vs Questionable Judging Decisions: 0-4
Notable victories: Minoru Suzuki, Yuki Kondo (three times), Semmy Schilt, Masakatsu Funaki, Tito Ortiz
Guy Mezger is one of the most underrated fighters of our generation. A former King of Pancrase, and UFC 13 Lightweight (Under 200 pounds) Champion, Guy was another striker who found success in the early days of MMA. He was the first person to defeat Tito Ortiz, and gave MMA legends Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell, and Kazushi Sakuraba some of the toughest fights of their careers.
Questionable judging seemed to plague Guy in his career, but he stayed a contender until 2004 when he was forced to retire due to stroke-like symptoms prior to a rubber match with Tito Ortiz.
14. Pat Miletich
MMA Record: 29-7-2
Record vs Coaching the Ultimate Fighter: 0-1
Notable victories: Chris Brennan (twice), Mikey Burnett, Shonie Carter (twice), John Alessio
The founder of Miletich Fighting Systems, which is one of the most successful MMA camps in the sport, Pat has trained former UFC champions Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia, Jens Pulver, and EliteXC champion Robbie Lawler.
Pat was no slouch himself either winning the first UFC welterweight championship by defeating Mikey Burnett. He also won the UFC 16 Lightweight Tournament. Pat defended his UFC title four times, before losing to Carlos Newton.
13. Masakatsu Funaki
MMA Record: 39-13-1
Record vs Rickson Gracie: 0-1
Notable victories: Bas Rutten, Ken Shamrock, Minoru Suzuki, Frank Shamrock, Guy Mezger (twice), Yuki Kondo, Semmy Schilt (twice)
Co-founder of the Pancrase organization with Minoru Suzuki, as well as one of its finest fighters, Funaki is unfortunately not well known amongst today’s stateside MMA fans.
An excellent fighter with uncanny grappling prowess, 34 of his 39 victories came by way of submission. The first two-time King of Pancrase, Funaki is also the only person to have defeated both Shamrock brothers. His second fight with Bas Rutten is considered by many MMA pundits to be the match that put Japanese MMA on the map.
12. Matt Hughes
MMA Record: 43-7
Record vs “Superman” Dennis Hallman: 0-2
Notable victories: Dave Menne, Akihiro Gono, Carlos Newton (twice), Hayato Sakurai, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg (twice), Royce Gracie, Georges St. Pierre, B.J. Penn, Matt Serra.
The most dominant welterweight in UFC history, Hughes put together six-fight UFC win streaks on two separate occasions. Known for his incredible strength and huge slams, Hughes has beaten some of the best fighters the sport has to offer. His second fight with Frank Trigg is one of the greatest fights in UFC history.
His popularity waned following a stint as a coach on the Ultimate Fighter, but his ability and record speak for themselves.
11. Don Frye
MMA Record: 20-7-1
Record vs Godzilla: 1-0
Notable victories: Gary Goodridge (twice), David Abbott, Gilbert Yvel, Ken Shamrock
One of the first cross-trained athletes in MMA, Don Frye was the winner of the UFC 8 and Ultimate Ultimate 1996 Tournaments. He set the record for quickest knockout in UFC history, in his very first fight.
His feud with Ken Shamrock led to one of the greatest grudge matches in PrideFC history at the aptly named Pride 19: Bad Blood. His slobber knocker, hockey-style fight with Yoshihiro Takayama is still one of the most entertaining MMA fights of all time.
Don gained internet fame with his “Dear Don: Advice from the Predator” videos while coaching the Tucson Scorpions of the now defunct International Fight League. He currently has a segment on TAGG Radio called “Don Fryedays” which continues the phenomenon.
10. Dan Severn
MMA Record: 88-16-7
Record vs Opponents after turning 50: 24-6
Notable victories: Oleg Taktarov (twice), David Abbott, Ken Shamrock, Paul Buentello, Forrest Griffin
One of the most accomplished wrestlers on the planet, Dan was a four-time All-American while at Arizona State, and an alternate for the 1980 and 1984 Summer Games.
He burst onto the scene at UFC 4, losing in the finale against Royce Gracie. He returned to win the tournaments in UFC 5, and the Ultimate, Ultimate 1995, as well as the rematch with Ken Shamrock for UFC SuperFight Championship (The precursor to the UFC Heavyweight Title).
He was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame at UFC 52.
9. Mark Coleman
MMA Record: 15-9-0
Record vs PrideFC ring ropes: 0-1
Notable victories: Don Frye (twice), Gary Goodridge, Dan Severn, Igor Vovchanchyn, Allan Goes, Kazayuki Fujita, Mauricio Rua.
The godfather of ground and pound, Mark followed a decorated collegiate career into the UFC. His domination over opponents in UFC 10 and UFC 11 earned him a title shot with Dan Severn whom he defeated to become the first UFC Heavyweight Champion.
A string of losses sent Coleman to Japan, where he would go on to win the Pride 2000 Open Weight Grand Prix.
The UFC rightly inducted him into the Hall of Fame at UFC 82.
8. Igor Vovchanchyn
MMA Record: 47-9-1
Record vs Zolochiv townsfolk: Unknown
Notable victories: Gary Goodridge (twice), Kazushi Sakuraba, Enson Inoue, Mark Kerr, Gilbert Ivel, Valentijn Overeem, Yuki Kondo.
A former kickboxer, Igor’s famous temper would reportedly cause the townsfolk of his village to ring a bell every time he was in a bad mood.
Undersized for a heavyweight, he nonetheless was one of the most dominant fighters on the planet, going undefeated for 29 fights and over 4 years of competition.
He was the first person to defeat the unstoppable Mark Kerr (though later turned to a NC, he would go on to defeat Kerr in the rematch).
His knockout of Francisco Bueno, and absolute destruction of Enson Inoue are two of the most famous highlights in Pride FC history.
7. Frank Shamrock
MMA Record: 23-10-2
Record vs Opponents since “retiring” from the UFC: 4-3
Notable victories: Bas Rutten, Minoru Suzuki, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Enson Inoue, Igor Zinoviev, Jeremy Horn, Tito Ortiz, Phil Baroni
Frank Shamrock is truly one of the greatest athletes the sport has ever seen. Had he not left the sport in his prime, he may have been known as the greatest of all time.
Frank was the first UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, and he left the UFC undefeated after five fights. He was also a former King of Pancrase, WEC Light Heavyweight Champion, and the StrikeForce Middleweight Champion.
While Don Frye and Marco Ruas started the trend of cross-trained fighters, Frank took it to another level.
6. Bas Rutten
MMA Record: 28-4-1
Record vs Swedish Bouncers: 5-0.
Notable victories: Minoru Suzuki, Frank Shamrock (twice), Maurice Smith (twice), Guy Mezger, Masakatsu Funaki, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Kevin Randleman.
Bas is a true legend in the sport. A former King of Pancrase, as well as a former UFC HW Champion, Bas ended his fight career on a 22 fight unbeaten streak (21-0-1).
Bas was a truly devastating striker, and one of the first fighters to succeed at MMA without a grappling based background.
He is also a well-respected trainer, has appeared in several films and television shows, has been immortalized in pixel form (Grand Theft Auto IV), and is the current host of Inside MMA. He is also a former color commentator for PrideFC and current English commentator of stateside broadcasts for Dream.
5. Ken Shamrock
MMA Record: 27-13-2
Record vs Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: 1-2
Notable victories: Masakatsu Funaki, Bas Rutten (twice), Maurice Smith, Minoru Suzuki, Dan Severn
Like many aging fighters, Ken Shamrock does not know when its time to call it a career. His recent failures, however, should in no way diminish what he has accomplished in the sport.
One of the first true superstars of MMA, Ken helped put MMA on the map. Ken was the first UFC Superfight Champion, which would ultimately become the UFC Heavyweight Championship. He was a King of Pancrase, and is already a member of the UFC Hall of Fame.
During his fighting prime (1993-96) he was widely considered the #1 mixed martial artist on the planet.
4. Royce Gracie
MMA Record: 14-3-3
Record vs Harold Howard: 0-1
Notable victories: Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Kazushi Sakuraba
The original Ultimate Fighter, he needs no introduction. Royce brought Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to the masses, and was the winner of UFCs 1, 2, and 4. He formerly held the UFC record for consecutive octagon victories with eight.
He, like Sakuraba, fought and defeated much larger opponents utilizing technique and skill. His first loss to Harold Howard was due to forfeit following a war with a much larger Kimo Leopoldo. He avenged his first loss in a match to Kazushi Sakuraba.
He is already a member of the UFC Hall of Fame, and any MMA greatest list without his name on it is sacrilege.
3. Randy Couture
MMA Record: 16-9
Record vs Opponents in Title Fights: 8-6
Notable victories: Vitor Belfort (twice), Maurice Smith, Jeremy Horn, Kevin Randleman, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Pedro Rizzo (twice), Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Tim Sylvia.
What needs to be said about Randy Couture? The only five-time champion in UFC history, Randy has been a winner at the highest level of the sport for over a decade. He is also one of only two fighters in UFC history to hold belts in two different weight classes (Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight).
Even today, he is still a top contender for the UFC Heavyweight title, despite being just shy of 46 years old.
His induction into the UFC Hall of Fame was a no brainer. He will go down in history as arguably the greatest American fighter of all time.
2. Kazushi Sakuraba
MMA Record: 24-12-1
Record vs Gracie Family: 4-1
Notable victories: Carlos Newton, Vitor Belfort, Guy Mezger, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Quinton Jackson, Kevin Randleman, Ken Shamrock, Masakatsu Funaki.
The definition of the term ‘Warrior’, Kazushi Sakuraba was once the greatest fighter on the planet. Forget the current version of Sakuraba that has fought far longer than he should have. In his prime “The Gracie Hunter” was a match for anyone.
He possessed arguably the greatest single leg takedown in the history of the sport. Regularly beating fighters who outweighed him by 30-40 pounds was the norm. He destroyed the mystique of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and was the first person to defeat Royce Gracie in a match.
If Pride would have had a 170 or even a 185-pound division, Sakuraba might never have lost.
1. Fedor Emelianenko
MMA Record: 30-1
Record vs Former UFC Champions: 7-0 (1 NC)
Notable victories: Ricardo Arona, Renato Sobral, Heath Herring, Semmy Schilt, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Kazuyuki Fujita, Gary Goodridge, Mark Coleman (twice), Kevin Randleman, Mirko Filipovich, Mark Hunt, Matt Lindland, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski
Once in a lifetime, an athlete comes along that transcends the sport. Baseball had Babe Ruth. Basketball had Michael Jordan. MMA has Fedor Emelianenko.
Considered by nearly every major MMA publication to be the greatest fighter that ever lived, Fedor has not lost a fight in over eight years. During a span of 25 consecutive victories, he has won the Rings World Class and King of King Titles, the Pride Heavyweight Title, and was the winner of the 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament.
There is no fighter more deserving of a bust in the MMA Hall of Fame than the “Last Emperor”.