Kazushi Sakuraba is a legend of MMA. This summer the UFC will recognize his greatness by inducting him into their Hall of Fame.
Kazushi Sakuraba is heading to the UFC Hall of Fame, the promotion announced on Saturday during UFC 212. The MMA legend will be inducted on July 6 during International Fight Week as part of the Hall’s Pioneer Era.
Sakuraba established much of his legend status in PRIDE Fighting Championships, but 20 years ago he stepped in the Octagon for the 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 statement provided by the UFC. “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.”
The Japanese wrestler had a hunger for taking on some of the biggest challenges in the fight game. Although he was a natural welterweight, Sakuraba many times fought much larger challengers, sometimes as big as heavyweight. Noted wins include Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Vitor Belfort, Kevin Randleman and Ken Shamrock.
If there is a fight that elevated Sakuraba to the heights above the MMA atmosphere, it was the first of two against Royce Gracie. Through a grueling 90-minute match between two of the sport’s biggest stars, Sakuraba and Gracie battled it out until the Brazilian’s corner threw in the towel, ending what was and still is a remarkable match.
The Royce fight, along with his victories over other members of the Gracie family, made Sakuraba known as “The Gracie Hunter” and added an aura to his career that to this day shines as a beacon of greatness.
When Sakuraba is inducted into the Pioneer wing this summer, he’ll be joined by Maurice Smith, contributor Joe Silva and Modern Era inductee Urijah Faber as part of the 2017 class. He is unique, however, in that he is the first fighter to be a Hall of Famer in both pro wrestling and the UFC, according to Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.