LAS VEGAS -- Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar became the 10th and 11th inductees to the UFC Hall of Fame in a ceremony Saturday at the UFC Fan Expo at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
The duo were inducted for their classic April 9, 2005 bout in Las Vegas in the light heavyweight finale of the first Ultimate Fighter. Griffin won via unanimous decision in a thrilling fight which is considered the turning point for the Zuffa-era UFC, which had lost $40 million up until that point.
"There's never been a more important fight ever in mixed martial arts except maybe UFC 1," UFC president Dana White said.
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There was vocal criticism of Bonnar's selection to the Hall, both for an in-ring body of work which doesn't compare to other inductees, and because of a pair of steroid-related suspensions. White addressed the critiques from the get-go.
"All the people, all the media were b----, ‘how does Stephan Bonnar get into the Hall of Fame?'" a fired-up White said. "Let me tell you something. As far as this company goes, as far as this sport goes, this was the most important fight in the history of the company,"
Griffin (19-7) had the more decorated career of the two. He won the UFC light heavyweight championship from Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 86, and had a memorable trilogy with Tito Ortiz. Griffin won two of those fights, including at UFC 148 last summer, which turned out to be his last bout.
The Athens, Ga. native, who announced his retirement in May, was succinct in his remarks.
"In the grand scheme of things, fighting people in the cage is not that big of a deal, I know," Griffin said. "It's not a hero profession even though its treated as one. It's not being a soldier or police officer or paramedic of firefighter or anything. But sometimes in special moments it feels like that. It's the biggest thing I've ever been a part of, and I really appreciate you all being with me."
Bonnar was emotional during his lengthy remarks, discussing the first time he watched the UFC, going through his career, and thanking friends, family and teammates who helped him along the way.
"I remember I first saw UFC in my junior year of high school in 1994, and it hit me that this is he coolest thing ever," said the Muncie, Ind. native. "I remember trying to put armbars on people in wrestling practice and the coach yelling at me."
Bonnar, who fought six fighters who at one point held UFC titles during their career, also acknowledged he's been going through a rough period over the past year. He lost to Anderson Silva in October, then tested positive for steroids, his second career failure.
"This last year's been really tough for me," said Bonnar (15-8). "It's been retirement, it's been putting this behind me, it's been peeling away the layers and figuring out what was going to happen. Thanks the guys for letting me be part of this organization, because every time I saw this for the first time, ever since 2004 the UFC's been my life."
With the inductions, Griffin and Bonnar join Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell, Charles "Mask" Lewis, Matt Hughes, and Tito Ortiz in the UFC Hall.