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Who Belongs In The MMA Hall of Fame? Part 1

By Chris Rini

One day in the not so distant future, you will be sitting down with a son or daughter, neighbor or friend, as they see their first UFC event. You’ll try to explain how amazing Anderson Silva was as he Matrixed around the punches of Forrest Griffin, and wince when they ask, “Is that the guy whose leg snapped in half?” Maybe you’ll be sitting down with your niece or nephew and they’ll hear the term “hammerfist” with no idea that Mark Coleman was an architect of ground strikes (remind them that he’s also the first UFC heavyweight champ).

Occasionally on the forums, I’ll read a comment about how Royce Gracie only won those early UFC tournaments because no one knew how to defend against BJJ submissions and how he’d be no good today. That last comment makes me think of people who tout their smartphones having more processing power than the computers that performed the moon landing. The difference is, one guy went to the moon and the other played candy crush on the toilet.

As the history of Mixed Martial Arts solidifies, its defining moments become clear and we should celebrate the men and women who’ve brought us here. For this series of articles, I’d like to talk informally about what a Hall of Fame for MMA might look like, what it takes to get there, and who belongs in the Pantheon.

I’m of the opinion that there are at least four major categories for induction into our theoretical HoF, and they are:

1. Fighters. This is self explanatory. Be they technical masters who demonstrate the effectiveness of a style, or captivating berserkers who demolish all in their path, these men and women are the collective back upon which our sport rests.

2. The Coaches & Executives behind the scenes who have developed the sport and its fighters into what the viewing public consumes and understands MMA to be.
Would the letters UFC exist without Art Davie, Campbell McLaren, Dana White, the Gracie & Fertitta families? Could Chuck Liddell have transcended the sport into a crossover star without John Hackleman?

3. Referees. The harsh reality is that fighters are safer when certain refs are in the cage versus others. It’s a thankless job which rarely makes headlines aside from instances where an egregious error has been made. The cream of the crop should be recognized for their valuable contributions.

4. Great fights themselves. Beyond cataloging win streaks, championship runs and other numerically quantifiable achievements, I’d like to see a portion of the Hall dedicated to pivotal moments in the evolution and history of MMA. This is a sport in which a narrative develops throughout a fight. Jones vs. Gustafsson title fight is far more complex and career defining than Jones’ 1st round finish of Chael Sonnen.

Some of the greatest fights in the sport’s history are hard fought decisions. Fedor vs. Cro Cop, Silva vs. Belfort, and Hendo vs Shogun have become “where were you when that happened?” moments in fans’ memories. Even Edgar vs. Maynard 2 tells us more about the human spirit than something like Arlovski vs. Buentello. Not all champions are created equal and it should be noted.

Mixed Martial Arts is special. When we’re caught up between the crush of Fight Week, hype trains and #WelcomeToTheHashtagIsNow, it’s easy to forget that a brand new sport came into existence and has cultivated a global audience. MMA is a 21st century creation through and through. It survived the dark ages in part because of the Internet. Its fans created their own media outlets, hype videos and discussion forums.

When I was in art school, we agonized over “what is post-modernism?” but today I look at MMA and see post-modernism in the flesh. Fighters blend martial art forms together into personalized styles that transcends their origins. Each generation emerges in a kind of Moore’s Law to the point where now we can whimsically ponder if the Cody McKenzie of 2015 could have won UFC 1?

That’s just one of the many questions we’ll be exploring as we take an in-depth look at who and what belongs in a potential MMA Hall of Fame.

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