Although he only set foot in the Octagon for one night, Kazushi Sakuraba will be a well deserved inductee in the UFC Hall of Fame this summer.
It was announced during the UFC 212 pay-per-view broadcast that the Japanese legend will be enshrined in the “Pioneer” wing during a ceremony on July 6 during International Fight Week in Las Vegas. The “Pioneer” wing honors fighters who debuted prior to UFC 28 or Nov. 17, 2000. Sakuraba joins Urijah Faber, Maurice Smith, and Joe Silva in the latest UFC Hall of Fame class.
“When I stepped into the Octagon 20 years ago at UFC’s Ultimate Japan tournament, I never could have dreamed at that time that one day I would be invited to join the other legends in the UFC Hall of Fame,” Sakuraba said in a release.
“It is my wish to share this honor with everyone in the Japanese martial arts world that, through Pride, helped establish an era in fighting sports. I gave everything I could in the gym to perfect myself and my technique so that I could give the fans the kind of spectacle they deserved. I believe in my heart this was my purpose in life - and I never stopped pushing the limits of what I can do.”
While Sakuraba did win a UFC heavyweight tournament in 1997, it was his accomplishments outside the promotion that made him a memorable figure in the sport. Known as “The Gracie Hunter,” Sakuraba notched victories over Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie and Ryan Gracie during one 13-month stretch from November 1999 to December 2000. Perhaps the biggest star in the history of the celebrated Pride Fighting Championships promotion, Sakuraba also captured victories over the likes of Carlos Newton, Guy Mezger, Vitor Belfort, Ken Shamrock, Quinton Jackson and Kevin Randleman during his professional tenure.
“Sakuraba is one of my favorite fighters of all time,” UFC President Dana White said. “He fought way too far outside his natural weight class. It’s one of the great unanswered questions – could this guy have been the greatest of all time if he’d have fought in his own weight class his entire career? He was a national treasure, but they kept putting him in with guys 50 pounds bigger than he was.”