In 2005, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar put on an extraordinary fight at the initial Ultimate Fighter Finale, which set the tone for seasons to follow. At the UFC Fan expo last Saturday, they were both rewarded for their titanic efforts in the Octagon with an induction to the UFC Hall of Fame. For Forrest Griffin, the former light heavyweight champion, this seems natural, but many questioned the worthiness of Stephan Bonnar in the reception of this honor. Dana White is not one of those people, who gave a speech at the expo and said,
“This was the most important fight in the history of this company. At the time that this fight happened…we were 44 million dollars in the hole into this business…we did the fight on The Best Damn Sports Show Period, we pulled the highest ratings in the history of that show…they still wouldn’t do a deal with the UFC. So we went out, we shopped The Ultimate Fighter to every network on earth. The last guy we talked to was Spike TV, we said ‘how ‘bout if we pay for it?’ They liked that idea a lot better. First season cost us ten million dollars.”
As soon as the show aired Spike TV was seeing the highest numbers in the network’s history at about 2.3 million viewers. This was incredible for a fledgling network like Spike, but they still wouldn’t give UFC a deal. Dana White recollects,
“So we get down to the finale, Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian fight, Diego annihilates him in a minute. And I’m like ‘this is so bad man, this is not good.’ Then Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin come out…during six minutes of that fight, 12 million people tuned in. You know how crazy that is? You know what insane numbers those are? There has never been a more important fight in the history of the UFC, there has never been a more important fight except for like UFC 1 in the history of mixed martial arts, and it is our honor to induct Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar into the UFC Hall of Fame.”
It is understood that neither of these men may be the most incredible fighter to grace this organization, but they were pioneers in getting UFC to the mainstream. There have been many different mixed martial arts promotions over the years, and there is definitely a reason why Pride FC and others like it never shared the success of the UFC, perhaps one of the biggest being that it never broke through to a major audience like this first finale did. Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar will be remembered as two of the most important laborers who laid the brickwork and foundation that the UFC would be built upon for years to come.