After a dozen years, the UFC Hall of Fame is undergoing a transformation in an attempt to make it both more legitimate as an entity, and to eventually have some form of a legitimate physical structure.
The company announced on Tuesday that it will induct a new class on July 11, at the Fan Expo the afternoon of UFC 189. There will be likely five inductees in four categories. The announcement noted at least one person from four different categories will be inducted each year between 2015 and 2017, as a way to establish the new criteria. With one of the categories being a legendary match, that would mean two inductees from that category.
After 2017, candidates will be chosen from those categories, but not necessarily one from every category each year.
The categories announced are the Modern Era Wing, the Pioneers Era Wing, the Contributors Wing and the Fight Wing.
The Modern Era Wing will be for those who made their professional MMA debut after November 17, 2000. To be eligible, a fighter must have either passed the age of 35, or have been retired for one calendar year. It is noted that active fighters past 35 are eligible, but not preferable.
The November 17, 2000, date is symbolic based on the adoption of the current "Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts" by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.
The Pioneer Era Wing would be for fighters who debuted prior to that date. They also must be at least 35 years old, although every legitimate Hall of Fame candidate who debuted prior to that date is going to be past 35.
The Contributors Wing is for non-fighters, for either individuals, or groups of individuals, who have made outstanding or historical contributions to the sport. There are no age limits when it comes to this category and the contributors can still be active in the sport.
Contributors would be officials, referees, judges, trainers, commissioners, commentators, promoters and others associated with the sport in a non-competition role. The noting of groups could mean the group that organized the original UFC and led to its formation such as Art Davie, Campbell McLaren, Rorion Gracie and Bob Meyrowitz, who worked together on the first show, or including David Isaacs, who ran the promotion for several years before the Zuffa purchase in 2001.
The final category is the Fight Wing, which will honor the greatest fights in UFC history. For an historical perspective, all fights considered must have taken place at least five calendar years prior to the induction. For the July 11 class, the fight inducted would have to have taken place prior to December 31, 2010.
"The UFC Hall of Fame has an important job -- it not only celebrates greatness but it helps pass stories of the greatest athletes and fights in UFC history on to the next generation of fight fans," said UFC President Dana White. "We're looking forward to announcing the class of 2015 and what is going to be a great induction event on July 11."
White also noted that there are preliminary plans to house a physical UFC Hall of Fame location in Las Vegas.
In addition, there are plans going forward to make the annual inductions a major event on the UFC calendar, similar to Hall of Fame ceremonies in other sports.
One of the key reasons for the categories is to remove criticism of two past inductees, Charles "Mask" Lewis, who started the Tapout clothing line, a key figure in the early days of the sport, but who never fought, and Stephan Bonnar, who was never a UFC champion or top contender, but whose fight with Forrest Griffin can be argued was the most important fight in UFC history.
By this criteria, Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Tito Ortiz and Pat Miletich are in the Pioneer Era Hall of Famers. Forrest Griffin is the lone Modern Era fighter. Lewis is the lone Contributor and the April 9, 2005, fight with Griffin vs. Bonnar is the first fight.
It is noted that fighters can be inducted in two different categories, like Griffin, so famous fights like Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva, Ortiz vs. Frank Shamrock or Hughes vs. Frank Trigg would be eligible. Of course, there are issues there, in the sense Wanderlei Silva and Shamrock are at odds with the promotion currently.
There also becomes arguments over fights with great historical significance, such as Matt Serra's upset over Georges St-Pierre or Couture's final championship win over Tim Sylvia, or legendary wars like Chan Sung Jung vs. Leonard Garcia or Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida.
The selections will be made annually by the UFC internally, with White as the leader of the panel.
Frank Shamrock would also double as one of the strongest Pioneer Era Wing candidates based on UFC record, although it would surprise people for an induction since White has been negative when his name has been brought up in the past due to his being at odds with the promotion. Based on the criteria, the strongest Pioneer Era Wing candidate would actually be Anderson Silva, since his first MMA fight was in 1997.
It is noted that this is a UFC Hall of Fame, but overall career achievements or contributions to the sport are noted. That becomes tricky. Fedor Emelianenko, for example, is a clear cut first ballot MMA Hall of Famer, but he never once fought in UFC. Fighters like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, Kazushi Sakuraba and Mirko Cro Cop are all strong MMA Hall of Fame candidates, and have fought in UFC, but their reasons for being Hall of Famers would be their fights and tenure in the Pride Fighting Championships. But UFC owns and markets the Pride, WEC and Strikeforce libraries and is attempting to get rights to all of the significant MMA libraries for its Fight Pass streaming service.
Another question has to do with retirement. St-Pierre should be a slam-dunk first year candidate. It has been more than one year since he has fought. But he has not officially said he's retired, even though he may never fight again. At this point, you probably need the 35th birthday, which would mean, if he announces his retirement or not, he would be eligible next year. Anderson Silva, the other strongest candidate not already in based on his UFC records, would be eligible now, having passed the age of 35 years ago.
B.J. Penn, now 36, would also be eligible, as would active fighters Frank Mir, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort and Rampage Jackson based on their ages. Also eligible would be former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
There is the steroid question with Silva, but Gracie and Shamrock are in with steroid test failures. In the case of Gracie and Shamrock, their positive tests were for fights that took place after their inductions.
Based on the establishment of the categories, the positive is that with them, there are no undeserving inductees already in. There should be little argument for Griffin vs. Bonnar as a fight, while there was criticism of Bonnar as a Hall of Famer caliber fighter.
White in the past has talked about inducting the entire cast of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, which becomes tricky. All are fighters, but most would better fit as Contributors given Griffin was the only fighter from that first season ever to win a championship.