Kazushi Sakuraba, a star in the early years of mixed martial arts known for his battles with members of the Gracie family as well as his willingness to fight anyone, was chosen Saturday for the UFC Hall of Fame.
Sakuraba, now 47, was the first big star of Japanese MMA. He debuted in the UFC as a late replacement in its Ultimate Japan event in 1997 and, despite being outweighed by more than 50 pounds, defeated 240-pound Marcus Silveira with an arm bar.
“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.
“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.”
On May 1, 2000, in the longest bout in Pride Fighting Championship history, Sakuraba defeated the legendary Royce Gracie when Gracie’s father, Helio, threw in the towel after the two had battled for 90 minutes.
He went on to defeat four members of the Gracie family — Royce, Renzo, Royler and Ryan — earning his nickname “The Gracie Killer.”
Sakuraba, a wrestler who fought in the low 180s, was known for defeating men much larger, including Kevin Randleman, Vitor Belfort, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Silveira.
He was in superb condition and his wrestling allowed him to control matches.
“I gave everything I could in the gym to perfect myself and my technique, so that I could give the fans the spectacle they deserved,” he said. “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.”