Now that the UFC has a solid broadcast deal with Fox, the rate at which the sport of Mixed Martial Arts will grow seems insurmountable. As the popularity of the UFC brand grows, so will that of its fighters, so it seems only prudent to not forget the fighters who helped bring the UFC to where it is today.
So let's take some time to recognize and rank the current UFC Hall of Fame inductees, and hope that the stars of tomorrow don't overshadow the legacy of these greats.
Inducted on July 10, 2009 at the UFC 100 Fan Expo
Although Charles Lewis Jr., aka Mask, is an official inductee into the UFC Hall of Fame, his status as the only non-fighter is the reason we have him listed as an honorable mention. That said, there is no doubting the impact he had on helping the UFC, and the sport of MMA as a whole, grow leaps and bounds over the years.
It takes an extraordinary type of person to go from selling t-shirts from the trunk of your car outside live events of a fringe sport with your two best friends to building a multi-million dollar apparel brand that has become synonymous with the worldwide sensation that is the UFC.
Inducted on April 16th, 2005 at UFC 52
There are many ways to describe Dan Severn. Some would say he is the original mustache. Others might call him the original wrestler. But at the end of the day he is the man who has two UFC Tournament Championships from UFC 5 and Ultimate Ultimate 1995, been a finalist to fellow Hall of Famer Royce Gracie at UFC 4, and the UFC Superfight Champion (which many refer to as the original Heavyweight Championship belt).
Dan Severn is also the only person on this list who can say his only losses inside the Octagon came to fellow UFC Hall of Fame inductees. There is no doubt he is one of the most accomplished fighters in the early days of the UFC and has rightly so earned his spot in the Hall of Fame, but his failure to translate early victories into long-term success against top competition put him at the bottom of this list.
Inducted on March 1st, 2008 at UFC 82
Mark Coleman holds tournament wins from UFC 10 and UFC 11, and was the inaugural UFC Heavyweight Champion after dethroning fellow Hall of Famer and UFC Superfight Champion Dan Severn. Of course that reign was short lived as he would go on to lose his next three fight inside the Octagon. But that didn't stop "The Hammer" as he would reinvent himself in Pride FC and become once again one of the most feared heavyweights on the planet.
After his induction, Mark Coleman made his return to the UFC and light heavyweight debut. Although he did not enjoy the same success he did in Pride, or his early UFC career, we were treated to the first ever matchup between two active UFC Hall of Fame inductees when he faced off against Randy Couture. Unfortunately for Coleman he did not fair as well as he hoped, and was subsequently cut from the promotion.
Inducted on November 21st, 2003 at UFC 45
A fan favorite in the early days, he was one of the few fighters to have actually competed in MMA (or the next closest thing) prior to entering the UFC. He was also the only guy who knew how to grapple and who didn't have the last name Gracie.
Ken Shamrock found success in professional wrestling and again in Japan, but this time with Pride FC, but he will best be remembered for his rivalries with Royce Gracie and Tito Ortiz. As one of the first fighters to have a notable training camp that produced new talent, Shamrock was also able to showcase that ability on season three of the Ultimate Fighter.
He earns the No. 5 spot because of his ability to remain relevant during the post-TUF era of the UFC, but is not higher because just like many other legends, does not know when to call it quits.
Inducted on November 21st, 2003 at UFC 45
It can be argued that Royce Gracie has done more to make the sport of MMA what it is to day than other other fighter before him...forever...in history. His name is synonymous with Brazilian jiu-jitsu and grappling and you would be hard pressed to find a person who has not at least heard of "the little guy who tapped out the big guys in that cage fighting thing on PPV."
Although Royce Gracie was unable to compete with top competition as the sport evolved, such as fellow inductee Matt Hughes when he made his one-time return at UFC 60, his ability to prove that his family's form of submission grappling could subdue a larger, stronger opponent turned the world of Martial Arts as a whole upside down, and that's why he gets the No. 4 spot on this list.
Inducted on May 28th, 2010 at the UFC 114 Fan Expo
As the UFC's only active Hall of Famer, Matt Hughes is in a battle to remain relevant in the division. Despite that, he was once the most dominant champion in UFC history, having spent half of his matches battling for or defending the UFC Welterweight Championship (or interim-belt).
While some people might look at his UFC record and not be that impressed, his twelve-title fights, trilogies with GSP and BJ Penn, and victories over Frank Trigg and Carlos Newton (twice each) should leave no doubt in anyone's mind that Matt Hughes is truly one of the greatest of all time.
It is very likely GSP may be one day recognized as the most dominant WW champion in UFC history,it is equally unlikely there will be another champion in the division who is able to impact the sport, and finish his opponents in convincing fashion, as Matt Hughes did.
Inducted on June 24th, 2006 at the TUF Season 3 Finale
UFC 13 Heavyweight Tournament Champion, two-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, and three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion, most championship fights in UFC history, oldest fighter to win a championship in UFC history, and the first, and one of only two fighters to win a championship in two divisions in the UFC: Randy "The Natural" Couture.
With the exception of maybe Dan Henderson, there is not a single fighter in history who has been able to maintain success and significance spanning from the early tournament days of the UFC all the way up until this year like Randy Couture has. As recently UFC 129, a then 47-year-old Couture took on one of the most dangerous strikers in the Light-Heavyweight Division. Although a win would have brought with it talks of a title fight with champion Jon Jones, he was instead sent knocked out into retirement, literally.
Yes, there is no other fighter in UFC history with the accolades and accomplishments of Randy Couture, but his failure to come out on top in his rubber-match with fell Hall of Fame inductee Chuck Liddell, when both fighters were still in their prime, puts him at No. 2 on this list (he retired after that fight also).
Inducted on July 10th, 2009 at the UFC 100 Fan Expo
Having fought nearly his entire career in the UFC, Chuck Liddell went on the two most impressive runs in the Light-Heavyweight division. His first 8-0 run included wins over Babalu Sobral, Vitor Belfort, Murilo Bustamante, Kevin Randleman, and Jeff Monsen until he was stopped in surprising TKO fashion by Randy Couture. Then after losing to Rampage Jackson in the semi-finals of the 2003 Pride "Middleweight" Grand Prix we saw him go 7-0 which included claiming the title from Randy Couture, defeating Tito Ortiz twice, getting revenge against Jeremy Horn, defeating Babalu again, and finishing his trilogy by way of Knock Out with Randy Couture.
Unfortunately we didn't get to see "The Iceman" retire in the fashion we would like to remember him, by knocking someone out, but his crossover appeal in the mainstream, victories over Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz, and knockout power make him the most dominant UFC Hall of Fame inductee to date. Let's just hope the next generation of fans remembers all these fighters for the right reasons, and acknowledges that they are the main reason the sport got where it is today.
Justin Alonzo-Fuller is the savviest personality in the MMA business, and as such you should follow him on Twitter @jalonzofuller, because if you don't he probably won't care because he doesn't know you personally.
Also be sure to leave a comment and debate why you think Randy Couture should be number one over Chuck Liddell (because I know you're thinking it, jerks). I'm sure there are plenty of other fan boys who will talk it out with you, bruh.
One more thing, please don't complain about why Frank Shamrock or Bas Rutten isn't in the UFC Hall of Fame. I'm over it, and you should be too. No one with a life, and a house, and a job really cares anymore.