A legend of PRIDE Fighting Championships and an icon of MMA, Kazushi Sakuraba will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on July 6 as part of International Fight Week, the promotion announced during UFC 212.
Set for the Hall’s pioneer wing, Sakuraba’s inclusion will no doubt be greeted with positivity, both from fans who watched him and from fellow fighters who admired and studied him. The Japanese star, a fixture of PRIDE events from 1998 to 2005, appeared only once in the UFC (at UFC Japan in 1997), but his impact on the sport of MMA was far-reaching and cannot be denied.
“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, 47, said in a statement. “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.”
A natural welterweight, Sakuraba gained a reputation in Japan for taking on all-comers, regardless of shape and size, and waged a number of memorable battles against the likes of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Kevin Randleman, Vitor Belfort, Royce Gracie, Renzo Grace, Antônio Rogério Nogueira and Ken Shamrock. Indeed, it was Sakuraba’s 90-minute epic with Royce Gracie in 2000 that forever secured him a place in the hearts of MMA fans the world over. In a well-deserved ‘Fight of the Year’, Sakuraba outlasted Gracie, eventually forcing the Brazilian’s corner to throw in the towel. It was a result that led to many more Sakuraba vs. The Gracies match-ups (including a return with Royce) and soon enough Sakuraba was coined ‘The Gracie Hunter’.
Joining Sakuraba as UFC Hall of Fame inductees this year are Maurice Smith, Urijah Faber and matchmaker Joe Silva.