Fight Facts Retrospective is a branch of the Fight Facts series
that chronicles the accomplishments and achievements of legendary
fighters and historic promotions. Join us as we celebrate the
career of the MMA pioneer Kazushi
Sakuraba, ahead of the 20th anniversary of his momentous battle
Gracie at the Pride Fighting Championships Grand Prix 2000
Nicknamed “The Gracie Hunter,” the iconic Sakuraba feared no man in
any weight class during his unprecedented run in
Pride Fighting Championships. A first-ballot MMA hall of famer
and an actual Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer,
Sakuraba almost certainly resides on the MMA-imagined version of
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THE FIRST DANCE: Sakuraba’s first professional
bout came against Kimo
Leopoldo, a man who outweighed him significantly. Sakuraba
ultimately succumbed to an arm-triangle choke and before joining
the UFC and then Pride, he competed in multiple mixed-rules
matches against the likes of Paul Herrera,
Rooze and Mark Hall.
PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING IS STRONG: The first bout
for Sakuraba in a major promotion was in the
Ultimate Fighting Championship, where he prevailed in the
Ultimate Japan heavyweight tournament at UFC 15.5. He first met
Silveira in the semifinals, where an early stoppage from
referee John McCarthy and a subsequent review saw the bout
overturned to a no contest. When David Abbott
suffered an injury and withdrew from the final, Sakuraba rematched
and armbarred Silveira to win the tournament.
MORE PRIDE THAN SHOJI: After making his
promotional debut at Pride 2, Sakuraba competed in the Japanese
organization’s next eight consecutive events. He is the only
fighter of that era to appear at every Pride card from Pride 2 to
the Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals, spanning over two years of
A GRACIE HUNTER WAS HE: Sakuraba won each of his
first four encounters with members of the Gracie clan. In his first
such meeting with Royler
Gracie at Pride 8 in 1999, Sakuraba hit a kimura that forced
referee intervention, marking the first time a Gracie had ever lost
in major MMA competition.
OH BOY, HERE I GO HUNTING AGAIN: After submitting
Royler, Sakuraba went on to hand Royce Gracie
his first career defeat in a bout unmatched in major MMA history.
Like Royler, Royce was also undefeated at the time. Although his
next opponent, Renzo Gracie,
had lost once, Sakuraba did the unthinkable by also submitting him
with a kimura.
LONG TIME TO GO WITHOUT A CIGARETTE BREAK:
Engaging in the
lengthiest match in major MMA history against Royce at the
Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals, Sakuraba won the contest by technical
knockout. With rounds scheduled for 15 minutes and no round limit
or referee stoppages allowed, Gracie’s corner threw in the towel
after the sixth due to damage the Brazilian had sustained to his
legs across 90 minutes.
YOU CAN’T COUNT THAT: The final Gracie that
Sakuraba defeated was the inimitable Ryan Gracie,
and Sakuraba took a 10-minute decision win over him. Although
Sakuraba lost to Royce in a rematch at K-1 Hero’s Dynamite!! USA in
2007, the latter tested positive for anabolic steroids.
Nevertheless, the result of the bout was not overturned.
GRACIE’S REVENGE: In the only legitimate revenge
for the Gracies, Sakuraba lost a three-round unanimous decision to
Gracie at Dream 14 in 2010. Sakuraba never won again.
HELLO JAPAN!: Sakuraba competed in his home
country of Japan for all but one of his career bouts. His rematch
with Royce took place in Los Angeles.
THE UFC HUNTER, TOO: Throughout his career, the
Japanese legend faced five fighters who held UFC titles at some
point: Carlos Newton,
Randleman and Ken Shamrock.
He beat them all, and scored finishes against everyone but
ALWAYS UNCHARTED TERRITORY: On 10 separate
occasions, the grappling specialist became the first fighter to
submit that specific opponent. Sakuraba is the only man to have
ever submitted Royler or Renzo in MMA.
SAMURAI IN FOUR-OUNCE GLOVES: Sakuraba finished
his Pride career tied for the second-most victories (18), along
Vovchanchyn and Mirko
Filipovic. He did face both of them during his time in the
organization, and both men knocked him out. Atop the list Pride
wins list is Wanderlei
Silva with 21. He knocked out Sakuraba three times.
GOOD SAK HUNTING: Fifteen of Sakuraba’s 18 wins in
Pride came by stoppage, putting him one shy of the all-time record
set by Filipovic and Silva. By comparison, the all-time finishes
record over in the UFC is 16, held by Donald
Cerrone and Charles
ANTONIO SAKURABIO NOGUEIRA: Sakuraba and Antonio
Rodrigo Nogueira hold the record for the most submission
victories in Pride history with 11.
MIR IS JEALOUS: Across Pride’s storied history,
Sakuraba is the only fighter to record multiple technical
submission wins. He forced the referee to step in and stop a
contest due to a kimura three times. Sakuraba accounts for 25
percent of all technical submissions in Pride.
AND HE DID IT AGAINST THE GRACIES: The three
kimuras performed by Sakuraba are also the most by one fighter in
Emelianenko and Mark Kerr each
pulled off kimuras twice in their respective careers.
A PRIDEFUL MAN: Sakuraba competed a whopping 27
times for Pride, tying him with Vovchanchyn for the second-most
bouts in the promotion’s history. Only Silva fought more times
under the Pride banner (28).
THE LION’S DEN DOESN’T SCARE SAKURABA: At Pride
Grand Prix 2000 Opening Round, Sakuraba competed in the openweight
tournament and was first matched with Guy Mezger. The
single 15-minute round was declared a draw, as Mezger and cornerman
Shamrock protested the decision, leaving the ring as a result.
Sakuraba advanced by earning the forfeit win, officially marked as
IT PUTS THE LOTION ON ITS SKIN: Sakuraba also saw
another bout overturned in his career besides the one with
Silveira. In 2006, he faced Yoshihiro
Akiyama and suffered a first-round knockout loss. After the
match, the K-1 Hero’s committee
determined that Akiyama had applied lotion to his skin before
the match. The bout was then ruled a no contest. Meanwhile, the
referee who ignored Sakuraba’s claims of greasing was fined, and
the official who should have checked Akiyama’s skin was fined and
HARD MAN TO KEEP DOWN: Only
three fighters were ever able to submit Sakuraba during his
legendary career: Leopoldo, Jason Miller
Cabral. Over the years, he stood across from a Gracie family
member six times, as well as practically every Pride great the
promotion had to offer.
DON’T REMATCH SAKU: Although Sakuraba faced
multiple opponents more than once throughout his career, the only
fighter to ever record more than one win against him was Silva.
“The Axe Murderer” did so on three separate occasions.
HE’S DONE IT AGAIN: The final victory for
Sakuraba came at Dream 12 in 2009, when he faced Zelg
Galesic. After enduring a nasty beating, “The Gracie Hunter”
pulled out a kneebar and got the tap at the 100-second mark. It was
his first kneebar submission since he tapped Newton at Pride 3 over
11 years earlier.
FROM SAKAKIBARA TO SAKAKIBARA: Sakuraba retired as
one of a small number of fighters—they include “Cro Cop,” Heath Herring
Sakurai—who have competed with the UFC, Pride and
Rizin Fighting Federation. His retirement bout came against
Aoki at the inaugural Rizin event in December 2015.
WAY BETTER THAN GETTING PUNCHED: After his
retirement from active MMA competition in 2015, Sakuraba competed
in multiple grappling events. Of note, he engaged in a tag-team
grappling match with Hideo Tokoro
against Silva and Kiyoshi
Tamura at the first numbered Rizin event. They fought to a
I’LL DO IT MY WAY: Following these matches,
Sakuraba founded his own grappling promotion, Quintet, in 2018. It
stages five-on-five submission-only tournaments, where teams
compete against one another. Most recently, the organization held a
mega-event, pitting competitors from the UFC, Pride, Strikeforce
World Extreme Cagefighting against one another. Sakuraba
competed on the Pride team, which lost to the eventual winning UFC