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The Hall of Fame game

By Tomer Chen | January 28, 2007

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By Tomer Chen

On December 7, 2006, the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) announced their 2007 class of inductees, with legends Roberto Duran, Pernell Whitaker & Ricardo Lopez as the living inductees (there were 13 total inductees from various eras and categories). On September 25, 2006, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Mixed Martial Arts Hall of Fame (WON MMA HOF) voted in Wanderlei Silva, Frank Shamrock, Bas Rutten & Chuck Liddell into their Hall of Fame (with 8 total inductees voted in over 2 years; the other inductees are Kazushi Sakuraba, Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie & Randy Couture). While few would argue with any of these seven men getting into their respective Hall of Fames, it is nonetheless interesting to explore how Hall of Fames in combat sports work (versus those in team oriented sports and other individual sports).

The first question to ask is (at least for the WON MMA HOF): is the HOF starting a bit too early? Certainly, there already is an ‘official’ MMA HOF that started in the UFC recently, with 4 inductees (thus far): Randy Couture, Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie and Dan Severn. However, that is an organizational HOF, just as the WBC has its own HOF which credits the greatest titleholders of their organization’s belt (even if they weren’t the greatest overall in Boxing). Given that the sport of MMA is roughly 13 years old (a bit longer if you include the early Shoot Boxing & SHOOTO events; there were numerous style vs. style matches that date all the way back to the dawn of the twentieth century, but for the most part, they were rare contests that practitioners of various martial arts styles participated in to see if they could outclass the opponent of a different style. Though there were a few early practitioners who did make a number of cross-styles matches during their lives (such as Helio Gracie & Ad Santel), the activity of these pioneers, like those in Bare-knuckle Boxing, tended to be more sporadic as there was little, if any, sanctioning for the bouts and interest in the matches generally wasn’t high enough to create long term demand.), it would seem, at least in my mind, that the WON may have jumped the gun with beginning a HOF so early.

Even if we consider the roots of modern MMA in Japan from a historical standpoint, it still has only been 30 years, with only a handful of men who actually can be linked to the popularity of the mixed styles/shoot style matches. First, there was Antonio Inoki, the legendary founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling, who had faced various combat sports practitioners such as Willem Ruska, Willie Williams, Chuck Wepner, Eddie Everett, Karl Mildenberger, Akram Pahalwan and Leon Spinks in worked shoot-style contests in the mid ’70s to early ’80s, with the big match-up against the legendary Boxer, Muhammad Ali. Though the contest was supposed to be worked as well, paranoia from the Ali camp generally is pointed as being the reason that the match became a legitimate contest, leading to Inoki in the butt scoot position for 15 pretty boring rounds, leg kicking Ali to the point of injury.

Following Inoki, Akira Maeda became the second man to carry the mantle of pushing the mixed styles bouts, having a few such matches in NJPW (such as against Don Nakaya Nielsen), but also began to seriously push the boundaries of controlled worked shoot with legitimate shoot contests when he shot on Andre the Giant and later Riki Choshu. Maeda, while leading up to the Choshu shoot kick incident (where he broke Choshu’s orbital bone and refused to job in Mexico, leading to his firing), had tried to start an organization that would focus on shoot style contests only and not make it one of many gimmick matches on a Pro Wrestling show, forming the original UWF with stars and soon to be stars such as Rusher Kimura, Satoru Sayama (Tiger Mask I), Nobuhiko Takada and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. However, the organization collapsed after a legit spat between Maeda and Sayama where Maeda ended up groin kicking Sayama in a shoot style contest, getting DQd. This eventually led to the disintegration of the first UWF and to Maeda’s second run in NJPW, where he would shoot on Choshu. The second UWF, while also short-lived, became one of the biggest promotions in the world with Maeda and Takada as the top drawing cards. Probably the biggest influence the organization had, however, was to promote clean finishes (with KOs and submissions in the middle of the ring), forcing AJPW and NJPW to significantly decrease the amount of DQs and Count Outs in their matches.

After the collapse of the organization in 1990, however, there were three split offs. UWF International (UWF-i), run by Nobuhiko Takada, which while successful for a spell, died out relatively pretty briefly as well. Takada himself, however, would carryover his status as a shoot-style legend into his PRIDE tenure, helping to anchor the early promotion while Kazushi Sakuraba was built up as its more long term ace. Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi, formed by Yoshiaki Fujiwara, while not a really successful organization, was influential to MMA in that 3 of the top stars of the organization (Masakatsu Funaki, Ken Shamrock & Minoru Suzuki) split to form Pancrase, the MMA organization that, along with the UFC were recognized as the beginning of MMA as we would know it (although UFC in 1993 was closer to the Vale Tudo organizations). Finally, Akira Maeda founded RINGS, an organization that early on had great shoot style matches between Volk Han, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and Kiyoshi Tamura and drew well with Maeda on top. Eventually, though, the matches phased into true MMA contests and towards the end, many of the great talent that would appear in PRIDE and would dominate the world rankings in the sport went through the organization (such as Dan Henderson, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Fedor Emelianenko & Ricardo Arona), showing Maeda’s scouting talents.

Other major sports HOFs tended to begin roughly at least 40-50 years after the sport began or was accepted by the mainstream. This allowed for several generations of players or fighters (as well as managers, coaches, promoters, etc.) to have their full careers and to retire, thus creating a deep enough pool of candidates and sure fire inductees to warrant the beginning of a HOF to honor their achievements. As it is, there has been 22 candidates on the 2 ballots (encompassing both the fighter and non-fighter side; Tito Ortiz will be #23 on the 2007 ballot as the only new eligible candidate for this year) with 8 getting inducted and 5 dropping off (1 in 2005, 4 in 2006). That leaves 10 candidates on the ballot for this year (4 non-fighters: Antonio Inoki, Rorion Gracie, Kazuyoshi Ishii & Satoru Sayama, 5 fighters: Mark Coleman, Masakatsu Funaki, Rickson Gracie, Dan Severn & Tito Ortiz and 1 uncertain: Pat Miletich (as he qualifies both as a fighter and as a trainer). In my mind, the vast reduction of the pool of qualified candidates by starting a HOF this early is bound to introduce some less than great (or even very good) inductees very quickly, unless the voters are more than capable of showing restraint and not vote if there isn’t a candidate who will carry the title of ‘Hall of Famer’ with honor.

But, given that the other WON HOF (Pro-Wrestling) has had a number of head shaking picks over the years (a good deal probably due to 100+ inductees going in by fiat in the first 2 years, thus thinning out the top and a good part of the second tier pool before voting began), I will not be surprised to see a number of iffy or head shaking picks to go in within the next few years into the WON MMA HOF just because the alternative may be having a situation like the Baseball Hall of Fame (in 1940, 1941, 1943, 1950, 1958, 1960) where no one went in, at all. After all, just like a physical HOF isn’t happy when they can’t run an induction ceremony (as it prevents them from getting money), a HOF like the WON HOF and WON MMA HOF may suffer from lack of issue sales if the fans knew no one got in or if they bought a HOF issue only to find it without an inductee bio. Does that mean that the HOF board may be fudging results to get someone in? Not necessarily, though it’s possible that they may endorse (openly or otherwise) certain candidates that will draw a nice crowd (or sell issues), even if they aren’t up to par in terms of achievements.

Closely linked to my first question is the second: why do a number of sports (and sports entertainment) HOFs (such as the WON Pro-Wrestling HOF & the IBHOF) induct a large amount of people in during the first year or two? For the IBHOF and similar HOFs with physical buildings, I can see the reason why they would want to put in a good number of inductees for the first class: who wants to pay $10+ to see 4 or 5 plaques and maybe some memorabilia relating to those first few inductees or players on the ballot who are bound to get into the HOF in the next few years? People want to see Robinson, Ali, Louis, Armstrong, etc. honored in the first year because they were at the top tier of their sport and they want to see the plaques, statues and rooms dedicated to these legends when the buildings for the HOF open. Of course, by placing most of these top tier legends in all at once, you also reduce the pool of legends for future years and can create the long term problem of putting in less than stellar inductees in order to justify the annual ceremonies and to get people to come back year after year (besides the occasional exhibition).

In the case of a non-physical HOF such as the WON MMA HOF or WON HOF, however, there is no motivating factor of physical overhead to justify tossing in 100+ guys at once. Sure, guys like Lou Thesz, Hulk Hogan, Jim Londos, Ed Lewis, Vincent K. McMahon, etc. are ‘no brainers’, but the fact of the matter is by placing (virtually) all of the first and a good chunk of the second tier inductees (there were a few overlooked old timer inductees from the first 2 fiat years such as Jack Curley, ‘Wild’ Bill Longson, ‘Farmer’ Burns & Paul Bowser, but around 90% of the top flight picks did get put in pretty much at once) you seriously lower the quality of candidates for ballots in future years with no real justification to do so (since you aren’t trying to sell out a building and in the case of the WON, Dave Meltzer probably would have been better served to space out the inductions so more issues could be sold over the years on the ‘drawing’ name inductions with full bios rather than toss them in at once with a 3 line explanation of their careers). In addition to getting to sell more issues regarding the top tier inductees by spreading it out, I believe that it would have also allowed a number of first and second tier candidates such as The Rock onto the ballot in order to flesh out the overall quality of ballot and not have to resort to website tournaments in order to determine who deserved to get onto the ballot (as was done last year). Also, a number of inductees who were still in the ‘zenith’ years of their career (such as Kurt Angle) in way tended to taint the image of the Hall of Fame as pushing in guys who were the hot face of the minute rather than long lasting name power. Is it likely that Angle would have gotten in around 2010 or 2015? Probably, but nonetheless having him go in during the class of 2004 was eye raising and brings up the question of criteria.

When discussing the top of criteria, there are two facets: (i) qualifications to get on the ballot and (ii) the criteria to judge a candidate for induction purposes. The first facet is important in determining how many potential candidates to a ballot can appear at any one period of time, so if you make the standards too low virtually every participant in the sport can be fair game, but if it’s too high, you will see few, if any, inductees getting on the ballot. Pretty much all sports HOF have a minimum career length and 5 year (or other period) retirement rule for players/fighters in order to allow some time for the voters to consider their achievements in the context of the big picture. In addition, a major reason for this rule can seen in the case of the Hockey HOF, where Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe & Guy Lafleur retired, were immediately inducted and a few years later rounded out their careers for good. Many critics pointed out that had a 5 year rule been in effect, none of them would have gotten in until a few years later (though Lemieux probably would have gotten in under the 3 year retirement rule for the Hockey HOF before his last stretch). In the case of the WON HOF, there is a 35 years and 10 year in the ‘major leagues’ (IE: WWE, NJPW, AJPW, AAA, etc.) or 15 years in the ‘major leagues’ rule in place for placing candidates onto the ballot (which is a recent adjustment as it used to be 35 years old or 15 years in the industry) as, unlike pretty much all sports, Wrestlers can keep on going into their late 40s and beyond with little chance of them stopping. Of course, in most HOF there is also a nominating committee which is responsible for picking from the master list of potential candidates the final list of candidates who will be given to the voters for the year. As such, most HOF ballots will not see 300 candidates, but more like 20-50 (depending on the sport, age of the HOF and amount of inductees already in).

Once on the ballot, the voters are expected to analyze the candidates and select those that they deem as the most fitting as based off the expectations of a Hall of Famer and any additional criteria issued by the HOF. More often than not, there are limitations on the number of candidates that can be selected by a voter and sometimes there are multiple stages of voting and candidate reduction (such as in the Pro Football HOF). However, most HOF criteria for the voters to consider in these HOF are rather vague. For example, the Baseball Hall of Fame has the following criteria for the voters (you can read the full rules here):

5. Voting — Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

The WON HOF’s three primary criteria are: (i) Drawing power, (ii) In ring skill and (iii) Influence on the industry. This, of course, is criteria focused on the performers and does not constitute criteria that can be used to judge the role of the promoter, trainer, booker, etc. As seen by the two above examples and apparent lack of criteria in a number of other HOF such as the IBHOF, it would seem that most sports HOF do not have truly solid criteria to judge the players/fighters and the non-players/fighters, relying instead on the judgment of the voting constituency to determine who would determine the best to vote in. For the most part, this is acceptable, although there are always going to be debatable or even questionable inductees because of the subjective basis in which the voting is done. Of course, in the case of most sports, there is some (or a good deal of) tangible numbers to fall on and most fans and historians tend to associate certain records as a reasonable threshold of consideration for a HOF induction. Bill James, a famous Baseball and statistician, for example, created a set of tests to rate the HOF worthiness of a player versus other candidates and in the big picture of what constitutes a great player. In general, though, some HOFs are almost completely subjective with regards to their criteria. For example, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s primary criteria to judge performers, to quote their site (as seen here), is:

Criteria include the influence and significance of the artist’s contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.

Of course, in the case of influence, there are obvious choices (such as Robert Johnson, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground & Pink Floyd) and some that raise eye brows (such as The Dells, Percy Sledge, Bill Monroe & Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys) that end up getting in. There are also times when one apparently obvious inductee may get overlooked for an extended period of time (such as Black Sabbath, The Sex Pistols & Lynyrd Skynyrd) or even get totally ignored or laughed at by the nominating committee (such as Rush, Yes & the Moody Blues). In this regard, there has been a good deal of controversy regarding the actual voting process of the HOF following a number of ignored candidates such as the aforementioned. Jann Wenner, the founder of both Rolling Stones magazine and the Rock & Roll HOF (also a 2004 Rock HOF inductee), for example, has been accused of having great disdain for progressive rock (with friend and senior Rock & Roll HOF staff member, Dave Marsh), attempting to halt the nomination of a number of candidates who would be more than worthy (such as the aforementioned Rush, Yes & Moody Blues) on the grounds of their own personal preferences. Dave Marsh even admitted publicly his distaste for KISS and how he always blocked their entrance onto the ballot (as can be read here):

Kiss is not a great band, Kiss was never a great band, Kiss never will be a great band, and I have done my share to keep them off the ballot.

Now, even though I personally do not like the band, I would have to say that personal distaste should not blind an individual to the worthiness of an inductee. There were also claims made (as seen here) of the executives who were in the nominating and voting committees passing through their loyal acts faster than through a more democratic system. And just like the case of Wenner and Marsh with the Rock & Roll HOF, I would imagine there are plenty of examples of backroom spats or heavy favoritism (one of the best examples of favoring one group would be Frankie Frisch’s run in the early 1970s in the Veterans Committee and his (generally regarded as) shameful inductions of former teammates).

Speaking with a voter of the IBHOF, I was (at first) surprised to find out the generally discussed justification for the HOF’s policy in regards to allocating a certain amount of spots to a category: (i) fans want to have a semi-long (3-4 hours around, usually) ceremony of pomp and circumstance and (ii) fans want to see both inductions for the living and the dead. Of course, after thinking it over, I realized the simple intelligence of that structure: the fans would be able to both see smiling men receive plaques from the Hall of Fame board and also have a bit of history discussed when putting in the ancient fighters and figures of the past. The Rock & Roll HOF has also maintained a mandatory induction quota in recent times (this year’s class was 5 out of the 9 candidates on the ballot). Of course, the classic retort to the desire of the HOF to appease the fans in order to pack their HOF weekend and induction ceremony would be “How far are you willing to pull the bar down in terms of quality of the inductee in order to pack in a few more people?”

There have been a number of (on the surface) highly questionable inductees into the IBHOF, a few examples being: Jess Willard, Laszlo Papp and John C. Heenan. Willard is best remembered as being the last of the ‘Great White Hopes’ who were on a mission to take out perhaps the most hated World Heavyweight Champion of all time, Jack Johnson. Willard was a solid but not great fighter who was able to catch Johnson at the very tail end of his career and score a rather large upset in KOing him in 26 rounds in Havana, Cuba. Willard had mixed success against the ‘quality’ (as he did not face the truly best fighters of his era such as Sam Langford, Sam McVey, Joe Jeanette and Harry Wills due to the color line) opposition of his era, beating opponents such as Arthur Pelkey & Soldier Kearns but losing to Gunboat Smith & Tom McMahon). He was really a middle of the road fighter who was historically significant in ending the era of the ‘Great White Hopes’ and the long reign of the great Jack Johnson (as well as starting Jack Dempsey’s legendary reign as champion via a brutal 3 round beating). But, should historical value alone allow a fighter who was otherwise mediocre throughout his rather short career (at least by the standards of his time and is even on the lower end of today’s fighting scene) merit induction into the HOF?

Laszlo Papp is another example of an IBHOF inductee whose credentials are questionable, to say the least. A three time Olympic Gold medalist in Boxing (1948 at MW, 1952 & 1956 at LMW), Papp was heavily limited in his career path by the Communist regime of his native Hungary, facing few quality opponents in his peak (none of them recognized in the top 10 of the Middleweight division during his period) and starting late due to an essential ban on professional fighting in the Communist regime. The most famous of his opponents was Ralph ‘Tiger’ Jones, who once beat the great ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson (albeit slightly after his peak years), but was very inconsistent in the ring and very ring worn by the time he faced Papp. Eventually, after Papp beat some solid but not great fighters (the major of the top contenders and the Middleweight champion fought in the US, which his native Hungarian government refused to allow him to go to in order to get the top fights), the government of Hungary forced him to retire. It would seem as though Papp’s main achievement to warrant induction was his unprecedented 3 gold medals (which only Teofilo Stevenson & Felix Savon ever tied and no one beat), although those were amateur and not professional achievements. In addition, there may have been some sympathy for the fact that he was forced to retire and not fight the true top contenders of his era in the United States by his government in order to ensure his record was kept loss-free.

Finally, John C. Heenan was a fighter of the Bare-knuckle era of Boxing who never won a fight (going 0-2-1 in his ring career) and yet ended up in the IBHOF. His first recognized fight was with fellow Hall of Famer, John Morrisey, who was notorious for winning his fights through interference of his gang (and probably should not be in the IBHOF as well). Morrisey had forced George Thompson to DQ himself against him by having his gang brandish guns right as he was going to stop Morrisey, Yankee Sullivan was ‘TKOd’ as Orville Gardner (Morrisey’s number two) basically held him from getting to scratch for the next round (a blatant foul) and lost to Bill Poole but had him killed 7 months later. Heenan was sickly and though he was winning early on, finally collapsed due to his ill health, losing the contest. Heenan then participated in a contest that probably gave his historical significance induction justification, which was the draw with Tom Sayers over 42 rounds in England. The bout ended in essentially a riot as the fans were getting anxious about who was going to win. This was considered one of the first superfights in the history of Boxing, and probably is the reason. Then, Heenan lost to Tom King (or Kent, if you go by Boxrec) and promptly retired. Besides that one fight with Sayers, there is little to say about Heenan’s career that would warrant a HOF induction.

Moving on to the non-fighter side of the coin, there are two recent figures that raise my eye brows: Jose Sulaiman getting voted into the IBHOF and Kazuyoshi Ishii on the WON MMA HOF ballot. In regards to Sulaiman, I concur with current The Ring magazine editor-in-chief, Nigel Collins, who basically dropped his jaw in horror at Sulaiman’s induction as a non-participant. Collins asked, in his opening editorial, why there were people in the nominating and voting committees who would consider putting in Sulaiman, who really did little for the sport of Boxing. He was not a promoter who put together the fight cards that fans wanted to see and brought in money into the sport. Nor was he a trainer, manager and so forth that warranted consideration due to his leading his fighter in one regard or another (money, skills and wins, titles, etc.). Instead, he was simply a man asking for fees in order to allow a fighter to be recognized as the “WBC _______ champion” and had the power to strip the champions at a whim. In addition, his relationship with Don King hurt whatever image of legitimacy he tried to bring to the table. His pick is simply stunning as even the ‘advancements’ he keeps on talking about (round reductions, health protection, etc.) were in place before he claimed it as his own or were argued as being for his benefit (such as the theory that the reduction in rounds from 15 to 12 was to allow more advertisements per hour).

Kazuyoshi Ishii, on the other hand, is a confusing pick as any I’ve seen for the WON MMA HOF as a management figure. The founder of K-1, he did not really have any hand in any MMA contests. Unless one considers K-1 itself to be Mixed Martial Arts as it combined the styles of a number of stand up arts. However, it is really a combined one dimensional sport, lacking any ground fighting and is hard to consider MMA in any sense as we recognize it (especially since the early 1900s MMA-style contests were often between two grapplers or one striker and one grappler). I have been informed recently that the major reason for Ishii’s consideration may be his recognition by numerous promoters in Japan (MMA and other events) as being an extremely creative figure who was able to garner large gates and ratings throughout the years for his product, although I still am not completely convinced that he really was a large influence on the MMA product itself (since much of the format of PRIDE, for example, tended to be puroresu-oriented). However, it does give some form of argumentation that I can see regarding Ishii’s case, so I’m not nearly as baffled by his entrance on the WON MMA HOF ballot as I was hearing of Jose Sulaiman being on the IBHOF ballot (and getting in).

Perhaps the potentially scariest aspect of any HOF, however, is the voting constituency. The voters are selected by the founding member(s), so there is always the fear/suspicion that the voting base can be easily influenced by the founder. As noted previously, many suspect Jann Wenner of influencing his base of voters to pick the genres and bands that he and his friends in the music industry enjoy rather than being all encompassing. In addition, some have suggested that Dave Meltzer is capable of influencing a solid portion of his voting base, especially those who are younger and may not be as familiar with the 60s and 70s names on the WON Wrestling HOF ballot as the older voters would. In addition, questions have been raised in the past as to the format of the WON Wrestling HOF (3 regional blocks separate the candidates: US & Canada, Mexico & Japan). The big question comes with the fact that instead of separating the voters into the region of their best knowledge (as is done with the IBHOF and a number of other HOFs), a voter can potentially be voting in all 3 regions by voting for at least one candidate for each. As such, the action or inaction of a voter in regards to voting in a region can effect the total voting requirements (which is 60% of the regional vote is needed for induction). An example:

Suppose that there are 9 candidates on a ballot, with 3 for each reason. There are 120 voters that are voting for the HOF. A voter looks at the ballot and, though he is not really familiar with the Mexican wrestling scene, votes on a candidate that he remembers he enjoyed watching. Meanwhile, there are 30 other voters who have voted for Mexican candidates, and 18 have voted for the most qualified candidate (at least based on the opinion of the most knowledgeable historians of the region), giving him a 60% to allow him to get in. However, the voter who voted for another worker lowers the percentage to 58%. In essence, the voter who may not have had the proper knowledge to assess all the candidates and yet voted on a personal favorite of his in the region inadvertently prevented the candidate from getting voted in. As such (and also because more often than not the US & Canada block has a higher vote requirement for induction than Mexico and Japan due to the relative lack of knowledge of the candidates by the voters there), there is much contention that the voting base should be separated by region or another voting structure should be implemented in order to properly adjust for the fact that some deserving candidates in a region may be overlooked or denied induction because of a relatively unknowledgeable voter picking their own favorites even if they don’t know the full picture.

Essentially, the biggest problem that enters into the picture for HOFs in generally is the potential for screwy inductions due (in part) to excessive fanboyism. For example, in a few years when Arturo Gatti retires and meets the 5 year requirement to be eligible for the IBHOF, will he end up getting in? In terms of actual achievements in the ring against A level quality opposition, Gatti is rather poor (even losing to less than stellar opposition such as Micky Ward & Ivan Robinson twice). Nor was he ever considered ‘the man’ in his weight class. However, the more aesthetic quality of being a crowd pleasing fighter (garnering 4 The Ring magazine ‘Fight of the Year’ awards in his career) may push him in even if in terms of quality he falls a good bit short of the bar that the IBHOF should hold (a number of IBHOF voters have gone on record saying they would vote for him when he came onto the ballot). To me, a combat sport-oriented HOF should be placing in ring achievements as their first criterion and have year end awards and a crowd pleasing style as ‘brownie points’ to boost a borderline case into a HOFer. In my mind, Gatti simply does not have the quality of wins and belts to merit induction into the HOF. In addition, his ceremony would likely be a huge drawing one for the HOF, so there would be that element. As such, it should not be shocking to see Gatti get voted in even if he may not deserve induction on the basis of actual achievements in terms of “W”s and belts won.

This brings into mind how good the current format is for most HOFs when it comes to voters. After all, voters are just as prone to being fans of certain players/fighters because of their style or other attributes. For example, Rumina Sato was brought on the 2006 WON MMA HOF ballot last year, essentially on the grounds that he was an exciting fighter rather than any quality wins and belts that he earned. I personally feel that the current base of most HOF with writers, some players/fighters/management and some historians should be changed a bit. I like Bill James’ suggestion of have 5 voting groups:

  1. Players/fighters
  2. Management/executives
  3. Media
  4. Historians
  5. Fans

With each group having two voting periods: a nominating vote to bring up their own candidate(s) to the main ballot and then a main ballot voting period, with 3 out of 4 groups needing to approve the other group’s pick with a certain rate (60% or 75% for example) in order to merit induction. This would minimize the amount of off-the-wall picks that have historically haunted the numerous HOF throughout history by making the standards higher and allowing a constituency to bring up their own cases without being laughed down or just ignored.

Another point I’ve supported from Bill James was the concept of not pulling the bar down willingly because (i) the bar was lowered by putting in head scratching picks and (ii) expanding the HOF will eventually lower the significance of value over time (he discusses it in “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?” under the Lowest Common Denominator & If-One-Then arguments). Essentially, a screw up pick (which is inevitable) will happen at some point and then advocates for a candidate (or non-candidate) that, while may be as deserving if not more than the mess up, would also lower the bar of the HOF. While Paul Pender probably deserves induction more than Laszlo Papp or Jess Willard does considering he did fight a good part of the top fighters at Middleweight in his era (including all-time greats Carmen Basilio & ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson x2), most brush away his case given that those three wins were against two greats who were at the very tail end of their careers and his record against other top fighters was mixed. As such, the IBHOF did not pander by putting him and others of his stature in even if they probably were more deserving than a number of people that did end up going in.

Finally, a point was recently brought up by the IBHOF voter that I speak to regarding the fact the HOF put in a policy to block “known or suspected abuser” in regards to steroids (and possibly other drugs). My point of contention against this policy was the IBHOF had allowed individuals who probably did a lot more damage to the image of the sport itself through fight fixing/diving (notable examples being Jake LaMotta, Jem Ward, Ike Williams and there were numerous claims that International Boxing Club (of New York) controlled fighters such as Kid Gavilan and the aforementioned Williams that either had opponents dive to them or were told to take a dive by the Mafia backers of the organization.), yet you see a good number of HOFers with that stigma sitting in the HOF and held to the highest standards of the sport. In my mind, the far worse sin of actually fixing a fight should be the real issue of contention, and if it isn’t, then the HOF should have no issue with ‘roid monkeys getting in, given that their moralistic standards would seemingly be pretty low, in my mind.

Ultimately, in my mind, a Hall of Fame should be there to preserve the history of the sport and recognize the very best. If a HOF reduces the quality of their inductees by favoring excessive inductions, placing in head scratching picks or just starting one in order to make some extra cash, I believe that they should just close shop and walk away. Of course, given that Cooperstown, Canastota, Canton and so forth draw good money by essentially making shrines to those that the voters pick, it’s unlikely that they will stop their policy of voting in both the deserving and the less than deserving in order to get the most money out of the fans wallets while touting that they are purely altruistic and serve to enhance the image of the industry.

Topics: All Topics, Boxing, MMA, Pro-Wrestling, Tomer Chen | 2 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

2 Responses to “The Hall of Fame game”

  1. Hall of Fames don’t tend to mean much … the true litmus test is if the general fan knows the subject and recognizes them as one of the greatest. Using the KISS example, no one can argue that they have their own niche carved out for them, but do they deserve to be mentioned in the same tier with the Beatles or Michael Jackson?

    I definately agree that history is what will show us who the true hall of famers are. People like Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock will be remembered as the catalysts for mixed martial arts in North America, but history has shown that their greatness was more a product of the times and their competion. Right now people talk about Matt Hughes, Georges St Pierre, Fedor E., etc as future hall of famers and ‘the best mixed martial artists in the history of the sport. But remember that the history of mma has many such fighters who were hyped like this who have then gone down in flames. Igor Vovchanchyn was once considered indestructable and then as the sport evolved his style was overtaken and he was left in the dust.

    This is where things get tricky. Lets look at boxing: You can take all of the great champions of boxing and have hours of arguments about who would win against who if these champions fought eachother in their primes. But for MMA, it is less about fighters fighting at their prime and more about the techniques being used and taught during their time. As time goes on fighters are getting better rounded and new specializations come in and out of favor as top fighters expose holes in wrestling or jiu jitsu or kickboxing technique.

    Anyways, I recognize your article was more on the selection process, but wanted to add this little note regarding MMA: We’re going to have to wait a long time before Mixed Martial Arts hits a peak skill level, and until then we’re just going to have to recognize greatness in the sport as it plays out before our eyes, because looking back on these fighters 10 years from now, we’ll be forced to re-evaluate their ranking on the all time greats list.

    By the way I always enjoy your articles!

  2. Tomer Chen says:

    Personally, regarding KISS, I do not think they would warrant consideration mainly because I see them more as people who followed in the tradition of T. Rex & Gary Glitter (who probably should get in before KISS in that regard) as well as legends such as David Bowie (who already is in the R&R HOF) than becoming innovators in their own right. Sure they were popular, but as influences, their long term status is questionable at best.

    I agree with the point about the evolution of the sport of MMA is still ongoing, with Wrestling being the main tool to win all your fights one year, then BJJ, then Muay Thai and so forth. However, I think that even in the long term, one will remember Randy Couture’s successes in the Octagon even with his less than spectacular record and that Fedor Emelianenko’s dominance of the sport at the time will still be a noteworthy achievement, just like Jim Jeffries’ dominance of the 1890s and early 1900s HW scene in Boxing was (even if he ended up getting destroyed in the end by Jack Johnson). So long as there are writers and historians who will ‘keep the faith’ and talk about the legends of their times just like Pierce Egan did with the early Bare-knuckle era of Boxing, the names of the past shouldn’t die out in ignoble fashion.

    Just as a note, there are lots of arguments going on in Boxing when it comes to comparing fighters who fought under the London Prize Ring Rules (Broughton’s Rules) and the Marquis of Queenberry rules, given that it was two entirely different sets of rules and expectations of the fighters of the time. In addition, there was a level of crudeness for the most part with the first 20-30 years under the MoQ rules, having some of the Bare-knuckle carryovers trying to ply their trade and fight with little proper technique (Stanley Ketchel being one of the most famous and successful examples), and even having later examples of guys with little true pugilistic technique beyond some basic rolling and head movements (such as Rocky Marciano), yet they went on to become legends of all time because of the journalists, the footage that exists and their overall portrayals.

    Thanks for the kind words, by the way.

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