The UFC may have announced last weekend that it intends to induct Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar into the UFC Hall of Fame, but in all reality, they cemented their spot among the promotion’s elite over eight years ago. Therefore, there was really no doubt that this day would come.

The fight between Griffin and Bonnar at The Ultimate Fighter Finale changed everything. Before these two slugged it out to earn a six-figure UFC contract, MMA was so far under the radar that it could barely be called a niche sport. With the sport still seen as barbaric by the majority of the public, the UFC had a lot of work to do in order to showcase MMA as more sport than spectacle, and that work started with The Ultimate Fighter.

Although the show was entertaining during its run, Spike TV hadn’t quite made up its mind on whether or not it was going to be in the MMA business. Zuffa had financed the first season of the show itself, and the future of the sport was more or less hinging on the fate of the live season finale.

Diego Sanchez came out and destroyed Kenny Florian in a one-sided beatdown to claim the competition’s first middleweight title in the first meaningful bout of the night, but the clinic put on by Sanchez looked effortless and was too predictable. The show needed the right fight to put it over the top. As it turns out, Griffin vs. Bonnar was beyond anything that UFC President Dana White could have hoped for.

Heading into the bout, it was clear that there was no true favorite to win the six-figure contract. Both men had been incredibly impressive during their wins on the show, and their experience and skill levels were nearly identical. Joe Rogan drove this point home during the fighter’s walk to the cage, and it was made clear to the fans that this was going to be the most evenly matched bout of the night.

From the opening bell, both fighters decided to let their hands go and turn the fight into a brawl, and it stayed at an unbelievably frantic pace for the entire 15 minutes. An educated judge watching the bout in 2013 would have a tough time deciding a winner. For the average person watching their first MMA fight in 2005, it was impossible.

Despite the fact that many viewers had little to no clue what they were watching, Griffin and Bonnar put on such an entertaining bout that people began to tune in anyway. In the midst of one of the countless exchanges between Griffin and Bonnar that night, Mike Goldberg exclaimed, “Welcome to the Ultimate Fighting Championship world!” while the crowd was going wild. The moment feels big even when watching it eight years later. The Ultimate Fighter got the UFC’s foot in the door, but Griffin and Bonnar kicked the door down and proved MMA was here to stay.

Griffin may have earned the win on the scorecards that night, but the sport of MMA as a whole gained more than many thought possible. Spike TV became the official home of the UFC for the rest of the decade, and after starting out with just a reality show and an occasional live event, soon the UFC became the featured attraction on the network.

The exposure on Spike TV turned the UFC into the billion-dollar company it is today. Pay-per-view buys went up, fighters were suddenly becoming internationally known stars and the UFC reached heights that many thought were unattainable. Eventually, this led to the current Fox deal and the baker’s dozen of free cards we get each year to go along with the pay-per-view fights. All of this is possible because of Griffin and Bonnar.

Sure, the UFC probably would have broken through to the mainstream eventually, but it’s impossible to overstate the impact those two warriors had on the sport. Many point to the Fertitta brothers and Dana White as the men who saved the sport, but Griffin and Bonnar deserve a lot of the credit as well. At a time where the UFC desperately needed two fighters to throw caution to the wind and deliver an iconic fight, these are the two men that delivered.

Griffin ended up becoming a UFC champion and one of the most popular fighters in the history of the sport. Bonnar wasn’t as lucky, and a career spent stuck as a mid-tier light heavyweight was tarnished by multiple drug-test failures. But in the end, none of that matters, because Griffin and Bonnar solidified their legacies way back in April of 2005.

The UFC Hall of Fame is for the fighters that helped make the promotion what it is today, and no fighters fit that criteria as well as Griffin and Bonnar. No fighters did more to help with the growth of the sport, and both men are more than deserving of the Hall of Fame spots they’ll be given this summer.

Photo: Bonnar (L) battles Griffin (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.