What Makes A Hall of Fame Career in Mixed Martial Arts?
Examining Hall of Fame Careers
Mixed Martial Arts is in an interesting spot as a relatively new sport without a dedicated Hall Of Fame body. The UFC has its own dedicated hall of fame for notable fighters to compete within the promotion, but this gives very little opportunity for fighters who never competed under the UFC umbrella, competed before or past the prime of their careers, or even fighters who may have drawn the ire of the upper brass of the UFC. Except for inductees like Kazushi Sakuraba and Bas Rutten, this excludes an unconscionable amount of athletes who competed in other promotions like PRIDE, Bellator, or others, as well as a huge number of the sports biggest pioneers. The UFC hall of fame is not an entity for the exhibition of the greatest athletes of the sport. It exists instead for the sake of the UFC itself, even to the point of detriment.
Without an unbiased voting body currently in place, we as fans and students of the sport have an opportunity to discuss and establish what makes a true hall of fame career. For every Royce Gracie and Randy Couture, there’s a dozen-odd fighter who deserves to be in the conversation. Several fighters may never make it into the UFC hall of fame whose careers are vital to the history of mixed martial arts, and they deserve some kind of recognition.
Probably the most egregious exclusion from the current UFC hall of fame is Frank Shamrock. Shamrock was the first true all-around mixed martial artist to find success in the sport with his excellent striking and grappling as well as his unparalleled cardio. He held world titles in the UFC, Pancrase, the WEC, and Strikeforce — the only fighter in MMA history to do so — as well as wins over fighters like Bas Rutten, Tito Ortiz, and Masakatsu Funaki. He also showed consistent excellence in the UFC that was rare for his era with four defenses of the light heavyweight title and a perfect 5-0 record with each of his wins in the promotion coming by a finish.
Frank has frequently clashed with the UFC and president Dana White for competing in for working with other promotions which have largely contributed to him being left out. White’s childish personal feuds know few limits, but Shamrock’s exclusion from the UFC hall of fame is a damning one for the organization.
Nick Diaz also has an exceptional case to be made. Diaz was one of the greatest fighters ever to compete in Strikeforce, winning his debut in the promotion against the aforementioned Frank Shamrock before winning the Strikeforce welterweight title. Diaz would make three defenses of the title and go undefeated in the promotion before returning to the UFC. He also won and later vacated the WEC welterweight title and has wins over other notable fighters like Robbie Lawler, Hayato Sakurai, Paul Daley, and BJ Penn. He also became the second fighter in PRIDE history to finish a fight with a Gogoplata against Takanori Gomi. I don’t care if it was overturned when Diaz got flagged for marijuana. That’s a stupid argument to make if you want to discredit one of the most impressive achievements in the sport.
The Strikeforce Effect
On the topic of Diaz, his Skrap Pack teammate Gilbert Melendez deserves some recognition. Melendez amassed arguably the greatest resume in Strikeforce history, winning the promotion’s lightweight title before dropping it to Josh Thomson, winning and defending the interim lightweight title, then avenging his loss to Thomson to unify the belts. In total, Melendez made six defenses of the interim and undisputed title with wins over fighters like Jorge Masvidal, Clay Guida, Shinya Aoki, and a second win over Thomson. Melendez’s UFC tenure was ultimately uneventful with a 1-6 record in the promotion. That being said, his lone UFC win came against Diego Sanchez, a current member of the UFC hall of fame, in a barnburner of a fight that should and very well could be admitted in the hall’s right-wing.
While we’re still discussing Strikeforce, I can’t have this conversation in good faith without mentioning Cris Cyborg. Cyborg is a living legend in every meaning of the phrase and has been maybe the single most dominant athlete in MMA of the last decade. Cyborg currently sits at a record of 22-2 with her only losses coming in her professional debut in 2005 and against Amanda Nunes, the only other fighter in women’s MMA history with a credible claim to greatest of all time, in 2018. Thirteen years and twenty fights without a loss, including titles in the UFC, Strikeforce, Invicta, and Bellator with wins over Gina Carrano, Holly Holm, and Julia Budd among others, is just another level above the rest of the sport.
WMMA Locks for the Hall of Fame
I could ramble for days about the countless fighters deserving of recognition for their athletic achievements, but there’s also plenty of individuals who served as pioneers of the sport who deserve recognition for what they’ve done for the sport. There are legitimate arguments to be made for people like Masakatsu Funaki as the founder of Pancrase, Gina Carrano, and Meisha Tate with everything they’ve has done for women’s MMA, Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki and their mixed rules bout that predated the UFC by a couple of decades or Bruce Lee for what he’s done to bring martial arts into the mainstream.
I’ll even throw out a hot take for the sake of the discussion – Roxanne Modafferi. Modafferi was the catalyst for me to write this article. Her forty-six career fights since her debut in 2003 are far and away from the most all-time in women’s MMA and she’s had fights against notable names like Sarah Kaufman, Raquel Pennington, and Jennifer Maia. She even has wins over blue-chip prospects like Maycee Barber and Antonina Schevchenko as recently as January of this year and remains in the top ten of the UFC flyweight rankings.
She’s had longevity unlike anyone else in women’s MMA and has given a lifetime of dedication and passion to the sport. If we as fans of the sport had an opportunity to recognize fighters with an accolade as prestigious as a hall of fame induction, I think there’s no question that someone like Roxanne Modafferi should be in the conversation.