Marc Ratner was sitting cageside at UFC 255 last Nov. 21 in Las Vegas. It was part of his usual routine, one the UFC vice president of regulatory affairs had upheld for hundreds of fight nights.
When a video started playing on the UFC Apex screen, though, things started to feel different awfully quickly. Ratner saw the fight night credentials hanging on his office wall as the image that started the video. Then he realized what was happening. The UFC was announcing that he would be inducted into the promotion's Hall of Fame.
Tears welled in Ratner's eyes and when the video ended, he turned around to see his family -- wife Jody and children Mary and Heiden -- behind him unexpectedly. Without him knowing, the three of them got tested for COVID-19 earlier in the day to be able to attend the fights for this big moment.
"Somehow they left the house and did it," Ratner told ESPN. "They said they were going to breakfast, no reason for me to go. I never even thought about it. And there they were when they played the video."
On Thursday night, Ratner will be officially inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Park MGM in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas. Joining him will be former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman. The epic first fight between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson will also be inducted.
Ratner, 76, will be a part of the Hall's contributor wing. And few have contributed behind the scenes more than he has. When Ratner was hired by the UFC in 2006 after 14 successful years as the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) executive director, nearly half the states in the country had not legalized or regulated MMA. Over the course of a decade, Ratner was the point man in getting the sport and the UFC itself approved across the United States and countless international destinations.
The greatest part of Ratner's legacy was his work in New York, which was the last state to recognize MMA. Ratner traveled to New York nearly 30 times in eight years to assist in the process until finally in 2016 the state legalized mixed martial arts. The UFC debuted there with a massive card, UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 12, 2016. It was headlined by Conor McGregor winning his second UFC title against Eddie Alvarez.
"New York was always the cherry on top of the dessert," Ratner said. "If you're going to have a sport and you're not regulated in New York it makes no sense. So, you need New York. We wanted to be there and there was no reason for us to not be there."
Ratner is already a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame for his work with the NSAC, which was the second major commission to legalize MMA under Ratner's watch in 2001.
"Marc Ratner is the best regulator to ever do the job," California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) executive officer Andy Foster told ESPN in a statement. "His calm demeanor and perseverance through setbacks have allowed mixed martial arts to become the regulated sport it is today. There is no one more deserving of accolades on the regulatory front than Mr. Ratner."
Here's a look at the other inductees in this year's class, followed by potential names that could be added next year.
A compelling argument could be made that St-Pierre, best known by fans as GSP, is the greatest MMA fighter of all time. He went 26-2 as a pro fighter and avenged both of those losses. St-Pierre, now 40 years old, was a two-time UFC welterweight champion with a division-record nine title defenses. He returned from a four-year absence to win the UFC middleweight title in 2017, becoming only the fourth fighter to ever win titles in different weight classes in the UFC (three others have joined him since). There is no doubt that GSP is the greatest welterweight fighter of all time, but his wins over BJ Penn, Matt Hughes, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz put him right there in the conversation for greatest of all time. St-Pierre will be inducted into the modern-era wing.
The induction of "The Monster" has been a long time coming, something his loyal friend and former teammate Mark Coleman (another UFC legend) has been campaigning for over the past several years. Randleman, a former NCAA Division I wrestling national champion out of Ohio State, was probably best known for his work in Japan's Pride promotion -- especially a suplex of Fedor Emelianenko that has been on every MMA highlight reel since it happened in 2004. But Randleman was also the UFC heavyweight champion in 1999 and 2000. Randleman, who will be inducted into the pioneer wing, beat Mirko Cro Cop, Maurice Smith, Pedro Rizzo and Pete Williams, among others. He died in 2016 at the age of 44.
Jones vs. Gustafsson 1 - Watch the fight on ESPN+
UFC 165 on Sept. 21, 2013, in Toronto produced arguably the greatest title fight in UFC history. Gustafsson took Jones to his very limit. For the first time, the dominant Jones showed signs of vulnerability. But more than that, he showed an ability in this fight to bounce back from adversity, which no one had seen so far because he had never been tested. Fans really got a good look at what Jones was made of. He took everything Gustafsson had and stormed back late to edge out a close unanimous decision. Some still believe Gustafsson won the bout, but Jones put that chapter to a close in 2018 when he dominated Gustafsson en route to a third-round TKO win. Jones vs. Gustafsson 1 will go into the fight wing of the UFC Hall of Fame.
Who could be on tap for the class of 2022 induction ceremony?
Modern-era wing: Daniel Cormier
Pioneer wing: Mark Kerr
Contributor wing: John McCarthy
Now that it seems a near certainty that Cormier won't be returning to the Octagon, his induction into the Hall of Fame is a no-brainer. Cormier was the first fighter in UFC history to defend two titles in two different weight classes -- and only the fifth fighter to hold two divisional belts concurrently. "DC" is also an incredible ambassador for the sport, plus an excellent analyst on broadcasts and beyond.
Kerr would be a great addition, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the process of making a movie about his life and career. Kerr is a former two-time UFC heavyweight tournament winner and was one of the baddest dudes on the planet in the late 1990s.
Frye vs. Takayama might have taken place in Pride, but it has one of the most iconic sequences in MMA history -- Frye and Takayama each holding each other's heads with one hand and blasting punches with the other simultaneously. There are already fighters like Kazushi Sakuraba -- who was also more known for Pride -- that are in the UFC Hall of Fame.
McCarthy absolutely has to go in at some point. He's one of the most influential people in the history of the sport. He was the UFC's first full-time referee beginning at UFC 2 in 1994 and helped write the United Rules of MMA in 2001. McCarthy retired in 2018 from officiating after 24 years as one of the elite refs in the game.