After Forrest Griffin’s impromptu retirement announcement during the UFC 160 post-fight presser, Dana White announced that Griffin, along with Stephan Bonnar, would be headed for the UFC Hall of Fame this summer.
Yes, Griffin and Bonnar took part in that epic battle to decide the winner of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. Yes, they helped put the UFC on the map with their amazing effort that night at The Cox Pavilion and on SPIKE TV.
Griffin won by unanimous decision; both fighters would earn six-figure contracts. It was the UFC’s first big step in crossing over into mainstream status and acceptance.
The memories and the nostalgia from the night of April 9, 2005 would stay attached to them—as they would stay attached to each other—for the rest of their careers.
The sole reason and most important criterion for their impending induction is on this merit and this merit alone.
But what they’ve done in their careers pales in comparison to the crop of existing Hall of Famers.
Before we can determine if either one of the TUF Season 1 finalists has any argument in his favor, let’s look at the fighters who are already in the Hall of Fame and some of their achievements.
Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes were all UFC champions. Couture was a multi-time champion in two different weight classes. Hughes, Liddell and Ortiz each defended their belts at least four consecutive times.
Royce Gracie won three of the first few UFC events—which were all one-night tournaments.
Ken Shamrock was the first to win the superfight championship (open-weight title before weight classes were introduced) and was a semi-finalist and finalist in the early tournament-style UFC cards.
Mark Coleman is the first-ever UFC heavyweight champion—who also won both the UFC 10 and UFC 11 tournaments.
Forrest Griffin’s crowning achievements were his upset victory over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and his upset win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson to win the UFC light heavyweight championship. He lost the title in his next fight to Rashad Evans, went 3-3 the rest of his career and was bitten many times by the injury bug. He finished with a 10-5 record in the UFC.
Griffin was a fan favorite and best-selling author who exhibited sometimes quirky behavior and always gave his best in the Octagon. He just wasn’t good enough and shouldn't be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Aside from being held in high esteem for his famous battle with Griffin, Bonnar has tested positive for steroids more than he’s had impressive victories. His most impressive win was over Keith Jardine. After that he went 5-6 overall, finishing his career with an 8-7 record in the UFC. Case closed.
Griffin, to his credit, is the only man other than Jon Jones to defeat both “Shogun” and “Rampage,” and he did it three years prior. He also won a title, so you can argue a case for him.
You cannot make a case for Bonnar.
Which brings up the question: What is the necessary criteria needed to become a member of the UFC Hall of Fame?
Is it based on what a fighter has done in the Octagon and whether he's won a title? Or is it based on the president and owners having a soft spot for a likable fighter?
If the latter is the case, is the UFC championing mediocrity? The fans always get behind a fight that is more “rock‘em, sock’em Robots” than it is skill and precision. Those fights are always up for “Fight of the Night” and are held in high regard by the bosses.
That was the type of fight that Griffin and Bonnar put on that night.
Make no mistake—they deserve all the credit in the world for that magical night. They will always be talked of in reverent tones for the courage and valor displayed on that fateful evening. They can be honored in so many other ways and should be. But the Hall of Fame should be reserved for the greats of their time and era, which these two were not.
Will the induction of Griffin and Bonnar set an example to others that a fighter doesn’t necessarily have to be the best to be a Hall of Famer—he just has to be entertaining? Or perhaps this is just a special case made for them based on that one special evening, and the future candidates going forward will have to get in the old-fashioned way: based on their accomplishments over their career, not one night.
Hopefully this is the exception, not the rule.
Michael Stets is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report