In 1961 Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle attacked history, pursuing Babe Ruth’s vaunted single season home run record while anchoring the New York Yankees. Mantle was the golden boy, the one who came up through the Yankee system and was seemingly destined to break the record. He’d wind up becoming one of the all-time greats despite an injury riddled career that robbed him of his gifts by the end. Maris had a respectable career but didn’t have the numbers that Mantle would at the end; he would wind up with the home run record that would be chased for decades afterwards. Their legacies are tied together, but more so for Maris than Mantle.
And in a way Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonner, both of whom have retired in the past nine months and will both be tied to that one magic night on April 9th, 2005. And it’s why both fighters deserve to be in the UFC Hall of Fame, if only for that night alone: they’re the closest we’ll get to a Mantle/Maris combination for some time.
Maris’s legacy will always be tied to that home run chase, side by side with his teammate and friend. He had a respectable career, a multi-time All-Star alongside two AL MVPs and a Golden Glove. Maris wound his career by being on a World Series winner and had respectable statistics, even if they weren’t considered Hall of Fame worthy. Plenty of guys who played pro baseball would trade their careers for his. Maris may be a debatable Hall of Famer, if only because he broke Ruth’s seemingly insurmountable record, but the argument can be made for his inclusion because of it. His qualifications may be heavily debated but he broke the home run record without the controversy of Mark McGuire or Barry Bonds.
Bonnar has an oddly similar career. He spent most of his career being a blood and guts style brawler, maximizing his physical traits but never getting past anyone of elite level caliber. “The American Psycho” was the guy people beat en route to being a Top 10 fighter, nothing more, and was the ultimate test of a prospect’s talent. Bonnar was the finishing school for prospects, the gatekeeper to the hallowed territory of the Top 10 of the UFC light heavyweight division. Outside of Krzysztof Soszynski every loss Bonnar had was to someone who held UFC gold at some point in their career. Plenty of fighters would trade their careers for his, even if they ended as ignobly as Bonnar’s did in devastating manner to Anderson Siva.
Mantle will always be the guy who had a stellar career, an easy Hall of Famer, but one in which we’ll always wonder what could’ve been. Mickey Mantle is someone we wish could’ve played in the modern era, if only for modern medicine’s ability to make whole what gruesome injuries rendered incomplete. It’s a testament that Mantle’s personal proclivities and remarkable injury history that he wound up being as good as he did. Under modern medical care Mantle’s career would’ve been significantly better; that’s saying something considering as is he was one of the all-time greats to play the game.
Forrest Griffin may not have been the sure-fire Hall of Fame caliber fighter at the end of his career but we forget that for a brief moment he was the best light heavyweight on the planet. He holds a win via stoppage over Shogun Rua, one in which no one thought he had any business winning going in, and defeated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at his career peak as well for the UFC light heavyweight title. He holds two wins over Tito Ortiz, another elite light heavyweight, as well. Griffin may have never been same after Anderson Silva destroyed him at UFC 101, as well, but at his career peak he was best in his weight class. He remained a Top 10 fighter in the division after the title loss but never regained that elite level he attained once.
His credentials make him a Hall of Fame caliber fighter but the “what if” for Griffin remains the same as for Mantle, but for differing reasons. The Silva fight was the sort of soul-snatching defeat that changed his career forever at that point. He wasn’t the same fighter in the same way Mantle’s injury problems wound up robbing “The Mick” of his athletic abilities. Griffin never was the same as it looked like Anderson Silva demolishing him in spectacular fashion robbed the notoriously excitable fighter into an ordinary one, grinding it out in the name of a large paycheck.
One was elite and the other slightly more ordinary and yet the Summer of Maris and Mantle is something that wound defining both men for a large portion of their careers. In many ways April 9th, 2005, wound up defining Griffin and Bonnar for a large portion of their careers. It was the night that saved the UFC, established the relationship with Spike TV that would carry them into fiscal profitability for the first time in the Zuffa era and wound up becoming the defining fight of their fandom for many fans. It’s why Bonnar & Griffin will always be connected, even if the accomplishments of one significantly out-weight the other.
Tags: forrest griffin, Mixed Martial Arts, stephan bonnar