Next week’s tripleheader of UFC International Fight Week events will make an impact on the current MMA scene, with titles being fought for, contenders attempting to climb the ranks, and prospects trying to make a name for themselves.
But that’s now. What about in 10 or 20 years? Will we one day look back at July 7, 8, 9 as days that changed the sport’s landscape, that produced Hall of Fame talent fighting on the same cards with each other? It’s an interesting topic to debate, so why not start that debate here, with ten fighters in action next week who may eventually have a case to make for inclusion in the UFC Hall of Fame.
Rafael dos Anjos
The Facts: UFC lightweight champion. One successful defense. Wins over Donald Cerrone (twice), Anthony Pettis, Nate Diaz, Benson Henderson.
The Case: The prime example of a late bloomer, dos Anjos wouldn’t even be in this conversation based on his early UFC career, which started out at 3-3. But beginning in 2012, RDA began building a solid resume, with his only loss since then coming to Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2014. He knocked out the steel-chinned former champion Benson Henderson, dominated Nate Diaz and Anthony Pettis, and knocked out Donald Cerrone in their rematch.
What Now? To remain in the mix, RDA must beat Eddie Alvarez on July 7. That will be two successful title defenses. One more after that and he will tie BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar and Henderson for most successful lightweight title defenses. Beat that record, and he should have made his case.
The Facts: UFC strawweight champion. Two successful defenses. Wins over Claudia Gadelha, Carla Esparza, Jessica Penne, Valerie Letourneau
The Case: Poland’s Joanna Champion is the UFC’s second 115-pound champion, but it’s safe to say that she is the one that put the division on the map. That may be enough to one day put her in the Hall, but for now, she’s got a lot of fighting left to do. Dominant in every fight except her 2014 meeting with Claudia Gadelha, Jedrzejczyk can put that rivalry to rest with a big win on July 8. If she does that, there will be challengers, but none that would be seen as a favorite or even a pick ‘em choice in a fight with Jedrzejczyk. That could hurt her standing unless she makes a division clearing run, a la Demetrious Johnson.
What Now? Beat Gadelha big on July 8, then begin to clear out the top contenders one by one.
The Facts: UFC light heavyweight champion. One successful defense. Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix champion. Two-time US Olympic team member. Wins over Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Bigfoot Silva, Roy Nelson, Dan Henderson, Anthony Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson.
The Case: A two-time member of the United States Olympic freestyle wrestling team, Cormier transitioned to MMA in 2009 and made a name for himself in the Strikeforce promotion as a heavyweight, a division he kept competing in when he moved to the UFC in 2013. The fighters he beat when battling with the big boys were impressive, but it was at 205 pounds that he won a world title. On July 9, in the main event of UFC 200, he gets to avenge his only pro loss when he faces Jon Jones.
What Now? Beat Jones on July 9. If he does that, he will have beaten the top three fighters in his division (Jones, Alexander Gustafsson, “Rumble” Johnson), and in Jones, he will have a victory over perhaps the greatest MMA fighter ever. At 37, Cormier will not be fighting for another five or ten years, so the question is, will that be enough for a call to the Hall?
The Facts: Interim UFC light heavyweight champion. Former undisputed UFC light heavyweight champion. Youngest champion in UFC history. Most successful UFC light heavyweight title defenses. Wins over Stephan Bonnar, Ryan Bader, Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira, Daniel Cormier.
The Case: See above. Going over Jones’ resume, even a cataclysmic losing streak from now until the end of his career can’t erase what he has already done. Might as well start putting that HOF trophy together now.
What Now? While he probably doesn’t need it, defeating Cormier and Gustafsson in rematches and beating Rumble Johnson would be the icing on the cake of a legendary career.
The Facts: Former UFC heavyweight champion. Two successful title defenses. Wins over Frank Mir, Heath Herring, Randy Couture, Shane Carwin
The Case: This may be the most interesting case on the docket. Lesnar only fought eight times as a pro, winning five of those bouts, but his impact on the heavyweight division was a major one. So what makes him HOF worthy? He beat Couture for the title in only his fourth pro fight. He dominated in his wins over Herring and Mir, and his win over Carwin was one of the great heavyweight title fights of all-time. That’s the good news. The bad? He lost his last two fights to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem, and his career was cut short – and affected while he was active – by two bouts with diverticulitis. The losses are losses, and you can’t put someone in the Hall of Fame based on potential. A win at UFC 200 after nearly five years away would help Lesnar’s cause, and if you’re also including his impact on the sport, he would get my vote.
What Now? Beating Hunt helps, but even with a loss at UFC 200, Lesnar’s case for a HOF nod is an interesting one.
The Facts: WEC featherweight champion. Two successful defenses. UFC featherweight champion. Seven successful defenses. Wins over Frankie Edgar, Chad Mendes (twice), Cub Swanson, Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, Kenny Florian, Chan Sung Jung, Ricardo Lamas.
The Case: Likely a shoo-in for HOF honors as a man who ruled the 145-pound weight class from 2009 to 2015. That’s a long time to be at the top, and while his 13-second loss to Conor McGregor in December of last year was a painful pill to swallow for the proud Brazilian, it shouldn’t reflect poorly on his legacy, especially should he win the interim title at UFC 200 and move into position for a rematch with “The Notorious” one.
What Now? A win over Edgar on July 9 would go a long way toward regaining his status in the eyes of the fans, but even if Aldo walked away tomorrow, he has put together a Hall of Fame worthy resume.
The Facts: Former UFC lightweight champion. Three successful defenses. Current featherweight contender. Wins over BJ Penn (three times), Gray Maynard, Sean Sherk, Charles Oliveira, Cub Swanson, Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes.
The Case: Frankie Edgar was the underdog for most of his career. Now, entering his interim featherweight title fight against Jose Aldo on July 9, he’s seen by most observers as one of the game’s all-time greats. That type of respect was earned the hard way, and you can even make a case that of Edgar’s four pro losses, three of them (Henderson I & II and Aldo I) could have gone the other way. That’s a remarkable run, and if he wins at UFC 200, he will become one of only three fighters to win two divisional titles. Knowing Edgar, he won’t be satisfied until he gets the undisputed crown, but facts are facts.
What Now? Beat Aldo and get that interim title. That could be the clincher for Edgar in the HOF.
The Facts: Former Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion. UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Wins over Holly Holm, Jessica Eye, Sara McMann, Liz Carmouche, Julie Kedzie, Marloes Coenen.
The Case: One of the pioneers of women’s MMA, Miesha Tate finally struck gold in the big show when she submitted Holly Holm in March. It was the culmination of a rollercoaster ride, but now Tate can look forward to adding even more chapters to her story and possibly adding Hall of Famer to her resume if she makes all the right moves on fight night.
What Now? First, Tate has to beat Amanda Nunes on July 9. Then the fun starts. Will she fight Holm again? How about Rousey for a third time? A rematch with Cat Zingano if Zingano beats Julianna Pena? The possibilities are endless, but the one constant is that if Tate wants that Hall of Fame spot, she has to keep winning.
The Facts: Former two-time UFC heavyweight champion. Two successful defenses. First fighter of Mexican descent to win a major combat sports heavyweight title. Wins over Minotauro Nogueira, Junior Dos Santos (twice), Brock Lesnar, Bigfoot Silva (twice), Ben Rothwell.
The Case: When Cain Velasquez defeated Brock Lesnar in 2010 to win the UFC heavyweight crown, fans settled in for a long reign. But then Junior Dos Santos knocked him out in 2011. Then injuries plagued Velasquez and limited him to five fights over the next three years, even though that time saw him regain, defend, and lose the title. On July 9, Velasquez makes his first start in over a year against Travis Browne. A win there and he might just get a crack at winning the title for a record-tying third time. The only other fighter to do that – Randy Couture – is in the Hall of Fame. Will that be the magic number for Velasquez.
What Now? Regain the title and defend it more than twice, shattering the title defense record he already has a piece of.
The Facts: The Ultimate Fighter season one winner. Former world title challenger. Six-time Fight of the Night winner. Wins over Jim Miller, Ross Pearson, Takanori Gomi, Martin Kampmann, Clay Guida, Joe Stevenson, Karo Parisyan, Nick Diaz, Kenny Florian
The Case: Here’s an interesting one. What do you do with a fighter who has been a fan favorite and staple of the promotion for over a decade, producing some of the most action-packed fights seen in the Octagon, but who has never won a world championship? The case of Diego Sanchez reminds me of the furor that went up in the boxing world when Arturo Gatti and Ray Mancini were up for induction to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Both were world champions, but critics said they weren’t elite practitioners of the sweet science. I disagreed, noting that the impact Gatti and Mancini had went far beyond what happened on fight night. They brought fans into the sport and made you talk about their fights at the water cooler at work on Monday. That’s a lot more important than wins and losses. And that’s how I feel about Diego Sanchez.
What Now? Keep being Diego and the rest will work itself out.