Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba to enter UFC Hall of Fame

Kazushi Sakuraba fought in the UFC for just one night in 1997.

But his impact on the sport extended far beyond that memorable event in Yokohama, Japan, and will be recognized with his induction into the organization’s Hall of Fame.

UFC officials made the announcement during Saturday’s UFC 212 broadcast.

“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 at UFC’s Ultimate Japan tournament, and I never could have dreamed at that time that one day I would be invited to join the other legends in the Hall of Fame.”

Sakuraba is more known for his work outside the UFC. He is a legend in his native Japan not only for his career in Pride Fighting Championships but also for his dynamic personality and flashy cage entrances.

He is also a talented fighter, especially on the ground.

Sakuraba tied for the most submission wins in Pride history with 11 and has victories over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Ken Shamrock, Kevin Randleman, Vitor Belfort and Carlos Newton.

But he is perhaps best known for his wins over the legendary Gracie family. Sakuraba submitted Royler Gracie in 1999 in what was reported to be the first loss by a Gracie in 50 years. Whether that was historically accurate or not, it made for an intriguing storyline, as Royce Gracie came out of retirement to seek revenge the following year.

Sakuraba endured a 90-minute battle with rules designed to favor Royce Gracie and was eventually victorious when Gracie’s corner threw in the towel.

Then Renzo Gracie tried and failed to defeat Sakuraba three months later. Ryan Gracie made it 0-for-4 for the family against Sakuraba later in 2000.

Sakuraba was dubbed “The Gracie Hunter” for his dominance over the clan. Even when he eventually lost a rematch to Royce seven years later and then dropped a fight to Ralek Gracie in 2010, his legacy was secure.

“I gave everything I could in the gym, to perfect myself and my technique, so that I could give the fans spectacle they deserved. With that belief in my heart, that it was my purpose in life, I’ve never stopped pushing the limits of what I can do,” he said. “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 with whom I fought the fiercest of battles, without the staff who make the events happen, without the media who tell our stories and, most importantly, without the support of the amazing fans.”

Sakuraba, 47, still hasn’t technically retired, though he hasn’t fought since 2015 and has lost five straight. He was never one to protect his record. He probably could have been dominant at 185 pounds, but often chose to take on heavyweights to give fans the show they wanted.

Sakruaba joins a 2017 Hall of Fame class that already includes Urijah Faber, Maurice Smith and Joe Silva.

“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 said.

The induction ceremony will be in Las Vegas during International Fight Week in early July.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @adamhilllvrj on Twitter

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