The UFC Class of 2017 Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place Thursday night in Las Vegas, part of International Fight Week — and four men have joined the hall’s ranks. That includes three fighters, and former matchmaker Joe Silva. The fighters in question: Pride legend (and Gracie Hunter) Sakuraba, lower weight class pioneer Urijah Faber, and former heavyweight champion Maurice Smith.
Jon Anik hosted the evening, which honored the four men for their achievements in the sport. Kazushi Sakuraba, who has long been considered one of the greatest fighters of his era, peppered his acceptance speech (via translator) with a little bit of humor, saying that “I can’t express how deeply moved I am to receive this honor. Up to this point, I’ve lived a life without awards and titles. It’s been a little while since the last time I won something, and it was the first prize in a bingo game.”
Taking on a more serious tone, he added “When a fan sees me face off against a much larger opponent, and it inspires them to take on difficult challenges, as a professional, nothing makes me happier. I fought for the love of my fans, I fought tooth and nail to give them a show they enjoy, one that they deserve. Thank you, and thanks from the bottom of my heart to everyone at UFC who have allowed me to be here and have bestowed upon me this great honor.”
Sakuraba (26–17–1 (2)), who became known as the Gracie Hunter along the way to defeating four members of the legendary Brazilian family, fought in just one UFC event, UFC Japan in 1997. He faced Marcus Silveira twice that night, with the first bout ending in a No Contest. The second won Sakuraba the event’s heavyweight crown. In Pride, however, he became a legend, usually facing much larger opponents.
Joe Silva took time out to thank the original founders of the UFC, including the Gracie family, and Campbell McLaren, in his acceptance speech. Maurice Smith talked about his humble beginnings, and told those present, many of whom he felt probably didn’t know him, that “I had a great career, twenty plus years. I stopped fighting in 2013, that puts me at 57 years old. I lost one, I won one. Now my time is done, and at the end of the day, I get this acknowledgment, this accolade. So I want to thank again Joe Silva, the Fertittas both Frank and Lorenzo, Dana White, and all the people who have supported to help me get here.”
Smith (14-14) won the UFC heavyweight championship against Mark Coleman at UFC 14 in 1997, and defended it once against Tank Abbott before losing the belt to Randy Couture at UFC Japan.
The youngest inductee, Urijah Faber (34–10), may go down in history as the best UFC fighter to never win a belt in the promotion. However, he captured the WEC featherweight championship and defended it five times over his illustrious career. Faber clearly still feels deeply connected to the sport and is still moving on from active competition, stating “It’s always been about having fun for me, it really has, and I always said I’m going to stop when it stops being fun, and it didn’t quite stop being fun.”
Faber later added that “I want to thank everybody that has a positive attitude out there and has good energy, and thank you for being part of this experience. It’s just the very beginning for me.”