The UFC Hall of Fame is a relatively fresh and ongoing concept, yet already there has been criticism of the choices for induction into its ranks. So far, we have seen just a handful of men inducted, including one non-fighter. As we approach the 20th anniversary of the UFC, it is now perhaps the most appropriate time to look back and analyze whether those currently in the UFC Hall of Fame are deserving of that honor or, more appropriately, whether other current fighters are more so.

Diego Sanchez has gone through the ups and downs of being an MMA fighter, but he has remained a constant in the UFC ranks ever since he became the original Ultimate Fighter, picking up the competition’s middleweight crown. With this achievement in his back pocket, Sanchez is one of those current UFC fighters perhaps most appropriate to consider for Hall of Fame status. How does Sanchez stack up against other current Hall of Famers? Does he deserve the recognition purely for being there at a pivotal moment for the sport, or is he just a footnote in UFC history?

When The Ultimate Fighter first aired, Sanchez quickly became apparent as a bit of an oddity not just in the context of the group of fighters on that season, but in general. He was intense and single-minded, but definitely one to keep an eye on for a multitude of reasons.

As the season progressed, it became apparent he was going to be in the mix for the big prize at the end of it. He proved it so, winning the finale against Kenny Florian in April 2005. From there, it would be almost two full years inside the UFC before Sanchez tasted defeat at the hands of fellow TUF cast member Josh Koscheck in a rematch of the original semifinal, which Sanchez won via split decision.

Before long, Sanchez was dropping to lightweight in the hopes of reinvigorating himself, as has been the case for many other MMA fighters. It seemingly worked. In just his third fight at lightweight, Sanchez challenged for the title against what was perhaps the mythological “prime” or “motivated” B.J. Penn that hardcore MMA fans often describe. Overall, Penn dominated the fight. However, in just making it into that fight, Sanchez came the closest he had ever come to UFC gold to date.

Since that point, “The Nightmare”—or, as he later came to be known, “The Dream”—has bounced around between lightweight and welterweight while searching for a fresh start. He now finds himself the toast of the lightweight division following his recent “Fight of the Year” candidate against top contender Gilbert Melendez at UFC 166 on Oct. 16.

Overall, Sanchez has undoubtedly had a better career than most and will always have The Ultimate Fighter crown to fall back on should he never realize the ultimate dream of winning a world title. Despite these impressive achievements, it is easy to see why Sanchez, when viewed against some of those already in the UFC Hall of Fame, would not be a name instantly placed alongside the likes of Royce Gracie, Randy Couture or Chuck Liddell.

The UFC is facing a real danger of devaluing the potential of the UFC Hall of Fame by giving valued places to fighters such as Stephan Bonnar and also non-fighters such as the late Charles “Mask” Lewis. Despite the undeniable accomplishments and contributions of those two men, it cannot be said they are in the same league as Royce Gracie, for example.

In truth, the placing of Mask, whilst being a great gesture, remains a strange decision. Despite his great support of the sport in its darker days, few other mainstream sports would recognize someone who has never actively participated in the sport themselves in some form. Perhaps as the sport evolves, we could see the creation of a MMA Hall of Fame that incorporates broadcasters, journalists, coaches and other important figures that contributed to the sport, and Mask would undoubtedly be well worthy of his place amongst such a group. However, as it stands, Mask would be more appropriately remembered by way of an award, or through the lending of his name to The Ultimate Fighter trophy, perhaps, given his desire to help with young talent.

Then, there’s Bonnar. Despite his show-stopping performance at The Ultimate Fighter finale against Forrest Griffin, he has largely remained a journeyman fighter ever since, with the added cloud of performance-enhancing drugs in his background also. If you are to place a fighter in the Hall of Fame purely on the basis of one fight, no matter how monumental it may be, it could open the floodgates to many other fighters.

Following this blueprint, surely we must see the likes of Brock Lesnar for his appearances inside the Octagon. His UFC run undoubtedly garnered more interest in a three-year period than can be attributed to any other fighter in UFC history. Then you would have to also consider Frank Trigg for his battles against Hall of Famer Matt Hughes, before you eventually get back to Diego Sanchez.

Sanchez is a man who has won The Ultimate Fighter, fought for a title and been involved in seven “Fight of the Nights,” including the 2006 “Fight of the Year” versus Karo Parisyan and what may well be the 2013 “Fight of the Year” against Melendez. He is also tied for second for the longest active UFC streak alongside fellow TUF cast members Mike Swick, Chris Leben and Josh Koscheck along with Rich Franklin, who up until his appearance in the main event at The Ultimate Fighter 1 finale had never had two back-to-back fights under the UFC banner.

Put simply, if you were to ask one of the selectors from the baseball or boxing Hall of Fame to look at Sanchez’s career on paper alone, it is likely Sanchez would not make the cut just yet. But when viewed against the current inductees, it is not a stretch to state that Sanchez is equally as deserving of Hall of Fame status as at least some of those already in that illustrious group.

Photo: Diego Sanchez (L) (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.

  • mmaroots

    absolutely he does, he is the original Ultimate Fighter, one of the sports most exciting fighter win or loss..

    Not a naturally gifted talent, but his never surrender or give up attitude is inspiring to behold.

    Give him a 5 rounder on a good day and he can take any fight on and he may even win..

    I have seen some of best fighter just give up but never Sanchez he fight to the end..

  • Richard

    The real problem is the UFC HOF isn’t a HOF, it is a place for Dana to recognize his personal friends. That is the reason Bonnar and Mask made it in while fighters like Frank Shamrock and Don Frye never will…it is not a real HOF