With the UFC having grown almost exclusively out of modern technology, the idea of a physical Hall of Fame feels oddly traditionalist -- especially one with a structured set of guidelines for which to gain entry. This is a sport that stayed alive on Internet boards during its darkest times, that commandeered social media like Twitter, that contemplated moats in the beginning and yet still has its share of "Cyborgs" running around. Now we’re talking about an actual location to go to see the bloody trunks worn by Stephan Bonnar from his famous fight with Forrest Griffin?
That feels a little 1955.
But when the UFC announced on Tuesday that it would open a physical Hall of Fame the idea just made sense. There needs to be a hallowed place to walk through the sport’s history. With the UFC always working in prospect of upcoming events, it could use a sanctuary for which to look backwards, if only to gauge how far we’ve come. After all, the UFC went through the Nine Circles of Hell just so you and I can complain about Stipe Miocic versus Mark Hunt as a main event in Adelaide.
What I’m trying to say is material makes it all real. Exhibits are snapshots in time. Don Frye’s mustache never gets old. The UFC is doing a cool thing.
Not that I have any real idea how the new UFC HOF will look in the end, or if it will exclude certain pioneering types like Frank Shamrock just because he’s Frank Shamrock, or if UFC-less legends like Fedor Emelianenko will find a way in, or if there will be yellow jackets or even Dennis Hallman’s Speedo, but there is something about acknowledgement that goes a long way. In this sport, perhaps more than any other, people come to bad ends. They limp away. They slur. They diminish and lose their skills very publicly. There’s a cruelty to the fight game that goes into its ultimate beauty. People come and go. They mostly go.
Yet the best of them should be enshrined in a cathedral, just like in other sports. People do a lot of crazy things to be remembered, and that’s what a HOF is meant to do -- evoke a memory, a place in time, the way things were. You know…provide context, the thing sorely needed in MMA. And really, this sport has had two lives. The old days when "Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves" was the vibe, and the scrubbed-up new era of sanctioning, when "legitimacy" became a word, and "sport" began to transcend "spectacle."
That only a decade separates those eras makes for an intimate experience.
That’s why the idea of having "Wings" feels very forward-thinking for a promotion that sometimes figures things out on the fly. The UFC plans to honor the whole lineage, with a Modern Era Wing (which has a list of presidential-like requisites, such as a minimum age of entry of 35 years old), a Pioneers Era Wing (I imagine a picture of Kimo Leopoldo with a button to push, which plays Stemm’s timeless anthem "Face The Pain"), a Contributor’s Wing (at some point, whose son wouldn’t want to behold Arianny Celeste’s white tennies encased in glass?), and a Fight Wing.
The last one is meant to commemorate the most meaningful, seminal and holy sh*t fights on record. Nothing wrong with that. There have been many over the years to choose from.
There are delicate factors -- for instance, how will known steroid users will be treated? -- but however the new UFC HOF shapes up, it’s a cool gesture to the people who have made this sport what it is. If it’s anything like the Hall of Fames in other sports, it’ll give a sense of how far the sport has come in such a short time. And this sport’s come an awful long way. To the point that if you really concentrate on the Pioneer’s Wing, circa 1993-1999, the very idea of standing in a Hall of Fame dedicated to it might come off as a little hard to believe.