UFC on Saturday announced that legendary mixed martial artist Kazushi Sakuraba has been named to the 2017 UFC Hall of Fame class as a Pioneer. The 2017 UFC Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on Thursday, July 6 at 7 p.m. PT at Park Theater in Las Vegas. The event will be streamed live and exclusively on UFC FIGHT PASS.
“When I was told about being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, my first reaction was surprise,” Sakuraba said. “I stepped into the Octagon 20 years ago and I never could have dreamed that one day I would be invited to join other legends in the UFC Hall of Fame. It has always been my mission, not only to become the best, but to show the world the excitement and glory of MMA. In the process, if I’ve somehow influenced the sport of MMA, it was never in my power to do it alone. I couldn’t have achieved anything without my esteemed opponents, without staff who make events happen, without media who tell our stories, and, most importantly, without the support of the amazing fans. It is my wish to share this honor with everyone in the Japanese martial arts world that, through PRIDE, helped establish a new era in fighting sport.”
Sakuraba, the first Japanese tournament winner in UFC history, will enter the UFC Hall of Fame as a Pioneer. The Pioneers era category includes athletes who turned professional before November 17, 2000 (when the unified rules of mixed martial arts were adopted), are a minimum age of 35 or have been retired for one year or more.
A veteran of 46 fights (26-17-1D-2NC) over a career that spanned 19 years, Sakuraba’s MMA resume includes not only his historical feat, but a host of notable victories over some of the most decorated mixed martial artists in combat sports history.
Sakuraba only competed at one UFC event, debuting as a last-minute replacement at UFC JAPAN: ULTIMATE JAPAN on December 21, 1997 in Yokohama, Japan. During the event, he competed against former Extreme Fighting heavyweight champion Marcus “Conan” Silveira twice, winning the second match after an initial “No Contest” to win the UFC heavyweight tournament.
Following his UFC tournament victory, Sakuraba entered PRIDE Fighting Championships, defeating UFC Hall of Famers Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton, former UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman, former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort and UFC 13 lightweight tournament winner Guy Mezger during his seven-year tenure with the organization. He ended his PRIDE run tied with UFC Hall of Famer and former PRIDE heavyweight champion “Minotauro” Nogueira for most submissions in PRIDE history (11).
Sakuraba also holds prominent wins over former two-time King of Pancrase Masakatsu Funaki, former DREAM Super Hulk Grand Prix champion Ikuhisa Minowa and former King of the Cage light heavyweight champion Vernon White.
Known throughout the industry as “The Gracie Hunter,” Sakuraba gained prominence after defeating four members of the world-renowned Gracie family (Royler, Renzo, Ryan, Royce), which included his epic 90-minute victory over Royce in 2000, that is widely considered to be one of the greatest fights of all-time.
Outside of MMA, Sakuraba was also an accomplished catch wrestler and submission grappler. A native of Katagami, Akita, Japan, Sakuraba was a stand-out high school and collegiate wrestler at Chuo University.
The remaining inductees of the UFC Hall of Fame class of 2017 will be announced in the coming weeks leading to the 6th Annual UFC International Fight Week, which takes place from Wednesday, July 5 through Saturday, July 8 in Las Vegas.