When the UFC announced that Stephan Bonnar would be entering its Hall of Fame, the reaction from the MMA community was scarcely positive. Many responded with criticism, and cited Bonnar’s entry as just another example of why the UFC Hall of Fame doesn’t matter. UFC President Dana White has been uncharacteristically tight-lipped on the issue, perhaps a sign that the decision to elevate Bonnar (and his two failed PED tests) was half-hearted, if not begrudging. Even Bonnar himself seemed surprised by the move, claiming that he didn’t expect it but it was nevertheless “an honor”.
But in all honesty, I think Bonnar earned his stripes in this sport and is plenty deserving of this award. His main contribution to MMA, in the form of his now legendary fight with Forrest Griffin at the first Ultimate Finale, is just as worthy of our praise and esteem as it ever has been. Sure, when you look at the global and mainstream popularity that MMA enjoys today, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when UFC pay-per-view events were lucky to reach 100,000 buys and Chuck Liddell was not a household name. But that’s the world Bonnar came up in, and he played a crucial role in bringing MMA out of those “dark ages” and into the spotlight.
Outside of his match with Griffin, Bonnar did not have a particularly memorable career. He was an exciting fighter, but more often than not that meant being exciting in defeat. However, it’s important to note that Halls of Fame are not solely about pure excellence in the field of play. Sometimes a sporting body will choose to honor a different type of luminary, whose achievements were felt in other (and maybe even more important) ways. It’s in this manner that Bonnar fits the bill; he may not have been a champion, but his performance at the TUF 1 Finale became an act of cultural significance that far exceeds the average UFC title victory.
And that’s why Bonnar should always hold his head high, regardless of his failings and mistakes, and accept this UFC Hall of Fame induction with his pride intact. Everyone in MMA, from Dana White and the Fertitta brothers all the way down to the newest UFC fan, owes Bonnar a debt of gratitude. Giving him our respect is the least we should do.
Front page photo credit: MMAWeekly.com