By Dave Doyle
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Apr 25, 2012 - WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- The UFC hasn’t set a time or date for its next set of inductions into the company’s Hall of Fame. But when they get around to it, said company president Dana White, two former champions will likely get a call.
During a lunch gathering at The Palm restaurant, White said two fighters coming close to the end of the line, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz and multi-weight class champ B.J. Penn, belong in the Hall of Fame.
"Despite my personal problems with Tito, he belongs in," said White. "He was the champion when we first bought this thing. The fact that Tito is still here, Tito and I have had our moments, but it doesn’t change what he did for the company."
Ortiz was the first major drawing card of the Zuffa era. "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" held the light heavyweight title from 2000-03, still the third-longest reign in company history, and his rivalries with Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell helped etch the new-era UFC into mainstream consciousness.
Ortiz and White have famously clashed over the years. But White says he can’t deny the former champion his place in history.
"The beef between me and Tito, Chuck and Tito, the fact is, that played a huge role in helping making this thing as big as it is."
Penn, a Hilo, Hawaii native billed as "The Prodigy," is one of the most naturally gifted fighters ever to set foot in the Octagon. His willingness to fight anyone -- he once gave up 50 pounds in a fight against future UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida and took him to a decision -- made him one of the company’s most popular fighters.
Penn is one of just two fighters to win titles in multiple weight classes. In 2004, the natural lightweight went up to welterweight and submitted Matt Hughes to claim the crown, ending Hughes’ 13-fight win streak. In 2008, he defeated Joe Stevenson for the vacant UFC lightweight title and held the belt for two years.
"Definitely," White said when asked if Penn belongs in the Hall. "The thing about B.J. Penn is that what he brought to the lightweight division, there was a point in time when we first bought this company when people thought guys in the lighter weight divisions couldn’t be stars and couldn’t see pay-per-views and couldn’t cross over. B.J. Penn was definitely that first crossover guy for us."
Ortiz will fight Forrest Griffin in their trilogy fight on July 7 in what is expected to be Ortiz’s last fight. Penn is hinting at retirement, but White thinks he’s not done yet.
"He’ll be back. It’s tough, when there are 16,000 people in the arena chanting your name, it’s tough to walk away from that. B.J. Penn is a fighter. You hear some of these guys, and Tito was one of these guys, he said he wanted to be famous. B.J. Penn is a fighter."
Fighters currently in the Hall are Royce Gracie, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes. Late TapouT co-founder Charles "Mask" Lewis is also inducted.