The UFC Hall of Fame is sort of a bunk thing in its nature. It doesn't have the independence of others in major American sports chiefly because those sports are not beholden to one organization - sportswriters and previous inductees determine new members. But I got to thinking about who should be in MMA's most prominent hall if Dana White was a more mature, less spiteful person. It would also be helpful if Zuffa didn't arbitrarily erase fighters from the company's history and ignore MMA outside the UFC.
My only stipulation in compiling this list is that fighters must have fought for the UFC at least once. Furthermore, this determination takes into account that in the early and middle 2000s, the best competition and the best money was in Japan and one's accomplishments there should be factored in. Still, because it is the "UFC" Hall of Fame, I have to give certain weight to UFC accomplishments and tenure with the organization; this explains how I rank Jens Pulver above The Gracie Hunter. So without further ado, here is my list of the five fighters that aren't in the Hall of Fame who most deserve it.
Sakuraba only competed in the UFC back when the promotion had its first and only Japanese event, "Ultimate Japan", in 1997. Sakuraba competed in that event's heavyweight tournament, winning despite the fact that the whole thing was rather dubious. The fact is, if Dan Severn and Charles "Mask" Lewis have done enough to merit entry into the UFC Hall of Fame, so has Sakuraba. He's one of the best fighters of all time (Maybe even the best?) and unquestionably deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps Hendo would've secured his entry if he hadn't jumped ship to Strikeforce late last year. Now, it's doubtful he'll ever be enshrined in the UFC Hall of Fame, even though his accomplishments demand it. Henderson won the UFC 17 tournament and has compiled a career record of (5-2) in the UFC, and (25-8) overall, with excellent fighters up and down his record. He's also the only man to be champion of two divisions in a major promotion simultaneously. And, let us not forget, he conducted the most high-profile KO in MMA history: the glorious atomic bomb he dropped on Michael Bisping at UFC 100.
3. Jens Pulver
Jens was the foundation of the UFC's lightweight division, becoming its first champion with his legendary upset of BJ Penn at UFC 32. He went on to defend the belt three times and never had it taken from him before the division was essentially disbanded in 2004. He made his return from PRIDE in 2006, but unfortunately his career had begun to make its downward arc by that time. There was a time, however, when Lil' Evil was the entire lightweight division in North America.
2. Tito Ortiz
In the pre-TUF era, Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock were Zuffa's only two draws. Ortiz utterly dominated Shamrock-a Hall of Fame inductee-on three separate occasions. Ortiz's mouth was largely responsible for any attention the UFC received in the early 2000s. In 1999, he took the light-heavyweight championship in a match with Wanderlei Silva and would defend it for the next three years. Ortiz is undoubtedly the most deserving fighter still active, yet he hasn't been placed alongside Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, and Matt Hughes.
1. Frank Shamrock
As its first champion, Shamrock ran roughshod over the 205 lbs. division. He took the title in a landmark bout with Tito Ortiz, showcasing an outline of what the elite modern MMA fighter would become: well conditioned and versatile in skills. Shamrock abandoned the UFC when Zuffa assumed control of the promotion, abandoning his title at the peak of his abilities.
Missed it by thaaaaat much:
Bas Rutten - If his knees hadn't given out on him, El Guapo might have been the organization's first long-tenured heavyweight champion. We all owe Bas a debt for winning the UFC title while a wrestler just laid on top of him. But again, I can't put him up high on the list due to the brevity of his heyday. He's sort of the Gale Sayers of MMA.
Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera - I assume if I'm including Sakuraba on my list, largely for his accomplishments outside of the promotion, I should include Noguiera. Big Nog won the interim heavyweight belt and owns a victory over UFC legend Randy Couture in an epic match from 2009. He'd probably be #6 on the list, and likely should be in the HOF.
Pat Miletich - Most casuals know Miletich as one of the sport's most legendary trainers, but his career in the UFC was excellent. He won the UFC 16 lightweight tournament and was the welterweight champ for three years, winning and defending five times between 1998-2001. The main knock against him in my book is that his strength of opposition wasn't always stellar, but he should probably be in the HOF>
Evan Tanner - I'm listing Tanner because of what he seems to mean to a lot of people; I wasn't around the sport when he was champion. He was 11-6 in the UFC, going 1-2 in title fights. He won the 185 lb. belt against David Terrell and then dropped it to Rich Franklin in his next bout. Again, it seems he meant a lot to a lot of people and a little bit of the "Mask" Lewis love should be afforded him. Otherwise, I'd put him in the "almost" category with the likes of Murilo Bustamante.
Don Frye - Frye won a pair of UFC tournaments and lost in the finals of another one against Mark Coleman. He might be in the Hall of Fame if he gave a damn. But then again, it ain't in Don Frye's nature to give a damn about anything but screwing women and protecting the Constitution. God bless America, God bless Don Frye.
Georges St. Pierre