Kazushi Sakuraba. That’s right. I said EVER. I’m just getting to the Punch. Let’s not argue about this. He’s the best! His record may not be perfect (at 26W-17L; yikes). But he changed MMA for all those who came after him. ‘And he was ALWAYS fun to watch.
He Made MMA An Art Form
At a time when Mixed Martial Arts, was seriously brutal, Sakuraba was always measured, and patient. He is a sound strategist (who could plan the entire fight out), a brilliant tactician who could seemingly see what was about to happen and readjust his plans on the fly. He was dangerous on either on his feet or on the mat. If he was standing and did not want to go to the mat with a fighter, he wouldn’t. In some cases he would jump over a fighter who was on his back trying to draw Sakuraba into wrestling. If grappling, Sakuraba could seemingly twist, turn, and contort, with the resistance of his opponent. Some of his fights ended with Sakuraba twisting and turning like a python trying to strangle a rolling alligator.
He would come out wearing masks, bringing the crowds to standing ovations. He made MMA more fun, and less blood-lusty. He would throw punches and kicks that others wouldn’t dare. He’d throw his head into proximity of kicks that were already on the way towards him. He would cartwheel around his opponents leg when they were in guard positions (on their backs). He’d also do two-handed punches that would completely catch his opponent off guard.
He Shifted The Direction Of MMA
Every Fighter after him, had to have skills that he was doing. They had to be able to kick and punch. They had to be able use deception. They had to be able to box, kickbox and grapple to become a complete fighter. At a time when Brazilian Jui Jitsu was king of the MMA ring, Sakuraba proved that you can cohesively dominate the cage, and dismantle fighters who were multiple Blackbelts in Brazilian Jui Jitsu, such as the namesake Gracie Jui Jitsu fighters. Sakuraba even earned the name, the Gracie Hunter (sometimes “Gracie Killer”) from his many battles with this famed family.
He fought and beat all the big names including “Rampage” Jackson, Mirko Cro Cop, Ken Shamrock, and Vitor Belfort. His style is near indescribable. The only fair way to me to explain it, is by comparing him to a Samurai. He follows the Bushido Code. The only difference between a Sakuraba fight, and many of the most storied Samurai Duels, is the lack of a sword. The tension, and the human story is there.
Gracie Hunter/Gracie Killer
Royler, Renzo, and Ryan. He dismantled them all. Then Royce publicly challenged him to a “No Rules” fight, that would become the longest fight in MMA history at about an hour and a half.
Sakuraba initially turned down a fight with Royce Gracie on a, no holds barred fight, where there would be indefinite rounds until… Someone won or lost. It was an EPIC battle that could obviously, ONLY be finished if someone were to tap-out (surrender), or a knock out. If you haven’t seen the fight, you should. It was the stuff of legend as Sakuraba, controlled the fight pace (It’s kinda slow for sure), and methodically, dismantled Royce, and negated Gracie Jiu Jitsu. He put the screws to the Gracie family, and made Royce pay dearly, by kicking him in the shins, calfs, and thighs until Royce could barely stand. It’s possible Sakuraba slowed down the fight to make Royce pay for forcing him into such a fight. in the 6th, 15minute round, the towel was thrown in to save a dejected and defeated Royce. The longest fight in MMA to this point. Go Watch That Fight HERE!
OK, He did lose a fight with Ralek Gracie… But he was about 45 years old (So I don’t count this). Imagine YOU or your gramps fighting a 28 year old killing machine, bred to fight, at 45 years old? You don’t stand a chance. Neither did he, but he attempted it.
He Was Always Respectful And Honorable
As a Japanese fighter, he would always shake hands with his opposition, or give a respectful bow. He never unduly celebrated anyone else’ loss. He never taunted his opposition (he did play though). He has a universal sense of humor, that even during a fight he could make you smile despite the deadly serious circumstance. He never tried to break any arms/legs (even though he did a couple of times), or failed to stop fighting when directed.
He’s done things that you’ve never seen other fighters do. He is creative, focused, has heart like none other. He trained hard, fought hard, and you’ve never seen him go into an arena where he’s been booed. He an all around amazing fighter, and more importantly, an amazing person. He sits on my list of 6 people, who I’d love to meet and talk to for a few hours.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll take it to my grave… Kazushi Sakuraba is the best MMA Fighter to EVER step upon the MMA mat. If you don’t agree. You’re straight wrong!!!