With the surprise announcement on March 23 of Michael Bisping being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, the question becomes who will join him at the July 5 ceremony in Las Vegas.
Bisping was not informed ahead of time. He was sitting cageside at The O2 Arena at UFC London when the video played. It was a fitting venue. Bisping was not only the UFC’s first major British star, he was the most important fighter in the company getting a foothold in that part of the world. And it was an arena he played a major role in selling out three times.
The reaction inside the arena was the biggest for any Hall of Fame announcement to date. While he certainly had his critics, few would put much of an argument against Bisping’s selection. He was a major player in growing the sport, particularly in the U.K. He won the middleweight title, is near the top when it comes to the most UFC wins, he’s got longevity, was one of the best in company history at the ability to promote fights, and he’s still likely to be a major figure for years to come as a broadcaster and analyst.
The UFC Hall of Fame has four distinct categories. They induct two fighters, one from the pioneer wing, with the cutoff being that the person had his first pro fight prior to Nov. 17, 2000, the date the modern rules went into effect. A second is from the modern wing, for a fighter who obviously debuted after that date — the category Bisping fits into.
Inductions are for fighters’ entire careers, not just their UFC careers. However, the fighter does have to have at least one UFC fight to qualify. Unless that rule is amended, Fedor Emelianenko, generally considered one of the five best fighters in the history of the sport, won’t qualify.
Another category is for a contributor. This would be a non-fighter who was instrumental in the development and growth of the company and the sport.
The fourth category is for a memorable fight, which has to be a bout that took place at least five years ago.
Before going on, there are always political implications when it comes to the Hall of Fame, even if, in recent years, they’ve done a lot to try and break those walls down. Don Frye, for example, was one of the most charismatic stars, both in the U.S. in the early days of the UFC, and later in Japan with Pride. He’d been negatively vocal about the modern UFC, but fences were mended and he, very deservedly so, is in the Hall of Fame.
And that brings us to the name who is not: Frank Shamrock. Shamrock was the UFC’s first non-heavyweight champion, winning the middleweight championship in 1997 with a 15-second submission win over Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Kevin Jackson.
At the time, the division was for anyone 200 pounds and below, and morphed into the modern light heavyweight class. Shamrock was greatly undersized. He would be a small welterweight today and plenty of fighters of his size now cut to fight at lightweight. His run as champion was one of the most impressive in UFC history, and he also won championships in Strikeforce, the WEC, and Pancrase during his career.
There’s no argument he belongs, and he’s not in. There is bitterness, on both sides, that at one point came close to being overcome. But it wasn’t. He’d be a deserving addition. Perhaps some day it will happen, although as the years go by, the knowledge of what he did in his era fades as people believe nothing existed before 2005. But it’s very unlikely to happen this year, or the next few years.
So here we go:
PIONEER WING — Dan Henderson. Honestly, as much as people who have followed the sport since its inception talk about Shamrock, Henderson, due to his longevity, is the strongest retired candidate in this division.
Henderson fought at the top level from 1997 to 2016. In his last fight, a loss to Bisping, he was 46 years old, going for the middleweight championship, and nearly won the title. While never a champion in the UFC, he held both the middleweight and welterweight championships (which, by today’s weight class standards, would the be light heavyweight and middleweight titles) in Pride at the same time, and won numerous tournaments in the early era, including a 32-man open weight division tournament when he was less than 200 pounds.
He also won championships in Strikeforce and RINGS, and had one of the greatest fights in the history of the sport with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, which is already in the Hall of Fame. A two-time member of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team before ever getting into the sport, he was one of the most respected fighters ever among his peers.
He’s an easy and deserving pick.
Others to consider:
1) Anderson Silva — Really, he’d be the first pick, but I’d give retired fighters a nod ahead of a still-active fighter, even though the rules do not specify a fighter must be retired to be induced.
3) Kevin Randleman — While his 17-16 career record isn’t the best, “The Monster” was a former UFC heavyweight champion, and a star with Pride, and most of his losses came after health problems took their toll on him.
CONTRIBUTOR WING — Lorenzo Fertitta. Simply put, there is not a chance in the world this sport would be anything but very small and fringe in the U.S. if he had not purchased the UFC in 2001. You needed someone both with his passion for the sport, business acumen, political connections, and most of all, bank account, to have been able to get the sport to national television, where it then exploded in popularity.
It was under Fertitta that the company made the decision to move away from a spectacle and attempt to make it as much of a legitimate sport as a unique paying fan base would allow it to be. He went with Dana White as the front man, who was more than controversial at times. White was the other most important person to getting the sport to the level it’s at now. Fertitta also went with Joe Silva, a now Hall of Famer who had no actual experience in the position, as matchmaker. He bankrolled The Ultimate Fighter reality show.
Others to consider:
1) John McCarthy — McCarthy is long overdue for this recognition. He was not only one of the first referees, and the most influential, but had a hand in writing the rules and in fighting for the legalization of the sport when it was misunderstood. Quite frankly, had he not insisted on the referee having the power to stop fights, there very well could have been an early death that in those nascent days, and the UFC would have likely not have been able to survive.
2) Campbell McLaren and David Isaacs — McLaren, as an Executive with Semaphore Entertainment Group, made the call for his company to take Art Davie’s idea for an event and bring it to pay-per-view. McLaren marketed the early shows and quickly ran the entire operation, controversially to be sure. When he was replaced in running the operation, Isaacs took over and kept it alive through some very tough times.
3) Marc Ratner — One of the key hires of Fertitta and White, Ratner, as the Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, was hired with the goal of getting the UFC legalized and regulated throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world. He had to fight amazingly ignorant misconceptions and battle political minefields, but in the end, the goal was accomplished. Because of his stature as the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, his signing on gave the sport instant credibility within most state athletic commissions that were largely negative to the sport beacuse it wasn’t boxing. Ratner’s contributions to boxing have already gotten him a sport in the World Boxing Hall of Fame, and he’s been far more influential in the history of the growth of this sport.
FIGHT — This one is controversial, because both of my picks were fights that didn’t take place in the UFC. My pick is the brawl that every crazy fight in history has been, and perhaps for a long time to come, will be compared with. The Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama battle on June 23, 2002, at the Saitama Super Arena, under the Pride banner, is a fight that literally has to be seen to be believed.
This is a fight that everyone who saw it remembers distinctly. It made such an impression that it was reprised in a Japanese movie. The opening sequence has been copied over-and-over in pro wrestling rings in both the U.S. and Japan. It’s even mentioned in the commentary of the American movie “Here Comes the Boom,” the MMA movie starring Kevin James, where, during an ultra-exciting fight, Joe Rogan, as commentator, talked about it being the wildest fight since Frye and Takayama.
The UFC has never honored a non-UFC fight, but the Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the sport itself, and Frye had a UFC background, even if Takayama never fought with the company.
One other to consider:
If not Frye-Takayama, its American equivalent was the April 24, 2010, fight with Chan Sung Jung, “The Korean Zombie,” and Leonard Garcia at WEC 48. This took place as the final televised prelim, airing on Spike TV, prior to the first and only WEC pay-per-view show. In fact, when it was over, the comments made by many was that it was the greatest brawl since Frye and Takayama.