How exactly does one get into the UFC Hall of Fame? Having a glittery hunk of championship brass and leather wrapped around your waist is a good start. Defending your title against a scowling procession of the best of the best will strengthen your candidacy. And if one of those killers you defeat along the way turns out to be a Hall of Famer, so much the better.
Frank Shamrock checks all of those boxes. The adoptive younger brother of UFC Hall of Famer and badass pioneer Ken Shamrock fought professionally 35 times, mostly in the 1990s, and his slick blend of submission wrestling and kickboxing earned him a reputation for being an innovator of well-roundedness -- a truly mixed martial artist.
Although only five of Frank Shamrock's fights were in the UFC, they all were at the apex of the sport. In his debut for the promotion in 1997, he became the first champion in what now is known as the light heavyweight division. He then successfully defended the belt four times, the last of those fights being 20 minutes of ferocious hostilities with Tito Ortiz -- now a Hall of Famer -- that ended with "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" wearily tapping out to strikes. That in itself was an enshrinement-worthy performance.
But Shamrock, who vacated his championship right there in the Octagon immediately after the Ortiz fight and was never again seen in the UFC, is not in the Hall of Fame and probably never will be.
Despite all of those boxes he checked during his nearly two-year UFC title reign, Shamrock unchecked every single one of them, all at once, by going to war with Dana White.
White is not the sole arbiter of who gets into the Hall and who does not. But as leader of an internal UFC committee that each year determines which candidates have made the worthiest contributions to the sport and its leading fight promotion, the company president plays a central role in opening the door.
Considering all of the insults that White and Shamrock have flung back and forth for a couple of decades, it should come as no surprise that Frank is on the outside looking in. The drama between the two has continued far beyond Shamrock's fighting years, with the latest incident being a tweet from Shamrock last year calling the UFC president "a racist, liar, a bully and generally a bad person."
That is not to suggest that Dana inducts only his buddies. Tito Ortiz, though once managed by White, is no friend of his. Nor is Hall of Famer Randy Couture. But neither Zuffa-era superstar has been as incessantly personal in expressing his disharmony with White.
Who among us would welcome our nastiest antagonist into a place of honor under our auspices? The circumstances surrounding Shamrock's snub are not an indictment of the UFC Hall of Fame or Dana White. They are merely indicative of what the UFC's Hall is and what it is not.
The UFC Hall of Fame has less in common with the shrines in Cooperstown, Canton, Springfield and Toronto than it does with, say, Monument Park at Yankee Stadium or the Ring of Honor at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. It's true that, in traditional hall of fame selection processes, a crusty old sportswriter can hold a grudge against an athlete just as steadfastly as an indignant fight promoter can. But when there's an induction infrastructure consisting of dozens (pro football) or even hundreds (baseball) of independent voters, vendettas tend to get buried beneath a pile of ballots. It doesn't work that way, though, with honors bestowed by a single team or fight promotion. Go ahead and call Jerry Jones "generally a bad person," and see how far that gets you in Dallas.
There's more to it than that, however, when it comes to understanding the context for the UFC's Hall of Fame selections. Although inductees are divided into four "wings" -- a term that sounds more brick-and-mortar than what is the reality -- there are identical criteria for fighters from the promotion's modern era (defined as those who made their debuts on or after Nov. 17, 2000, which is when the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts first were used) and the pioneer era (pre-Unified Rules): You should be age 35 or older and retired for at least one year.
That is a pretty loose set of requirements, and even then there's wiggle room. The UFC's own rundown states, "Active fighters are eligible but not preferable." This is what allowed BJ Penn, who's still fighting at age 40, to be a 2015 inductee. Urijah Faber was inducted in July 2017, barely six months after his retirement fight, and he's making an Octagon comeback this month.
So anything goes, basically, which means a case can be made for more than a few high-level fighters. The same goes for the other two enshrinement categories: historical fights and non-fighting contributors to the sport. If you've embodied greatness in the UFC -- and your name is not Frank Shamrock -- you could be getting the call.
With that framework in mind, what are the most conspicuous omissions from the UFC Hall of Fame?
Let's set aside the obvious. Now that Georges St-Pierre has finally thrown his last Superman punch (we think), he is a shoo-in. And despite the loophole allowing active fighters to be honored, we'll hold off on giving near-retirement legends such as 44-year-old Anderson Silva their due until they lay their gloves at Octagon center.
Where does that leave us? Here's a suggestion for each of the UFC's Hall of Fame wings:
Modern era fighter: Miesha Tate
Tate reigned as women's bantamweight champion in both the UFC and Zuffa-owned Strikeforce. She never successfully defended either belt, but dropping one to a current Hall of Famer (Ronda Rousey) and the other to a future Hall of Famer (Amanda Nunes) does little to discredit her accomplishments.
If the UFC has a place in its Hall for 2019 inductees Rashad Evans (zero title defenses) and Michael Bisping (one successful defense against a 45-year-old Dan Henderson who was fighting for the last time), it needs to make room for one of the seminal stars who helped build women's MMA in the UFC. It's true that whenever Tate tangled with Rousey, she ended up playing the role of Wilt Chamberlain to Ronda's Bill Russell, but wouldn't it be fitting for the two petulant rivals to be reunited, peaceful induction ceremony be damned?
Pioneer era fighter: Jens Pulver
This spot should belong to Frank Shamrock, but come on, he could come out of retirement tomorrow, at age 46, and beat up Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier on the same night, and he'd still be turned away at the Hall door. Some fights you just don't win.
We'll turn to the next-most-qualified option. Pulver began his fighting career in 1999, and within two years, he was the UFC's first lightweight champion. He successfully put the strap on the line twice, and in the second title defense, he dealt a first career defeat to BJ Penn -- now a Hall of Famer but back then still a true "Prodigy." Pulver ended up leaving the UFC right afterward, but his contract disharmony never turned as personal as Shamrock's situation did.
Pulver's case is weakened a bit by an ill-fated second run in the UFC and its sister organization, the WEC. From 2006 through 2010, he lost seven of eight fights in Zuffa promotions. But by then, he'd already earned his inclusion. He deserves to join his longtime trainer, Pat Miletich, because part of the reason Miletich is in the Hall is the stable of fighters he developed, Pulver among them.
Fight: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson I
How is it possible that this 2013 fight -- perhaps the greatest in UFC history -- isn't already in? It had it all. Jones was the invincible champion with five dominant defenses under his belt. Gustafsson was the understandably overlooked next victim in line, noted for his exceptional height but not much else. Expectations were low. Then the Swede went out and took Jones down in the very first round and bloodied him up, and we had a fight. Jones came back. Then Gustafsson came back. Then Jones.
By the end of five dizzying rounds, the Jones who got his hand raised bore little physical or soulful resemblance to the self-possessed champion who had entered the Octagon a half-hour earlier. He was a bruised and battered survivor. He also was humbled after proudly having risen to heights he'd never before been called upon to reach. The famous social media photo of the two fighters together in the hospital, looking like they'd been through a sadistic ordeal, is a memorable visual record of a transformative night.
There are other worthy fights not yet enshrined. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen I created two stars with dissimilar sparkle, and it birthed MMA's entertainment era. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard II proved that a bout scored a draw can draw fans' attention, and it was a heart-thumping reminder that it ain't over 'til it's over. No one was prepared for the violence Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald II unleashed in 21 gruesome minutes. But nothing steps ahead of Bones vs. Gus I.
Contributor: Lorenzo Fertitta
Why not start at the top? At the risk of infringing upon a Bruce Buffer trademark: It's time. It has been three years since the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank, sold off their majority stake in the UFC and left the fight business. But the flourishing company they left behind -- for a price tag of more than $4 billion -- bears little resemblance to the verging-on-extinction MMA promotion they bought with Dana White in 2001 for $2 million. That's because for the better part of two decades, Lorenzo Fertitta was a steady hand at the helm.
Fertitta teamed with his onetime high school buddy, White, to form a visionary team that built a sports empire out of nothing but blood and guts. They were joined at the hip in the business as yin and yang as partners get in expressing their passion for fighting. While Dana was becoming the fiery face of the UFC, as dazzling and irresistible as carnival barkers come, Fertitta took a different route. He was the adult in the room, and his unruffled demeanor was an essential ingredient in enticing the mainstream sports world to take MMA seriously.