Lack of reaction to Stephan Bonnar UFC Hall of Fame announcement speaks volumes

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There has been little in the way of discussion and debate regarding Dana White's announcement of Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar going into the UFC Hall of Fame. But if the Hall of Fame ends up being taken seriously, hindsight years down the line will question the decision on Bonnar.

When Dana White mentioned that Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar - both recently retired - would be inducted together into the UFC Hall of Fame prior to UFC 162 in July in Las Vegas, the immediate reaction was how that's a story that comes full circle.

Griffin and Bonnar have in some form always been linked together. They were largely unknown but promising fighters who were housemates on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter reality (TUF) show in 2005. They ended up meeting in the light heavyweight championship match and had one of the greatest and most important fights in UFC history.

But upon reflection, when it comes to the UFC Hall of Fame, the reaction should have been different.

The acceptance without thought and much reaction is really a reflection of how little people take the UFC Hall of Fame seriously. And that's sad. There are certainly valid arguments regarding people who are not in but should be, most notably Frank Shamrock and perhaps Pat Miletich, there is no real strong argument regarding the few names inducted so far.

With the exception of the late Charles "Mask" Lewis, the only non-fighter enshrined, every inductee was without any argument one of the top fighters of their era.

Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn were the big three fighters during the early years of the sport. While Mark Coleman's run at the top was actually short lived, he won two tournaments as well as the heavyweight title, and later won the toughest tournament of its time, the first Pride Grand Prix.

Randy Couture was a five-time world champion in two different weight classes and a no-brainer as a Hall of Famer if there ever was one. Matt Hughes was a two-time champion and arguably the most dominant fighter of his era, and is also a no-brainer. Chuck Liddell was a light heavyweight champion and the company's biggest star during the first two years the sport exploded after getting on television, and no UFC Hall of Fame could be without him. And Tito Ortiz was the longest-reigning champion until the Anderson Silva era, a huge drawing card and biggest rival to both Shamrock and Liddell. His induction was important because he had a very rocky relationship over the years with management, but he was a pivotal figure in the growth of the sport.

The nature of who gets in is decided by an internal company decision and may be different than most major sports Halls of Fame where there are specific voting standards. Until now, there weren't strong arguments against anyone thus far honored.

But that can't be said any longer.

Griffin may have been behind only Liddell and Couture as the company's most popular fighter during the period of its big growth spurt. He was the first TUF winner and his never-quit attitude when faced with opponents most expected him to lose to was endearing to the fans. His popularity was because people related to him, not because anyone saw him as a great fighter.

Because of that, he maintained popularity even through several losses. And his popularity grew with wins over fighters that most perceived were more talented than he was, because on those nights he wanted it more than they did. He was never thought of as a world champion caliber fighter, but he became one for a brief period of time.

While not a slam dunk like a Liddell, Hughes or Couture, for his part in company history, he probably would be expected to be a Hall of Famer, and certainly was worthy of debate.

Bonnar, on the other hand, is harder to justify. In fact, it's the lack of reaction or discussion to the announcement of Bonnar that showed that people don't take this Hall of Fame seriously at anywhere near the level of that of a major sport.

Unlike every other name on the list, Bonnar never won a championship. In fact, he never even contended for one. At no point was he even in discussions for possibly getting a shot.

He only once headlined a pay-per-view show. That was in his last career match, after he mentally believed he was retired, where the story of his fight against Anderson Silva was that he was the gutsy overmatched guy facing the best fighter in the world going for the fighting equivalent of the Hail Mary.

His UFC career record was 8-7. His wins were over Sam Hoger, James Irvin, Keith Jardine, Mike Nickels, Eric Schafer, Krzysztof Soszynski, Igor Pokrajac and Kyle Kingsbury. Only one of those names, Jardine, even flirted with momentary stardom.

He also had two steroid test failures, a Boldenone positive in his less remembered second loss to Griffin in 2006, and a Drostanolone positive in his last fight on Oct. 13 against Silva.

His lone qualification is that he was in a fight that was among the most important in UFC history - a fight that he lost, although in fairness, that fight was close enough that it could have gone his way.

But a year later, when he and Griffin rematched, the gap grew significantly between the two men who were skill and stylistic equals coming off the reality show. Griffin was probably not a Hall of Fame caliber fighter, but his popularity couldn't be debated, and he won a championship in the company's marquee division.

At best, Bonnar could be described as a career journeyman fighter who was more popular than his wins would indicate because of being in one famous fight on the first live televised fight card.

Was that fight pivotal in the history of the sport? Yes. But if losing the best fight in a given year makes one a Hall of Famer, then Karo Parisyan, Diego Sanchez and Chan Sung-Jung should be getting ready for their plaques.

A Hall of Fame is supposed to honor only the elite. And while today it may be a cool story that Griffin and Bonnar go in together, 20 years from now, if anyone takes the UFC Hall of Fame seriously, Bonnar will be its equivalent to the baseball players of a century ago that happened to be in a famous poem, and somehow that made them Hall of Famers. And those in that sport, with the benefit of hindsight, have regretted it for decades.

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