The International Judo Federation (IJF) has inducted 19 luminaries from the sport into its Hall of Fame here this evening prior to the start of the 2018 World Championships.
Judo legends, Olympic champions, sporting greats and special guests were among those in attendance for a gala dinners where legends were honoured and the star-studded audience was also treated to performances from world-renowned artists.
The first three athletes to be recognised were all from Azerbaijan with Elnur Mammadli, Nazim Husseynov and Ilham Zakiyev all being inducted by IJF President Marius Vizer and Azerbaijan Judo Federation (AJF) counterpart Rovnag Abdullayev.
Mammadli, now vice-president of the AJF, became the fourth Olympic champion in the history of Azeri sport in 2008 and was the only one at the Beijing Games.
Husseynov is a living legend and sporting idol in his country as the first Azeri Olympic champion after the independence of his country in 1991.
Visually impaired judoka Zakiyev, meanwhile, distinguished himself by becoming Paralympic champion in the over-100 kilograms weight division at Athens 2004 and again at Beijing 2008.
Among the other inductees were Hungary’s Antal Kovács, the first judoka from his country to triumph at an Olympic Games and World Judo Championships.
He was joined by the likes of Hitoshi Saito, the first Japanese judoka to become a double Olympic gold medallist as he won the title in the heavyweight category at Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988.
Saito, who passed away in 2015, was posthumously inducted into the IJF Hall of Fame.
Compatriot Ayumi Tanimoto, a double Olympic champion having starred for her country at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, was also inducted.
Other inductees included China’s Xian Dongmei, North Korea’s Kye Sun-Hui, South Korea’s Cho Min-Sun, Tunisia’s Anis Lounifi, Egypt’s Hesham Mesbah, Algeria’s Amar Benikhlef and Canada’s Nicolas Gill.
The list was completed by American duo Jimmy Pedro and Rusty Kanokogi, Cuba’s Ronaldo Veitia, The Netherlands’ Mark Huizinga, Great Britain’s Jane Bridge and Italy’s Felice Mariani.
Pedro won the biggest major title of his career at the 1999 World Championships in Birmingham.
He also claimed Olympic bronze medals at Atlanta 1996 and, after taking a break from competition, Athens 2004.
"I am extremely honored and excited to be awarded this prestigious distinction by the International Judo Federation," Pedro was reported as saying by JudoInside.
"As a young judoka growing up I always wanted to become world champion, Olympic champion, and show the world that Americans can win in judo.
"I never imagined that I would make it to the Judo Hall of Fame; but, I never would have been possible without the help and support from so many people around the world in this amazing sport."
The evening begun with a speech from Vizer following the playing of the IJF anthem.
"Tonight we will celebrate special champions, special moments and special people," he said.
"Thank you to all the performers and congratulations to all of the team involved in organising this evening.
"Thank you to the Azerbaijan Judo Federation and their President Mr Rovnag Abdullayev for the organisation and hospitality that the judo family and our extended family have all received.
"We have a very important Gender Equity Conference on Wednesday (September 19), a first for the IJF, which I hope you can all take part in following the draw at the Hilton Baku.
"I wish everyone a wonderful evening, a great World Championships and all the best to all of you."
Abdullayev added: "It’s a great honour to host the judo family and all of our guests here in Azerbaijan for our first World Judo Championships.
"I would like to thank IJF President Marius Vizer for this opportunity and I hope you all here a wonderful stay in Baku and an excellent competition."
Concluding the evening of entertainment and recognition for sporting excellence was a crowd-pleasing recital from Al Bano, an IJF Ambassador, award-winning song writer and world-renowned Italian maestro.
The build-up to the 2018 World Judo Championships, scheduled to take place here in Azerbaijan's capital from September 20 to 27, will intensify tomorrow with the draw for the individual and team competition as well as the official press conference.
French icon Teddy Riner, Austrian star Sabrina Filzmoser and Azeri ace Rustam Orujov will take part in the press conference.
The draw will be held at the Hilton Baku.