Perhaps lost in the shuffle this past weekend because of UFC 212, which took place inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was the announcement that mixed martial arts (MMA) “pioneer” Kazushi Sakuraba would be inducted into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Hall of Fame despite just one appearance inside the Octagon almost two decades ago.
From an official UFC press release:
Sakuraba only competed at one UFC event, debuting as a last-minute replacement at UFC Japan: “Ultimate Japan” on Dec. 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).
Indeed, it has certainly been an incredible run for the “Gracie Hunter,” one that is more than deserving of eternal enshrinement in UFC’s Hall of Fame. After all, when outspoken and skeptical legends such as Don Frye pile on with praise, it is more than well deserved.
“Sakuraba is just magic,” Frye said. “He walks into that arena and it’s like Elvis [Presley]. He proved to the world that the Gracies could be beat. He was the man who did it.”
The honor and the moment clearly was not lost on Sakuraba, who reiterated his gratitude on Instagram earlier this week, detailing his journey and appreciation of the sport and its loyal fans ... while drinking a celebratory ビール.
When I was told about being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, my first reaction was surprise. 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. That was an important fight for me as it was my very first entry into MMA fighting. I continued to fight on a square battlefield – a white canvas mat surrounded by ropes – and you could say that is where I built my career, but it has always been my mission, not only to become the best, but to show the world the excitement and glory of MMA. 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. 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. 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. Kazushi Sakuraba 今回の知らせを聞いて、とても驚いています。 ぼくがUFCのオクタゴンに足を踏み入れたのは、20年前に行われた日本大会のただ一度だけです。そんなぼくがUFCの殿堂入りを果たすとは考えもしませんでした。 たしかにMMAのデビュー戦と言えるのはオクタゴンのあの試合でした。ただ、その後のぼくの主戦場は四角いリングです。ぼくのキャリアのほとんどは、ロープに囲まれた白いマットの上で形作られたと言っていいでしょう。 強さを追い求めるだけではなく、MMAの面白さを世間に伝える。 お客さんに喜んでもらうために、とことん練習して自分を高める。 そんな使命感を胸にこれまで頑張ってきました。 その過程でMMAというジャンルになんらかの影響を与えることができたとしたら、それは決してぼくひとりの力ではありません。リング上で激戦を繰り広げた対戦相手はもちろんのこと、イベントスタッフ、メディア、なによりファンの方々の支えがあってのことです。 この名誉を、PRIDEで共に一時代を築いた日本の格闘技界すべての人たちと分かち合いたいと思います。 桜庭和志
Truly a one-of-a-kind MMA treasure.
Sakuraba will be inducted into UFC’s Hall of Fame alongside other undisclosed honorees during International Fight Week, which takes place this summer in Las Vegas, Nevada, from July 5-8, 2017.