Thursday night is the UFC’s Hall of Fame ceremony as part of International Fight Week in Las Vegas. It’s the closest that MMA has to an official Hall of Fame, although the process for inclusion is similar to WWE’s as it comes down to an internal decision by the promotion regarding who they will honor. Over the past few years, they have separated the inductees into categories for the Pioneer Wing, the Modern Era Wing, Contributors, and Fights. As an event, it has never approached the level of the WWE’s presentation as a part of WrestleMania weekend where the WWE can book a major sports arena and sell tickets for. The UFC’s version has grown from ceremonies inside the octagon during a pay-per-view, to presentations at the Fan Expo and now growing into its own event with formal speeches, tickets being sold and being streamed on Fight Pass. Below are the inductees for the 2018 class:
Ronda Rousey (Modern Era) – There is no debate over her inclusion, with the lone argument I’ve seen that it’s too soon for her induction. For all intents and purposes, her fighting career is over and either she’s a Hall of Famer or she’s not, and she clearly is so the timing doesn’t matter to me. If there was a legitimate Hall of Fame with voting, she would be immediately added in and her impact cannot be understated in the five years that she competed. Her first fight with Miesha Tate in March 2012 for Strikeforce was a big one as it was that fight where the UFC took notice that women could headline a show and draw interest. The argument in 2012 was that Rousey was receiving a title fight too early and bypassing Sarah Kaufman (who Rousey would defeat in her first title defense later that year). Prior to the fight, Tate and Rousey were booked on “The MMA Hour” together and to show how deeply committed Rousey was to this career, she studied and prepared for the interview as if it was a fight to be prepared for anything asked or confronted about from Tate. Rousey submitted Tate and the two became rivals with their rematch significantly bigger than the first when both made it into the UFC.
The UFC expanded their divisions and introduced the women’s bantamweight division in late 2012 with an announcement that Rousey would transfer from Strikeforce and become the UFC women’s bantamweight champion. She was set to defend her title against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in February 2013, after initial talks with Cris “Cyborg” Justino didn’t pan out. Some believed the best platform for the women to fight was on Fox, but the UFC put their resources behind this pay-per-view fight and went all the way, with the two headlining the show and reportedly drawing 450,000 buys, a very successful outing for 2013. Rousey’s next fight followed a coaching stint on TUF against Miesha Tate (who replaced Cat Zingano, who was injured after defeating Tate. This led to a memorable scene on TUF where Tate walked into the gym to announce the news to Rousey, who was furious the news was kept from her and turned into a scene for the show).
Rousey didn’t come off well on the show and there was a shift in the dynamic with Tate gaining fans throughout the season and was the babyface to a segment of people. The fight was paired with the rematch between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva at UFC 168 at the end of 2013 and topped 1 million buys. Rousey’s next four fights saw her drawing power continue to grow as she stopped her opponents in quick fashion. She defeated Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann in 66 seconds, Alexis Davis in 16 seconds, Cat Zingano in 14 seconds, and Bethe Correira in 34 seconds with each fight doing more buys on pay-per-view than the last. In the case of the Zingano and Correira fights, it was Rousey carrying those pay-per-view cards with minimal support on the main cards. Her first of two losses occurred in November 2015 to Holly Holm in Melbourne, Australia. The Jackson-Winkeljohn camp had prepared for Rousey for a long time, knowing their star female pupil would eventually meet Rousey. It was a brutal stoppage and the first time the audience saw Rousey vulnerable. Everyone knows the fallout, Rousey took the loss terribly and never got past it.
She returned in December 2016 for her final fight and was outclassed quickly by Amanda Nunes and her boxing. Rousey was slower and didn’t showcase any improvements in her stand up during her time away. It was a crash ending to a phenomenal run, but her legacy is gigantic and gave the UFC confidence to expand the women’s weight classes and dive head first into female fights, despite Dana White’s infamous words to TMZ that women would never fight in the UFC.
Art Davie (Contributors) – This is another easy choice for the UFC Hall of Fame as, without Davie, there isn’t a UFC to speak of. It was the brainchild of Davie, who linked up with Rorion Gracie to develop a concept originally titled, “The War of the Worlds”, before altering the name to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With the help of Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG), they were able to get onto pay-per-view in November 1993 for the inaugural show designed to find out what the most effective style of fighting was. The one-night tournament featured a diverse cast of fighters and styles, including Rorion’s younger brother, Royce as the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu representative, who ran the table and won the first tournament. The bigger story was the success on pay-per-view as the show drew over 86,000 buys from many that were as confused with what they were ordering that night as were announcers Bill Wallace and Jim Brown with what they were attempting to describe. This sparked the first popularity boom for the promotion that succeeded off the backs of fighters like Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Kimo Leopoldo, and Tank Abbott.
Matt Serra (Pioneer Wing) – On the surface, Serra was a fighter with a record of 11-7 and there is an argument that the totality of his career wouldn’t warrant a Hall of Fame induction. In my opinion, he pulled off the greatest upset in the history of the UFC when he defeated Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69 in April 2007 and did big business for the St-Pierre rematch in Montreal the following year. Serra’s career was winding down when the fourth season of TUF came along in 2006 with “The Comeback” season where fighters would enter the house in hopes of one last shot and the winner of each tournament would receive a title fight. Serra defeated Chris Lytle by split decision to earn the shot against St-Pierre, who had just won the title in November 2006 from Matt Hughes. Years later, St-Pierre admitted he didn’t take the fight seriously and only trained for about two weeks for the fight. The loss turned out to be a great thing for St-Pierre, who changed many things around him and turned into the machine that would control the UFC’s welterweight division for the next six years.
When you include Serra’s grappling background and his role as a trainer, leading Chris Weidman to his own enormous upset, there is a more fleshed out argument for Serra as a Hall of Famer. He also had a legendary feud with Matt Hughes after the two served as coaches on TUF Season 6 but didn’t fight until May 2009 with Hughes winning by unanimous decision in a close fight, which Serra always wanted a rematch for. He is one of the most popular figures in the history of the sport and finished his career after a rematch with Lytle in September 2010.
Bruce Connal (Contributors) – Connal was the senior producer of the UFC’s broadcasts and began with the company at UFC 17 in 1998. He died earlier this year with the UFC presenting a tribute on the UFC 222 broadcast. He was instrumental in the presentation of the UFC’s events for the past two decades and an extremely popular figure among the staff that worked with him. His name is synonymous with Mike Goldberg’s voiceovers at the end of each UFC pay-per-view as he ran through the names with Connal being a constant. He started his career as an associate producer at ESPN and worked on many major sporting events prior to working with the UFC where he produced over 300 shows.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Dan Henderson from UFC 139 (November 19th, 2011) – This is the fight that is being inducted and is an easy choice for inclusion. The date featured one of the greatest night of fights in MMA history between the UFC 139 card in San Jose that was headlined by Shogun and Henderson, and the Bellator card the same night featuring the first fight between Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler. It was a five-round war between Rua and Henderson and can be argued neither was the same after this fight. Henderson won the fight by unanimous decision but would lose his next three and go 3-7 for the duration of his career. Shogun is 5-4 since that fight in 2011, although has won his last three fights that have been spread out over three years and scheduled to fight again on July 22nd. It was only a matter of time before they had a rematch and they met in March 2014 in Brazil where Shogun was winning the fight, but Henderson came back and stopped him in the third round. This is legitimately one of the best fights in UFC history and many have said it is the best fight in the promotion’s history.