In 2003, the UFC Hall of Fame was founded. Its inaugural members were two of the UFC’s earliest stars, Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie. Despite its founding, the Hall of Fame never felt like a priority for the world’s largest MMA promoter.
The common practice was to induct a single fighter every year, though not necessarily as it was not uncommon to skip a year. In 2015 the UFC reorganized the Hall of Fame into several categories (Fight Wing, Contributors Wing, Pioneer Wing, Modern Wing) and officially assigned the ceremony to UFC International Fight Week, a yearly event in July.
Despite its face-lift, the UFC Hall of Fame is still missing several figures that played a significant role in helping the UFC get to where it is today. Some were great fighters, and others contributed outside of the cage. All deserving recognition for their effort…
Frank Shamrock (Pioneer Wing)
Accomplishments: UFC Light-heavyweight Championship (4 Defenses), Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, WEC Light-heavyweight Champion
Ken Shamrock is one of the biggest names in MMA history and a member of the UFC Hall of Fame, but it could be argued that Frank Shamrock was the more accomplished of the two fighters. Shamrock made his UFC debut after a lengthy run in Pancrase and made his presence felt immediately. Tasked with facing Olympic Wrestling Gold Medalist Kevin Jackson, Shamrock needed just sixteen seconds to submit him and win the inaugural UFC light-heavyweight championship in the process.
That sixteen-second submission finish took place in 1997, and still stands as the fastest submission finish in divisional history. Shamrock defended his belt three times throughout 1998 and one final time in 1999, this time against a young Tito Ortiz. Shamrock defeated Ortiz and vacated his championship belt shortly after under the guise of retirement.
Whatever his true intentions were are unknown to this writer, but just over a year after retirement, Shamrock was back in action. He would compete sporadically for nearly another decade, winning the Strikeforce middleweight and WEC light-heavyweight championships along the way. As a member of the UFC roster, Shamrock was a perfect 5-0 with four title defenses.
Shamrock held two more World Championships and posted a 3-2 record in other promotions eventually purchased by the UFC or its parent company.
Jens Pulver (Pioneer Wing)
Accomplishments: UFC Lightweight Championship
Jens Pulver’s life is worthy of a movie. It’s difficult to say if that will ever happen, but he did write a book called Little Evil. It details a tough upbringing and makes it clear that it was nearly a miracle that Pulver even lived long enough to find MMA. But find it he did, and in the era often called “the dark ages,” Jens Pulver was the lightweight king.
Debuting in the UFC in 1999, Pulver earned several victories with the promotion before earning a crack at the inaugural UFC lightweight championship against the highly touted Caol Uno. Uno owned several notable victories and was slightly more experienced than Pulver. But ultimately his grappling failed, and Pulver earned both a decision victory and his first world championship. He affirmed his status as the UFC’s top lightweight with a decision victory over Dennis Hallman in his first defense, and a close but hard-fought decision win over a young BJ Penn in his second.
Ultimately, money got in the way of what could have perhaps been a long reign, and Pulver left the UFC in 2002 after a contract dispute. His career never reached the peaks that it did during his initial UFC run, though his career would continue for some time more. After finding limited success on the regional scene and in Pride FC, Pulver returned to the UFC in 2006 where he encountered more tough times that really would follow him for the remainder of his career.
Though Jens Pulver is often remembered for his spectacular decline from 2006 onward, nobody can ever take away what he managed to do during those early days of the UFC lightweight division.
Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin (Fight Wing)
UFC 101: Fight of the Night & KO of the Night (Silva)
Anderson Silva is a man that needs no introduction. He is arguably the greatest fighter in UFC history and, without a doubt, one of the greatest in the history of MMA. But his legacy is complicated in the eyes of some by his late-career PED failures and the less than spectacular run that ended his UFC career. Regardless, Silva will likely find himself in the UFC Hall of Fame someday, and that is an honor that he deserves regardless of most of the strikes against him.
What cannot be denied nor forgotten is the impact that his victory over Forrest Griffin had in the MMA world. Silva was the middleweight king in 2009, but he often hinted at potential interest in making a move at light heavyweight. During his UFC run, Silva had moved up once before, defeating James Irvin quickly and severely. But Forrest Griffin was an entirely different animal…
Griffin was fresh off losing his light heavyweight championship, but he was still highly ranked in the division with wins over Rampage Jackson and Shogun Rua in two of his previous three fights. He was a test for Silva, as he was both a larger opponent and one on Silva’s level, at least on paper. What happened in the ring was hardly what Forrest Griffin or his fans could have expected. Silva seemed to enter the matrix as he countered Griffin’s punches before eventually sending him to the canvas with well-timed counter punches.
It took Silva just over three minutes to extinguish all the fight that Griffin had in him, and in the process, he proved that his greatness could transcend weight divisions.
Dan Henderson (Pioneer Wing)
Accomplishments: UFC 17 Middleweight Tournament Winner, Pride Middleweight Champion, Pride Welterweight Champion, 2005 Pride Grand Prix Welterweight Champion, Strikeforce Light-heavyweight Champion
Dan Henderson is a bit of an asterisk on this list as he is already a member of the UFC Hall of Fame. He was inducted as a member of the “fight wing” for his incredible bout with Shogun Rua at UFC 139. But Henderson deserves an induction based on his own merits alone.
After putting together a successful career as a wrestler, Henderson transitioned to MMA in 1997 and quickly found success. He won the UFC 17 middleweight tournament in 1998 before eventually finding his way to Pride FC. Henderson put together an incredible run with Pride, earning notable victories over Renzo Gracie, Wanderlei Silva, and Murilo Bustamante and becoming the first fighter in company history to hold a championship in two separate weight classes.
His star could not have been brighter when he made his return to the UFC in 2007. Henderson struggled initially as he failed to capitalize on back-to-back championship opportunities to start his UFC career. Losing first to Rampage Jackson for his UFC light heavyweight championship and then to Anderson Silva for his middleweight championship, Henderson appeared to be heading towards the end of a successful career. But instead, he reeled off three straight wins, culminating in an all-time MMA moment when he knocked out Michael Bisping in a heated grudge match.
Henderson left the UFC for Strikeforce in 2010, and while there, captured the promotions light heavyweight championship and a KO victory over fellow Pride FC icon Fedor Emelianenko. Once again returning to the UFC in 2011, Henderson spent nearly another half-decade competing. Though his results were mixed, Henderson gained more notoriety for his longevity, eventually retiring in 2016 at the age of forty-six.
Mike Goldberg (Contributors Wing)
UFC Play-by-play Commentator (1997-2017)
Mike Goldberg made his debut at UFC: Ultimate Japan in 1997. He was a constant on almost every UFC broadcast until his departure in 2017. Along with Joe Rogan, Goldberg called some of the biggest fights in MMA history, including some by all of the fighters on this list.
His UFC run will not be remembered for his technical understanding of the sport; in fact, he was famously known for making gaffes. But his passion was always obvious, and his catchphrase, “It’s all over!” was synonymous with the UFC for years. The UFC decided to go in a different direction in 2017; they started to add commentators with fight experience, and eventually, Mike Goldberg didn’t have much of a place anymore.
His final appearance at UFC 207 marked the end of an era; things felt different after he left for better or worse. Hopefully, Mike Goldberg eventually gets the recognition that he deserves.