Ben Fowlkes
Thursday July 15th, 2010

On these increasingly rare weekends with no major MMA events, a fight fan's mind tends to wander. It meanders back to the days when we had to wait months between shows. It imagines a future where we never get a weekend off. And it considers whether that would be a blessing or a curse.

But me, my mind keeps returning to the same subject as I stare out the window during another lazy summer day. Maybe the heat is getting to me, or maybe I've just been watching too many old Pride videos on the Internet. Whatever the cause, I can't stop wondering: Why doesn't MMA have a Hall of Fame?

I know what you're thinking. Why should a sport that's still fairly young -- at least in its current form -- have any need to honor heroes who are, in many cases, still stubbornly hanging on? Why does it even matter? And why can't we just be content with the UFC Hall of Fame?

All good questions.

MMA needs a Hall of Fame in the same way every major sport does, which is to say that it doesn't need one at all -- it's just fun to have. A Hall of Fame grants us the illusion of permanence. It takes accomplishments that would otherwise seem fleeting and it preserves them in a glass case for all to marvel at.

Plus it's a good place to take your kids on a summer car trip.

The UFC Hall of Fame? There's nothing wrong with it, but it's absolutely not an MMA Hall of Fame, nor does it claim to be. It's a distinction that's bestowed only upon UFC fighters, and often only those who are in good standing with the organization at the time.

That's fine for the UFC's purposes, but not for the sport's. If we're going to honor the people who have shed blood for our entertainment over the years, we need an independent way of doing it. It'd also be nice to have an actual physical location for enshrinement instead of just names on a website. (And it would be even nicer for that location to be easier to get to than Cooperstown or Canastota, but that's a discussion for another day.)

For now, consider the case of Bas Rutten. The Dutch fighter is a pioneer's pioneer. He was doing this stuff back in 1993, when the rest of us were listening to Pearl Jam and wondering whether Bruce Lee could have beaten Mike Tyson. Before you even knew what MMA was, Rutten was smashing people's livers over in Japan.

But you won't find Rutten in any Hall of Fame. He only fought twice in the UFC, which apparently isn't enough to merit his inclusion. Now that he's retired, his accomplishments go unheralded even as the UFC enshrines active fighters like Randy Couture and Matt Hughes. Not that they don't deserve it, but can't a legend of the sport who's actually retired (and sticking to it, which is refreshing) get some love?

Better yet, think of Fedor Emelianenko. His recent loss aside, there's no denying that he's earned the right to be called a Hall of Famer. He went 10 years without a loss. He ruled the Pride heavyweight ranks back when the Japanese organization had the best big men in the sport.

But if he retired today, even with his stellar accomplishments and unprecedented winning streak, MMA wouldn't have an official way of honoring him. We wouldn't even have a way of putting it to a vote. We'd just wave goodbye, say thanks for the knockouts and the memories, and move on without him.

I don't know about you, but I feel like the fight business has enough ways of using and then discarding people when they're active. We don't need to add to it when they retire.

Maybe it's no major travesty to go without Hall of Fame. No one's really suffering from the lack of one in MMA, except perhaps the novelty T-shirt and coffee mug industry, which could certainly use a new souvenir to sell in this wintry economic climate.

All I'm saying is, the great fighters who have broken their bodies in the cage for us over the years deserve some way of being remembered that isn't contingent on their being a former UFC fighter in good standing with the Zuffa brass.

They deserve a place of their own, maybe a bronze plaque or two, and a museum that they can force their grandchildren to visit -- even if it's only to point out the display with Don Frye's sweaty American flag trunks.

What they deserve is for the fans and the media to get together, count up the votes, and tell them, "We remember what you did, and it mattered, if only to us."

We could make it happen. Practically every other major sport has. For Pete's sake, even figure skating has a place to remember its greats. If you want to live in a world where Brian Boitano gets to call himself a Hall of Famer and guys like Fedor and Rutten don't, that's your business.

Personally, I think we can do better. It's only a matter of making up our minds to do it.

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