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Kazushi Sakuraba

Updated: 2007-12-23
Kazushi Sakuraba


Country Japan Age 47
Club Freelance Height 180 cm / 5'11"
Style MMA Weight 85 kg / 187 lbs

PRIDE GP 2000 3rd Place

Results Total Win KOs Loss Draw
K1 Fights 4 3 0 1 0
Other Fights 32 22 0 9 1
Statistics 36 69% 0% 28% 1


Kazushi Sakuraba, born July 14, 1968, is a Japanese professional mixed martial arts competitor and professional wrestler. He has competed for UWFi, Kingdom Pro Wrestling, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Pride Fighting Championships, and K-1 HERO'S. One of the most popular mixed martial artists of all time, he also has the distinction of competing in the longest mixed martial arts bout on record, having beaten Royce Gracie over a 90 minute stretch in 2000. The most prominent English-language mixed martial arts web-site, Sherdog, rates him as the greatest Japanese mixed martial artist of all time in their power rankings[2] while Michael Coughlin of the Wrestling Observer has cited him as the top mixed martial artist to date from any nation, across weight-classes[3].

In Japan, he is known as "The IQ Wrestler", for his brilliance in the arts of catch wrestling and freestyle wrestling and for his overall cerebral approach to fighting and also as "Saku", which is frequently represented by the number "39" (the Japanese pronunciation of 3 being "san" and 9 "ku"). In the West, he is often referred to as the "Gracie Hunter" for his victories over the famed Gracie family of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practicioners.

Early years

A stand-out amateur wrestler ( freestyle wrestling ) in grade school, Sakuraba went on to wrestle for Chuo University. He won the East Japan Freshman championship in his first year and served thereafter as Chuo's team captain. In senior year, he took home a fourth place finish in the All-Japan tournament. [4]

K-1 & HERO's

On May 3, 2006, Sakuraba surprisingly appeared with HERO's head Akira Maeda at a HERO's event wearing his street clothes (yellow shirt and blue jeans) and a pro wrestling mask in the style of one of his childhood heroes, Tiger Mask. He did not reveal himself, but it was apparent that it was a masked Sakuraba and that he signed with K-1 and FEG. A day later, Sakuraba appeared at a FEG press conference to announce he would fight in HERO's.

His defection to HERO's was a culmination of several signs that suggested he was leaving PRIDE. It was reported that Sakuraba left Takada Dojo (run by PRIDE's general manager, Nobuhiko Takada), and conspicuously was not entered into PRIDE's 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix Tournament.

Sakuraba was then scheduled to compete in HERO's Light Heavyweight Tournament. His first opponent was the 16-5 Lithuanian Kęstutis Smirnovas. Sakuraba opened the fight striking aggressively and even flooring Smirnovas with a kick. However, as he was coming in to follow up, Smirnovas caught Sakuraba cleanly, knocking him down to his knees and hands. Sakuraba then turned over, sliding beneath the bottom rope, where Smirnovas unleashed repeated blows to his head.

Sakuraba seemed at this point unable to defend himself; when the referee stepped between the two fighters, it seemed likely he was moving to put an end to the contest. However, instead of halting the battle, the referee re-positioned the fighters from underneath the bottom rope into the ring and resumed the bout. Though the re-starting of fighters who have found themselves near or outside the ropes is common practice, it was nonetheless controversial.

Following the re-start, Smirnovas picked up where he'd left off, pounding a supine Sakuraba whose only defense seemed to turtle up. Finally, Sakuraba got to his feet and worked for a single-leg on Smirnovas. The attempt was thwarted and again Sakuraba found himself beneath the Lithuanian who this time attempted to work a rear-naked choke. Sakuraba escaped the attempt and returned his feet once again. From this point on, Sakuraba's earlier cobwebs seemed to have cleared and he began to land combinations upon the Lithuanian with greater and greater frequency until Smirnovas finally collapsed from the assault. Sakuraba assumed side-control and swiftly moved into an armbar. Smirnovas fought the technique as long as he could, but was eventually forced to submit to spare his arm which had been fully extended.

Initially there were some doubts as to whether Sakuraba would be able to make it into the next round of the HERO's tournament based on the severity of the damage he endured against Smirnovas. However, Sakuraba reported that a follow-up CAT scan had found no irregularities and was then slated to face one-time Olympic judoka, Yoshihiro Akiyama in the tournament's semi-finals on October 9th in what K-1 hoped would be a high revenue match-up. The winner of that bout was to face the victor between Melvin Manhoef and Shungo Oyama to determine a tournament champion.

However, during a hard sparring session for the upcoming bout Sakuraba began vomiting and fainted. After being rushed to the hospital he was diagnosed with vertebrobasilar damage that restricted blood circulation to the head and neck area. The doctors determined the damage was caused from years of untreated head injuries dating back to his college years.

In spite of this revelation, Sakuraba was--rather than being granted a break to recover and possibly undergo surgery--scheduled to return to action on December 31st, 2006 against Yoshihiro Akiyama at K-1 Dynamite!!. The bout ended with Sakuraba struggling to execute a kneebar submission while Akiyama attacked with ground and pound. Words were exchanged between Sakuraba and referee Yoshinori Umeki prior to the stop, which was brought on by the sounding of a bell at the behest of Akira Maeda, the event coordinator, the referee separating the fighters following the bell rather than initiating the stop himself.

Afterwards, the usually soft-spoken Sakuraba surprised many with complaints that Akiyama's body had been greased. The referee in charge subsequently checked Akiyama's body and gave indication to ringside officials that he had not found anything unusual. In the aftermath of the fight the controversy escalated drastically and new accusations of weighed gloves also surfaced. To deal with the growing controversy, K-1 launched an investigation to look into the accusations against Akiyama. Although Akiyama's gloves were found to be regulation, video-tape revealed Akiyama administering a lotion to his skin. Akiyama--who attested he was simply treating his dry skin--was found to have been "negligent" and disqualified. The fight was subsequently declared a no-contest and Akiyama's purse was withheld. A press conference followed, wherein Akiyama--now heavily maligned by the Japanese sports media--offered a public apology.

Although Sakuraba wore a shirt into the ring against Akiyama which read "K Sakuraba: End of Service", his experience against Akiyama apparently changed his plans regarding retirement and at Heros 8 he submitted the winless Yurij Kiseliov by armbar.

Following that win, he would next share the mixed martial arts ring with his fellow catch wrestler and UWFi alum, Kiyoshi Tamura. Once again donning the guise of his childhood hero, Tiger Mask, as he had to signal his exodus from Pride Fighting Championships to Heros, Sakuraba this time wore the mask to mark the occasion of his return to Pride at their final DSE promoted show, Kamikaze. Before the assembled crowd at the Saitama Super Arena--Pride's most frequented venue--Sakuraba and Tamura publicly voiced their willingness to meet in a Pride ring, before shaking hands and embracing. A bout between Tamura and Sakuraba had been one of Pride's most frequently promised match-ups, one that had never been delivered upon in spite of several efforts to put it together.

On June 2nd, 2007, Sakuraba rematched Royce Gracie in K-1 Dynamite!! USA. The bout itself was fought at a relatively slow pace; Sakuraba knocked Gracie to the canvas in the opening seconds and finished the bout searching for an armbar, having taken the back of Gracie. In the intervening time, Sakuraba scored multiple takedowns while Gracie scored a number of kicks to the legs and face once on bottom. Royce won by a controversial unanimous decision; Sherdog scored the bout 2 rounds to 1 for Sakuraba, a score agreed upon by a majority of fans polled on the site[9].

On June 14, 2007, the controversy surrounding the match deepened as the California State Athletic Commission revealed that Gracie had tested positive for massive amounts of Nandrolone (ten times the possible natural occurrence of the chemical even at the highest level of athletic training), an anabolic steroid. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master was fined $2,500 (the maximum penalty the Commission can impose) and suspended for the remainder of his license, which ends on May 30, 2008.

The California State Athletic Commission's Bill Douglas told MMAWeekly, "Currently, our rules do not support overturning a decision based off the drug test results. However, Armando Garcia and I are meeting with the Attorney General next month to begin the process of modifying the existing laws to incorporate those rules for the future. Should everything move along like I anticipate, I would expect to see the changes in place by the end of the year."[10]

Sakuraba returned to the ring on September 17, 2007 at K-1 HERO'S 10 against former NJPW pro wrestler Katsuyori Shibata. Prior to the bout, Shibata's trainer, Masakatsu Funaki--rated by Sherdog as the second-greatest Japanese mixed martial artist to date behind Sakuraba--had challenged Sakuraba on the basis that he their styles would make for an entertaining contest. Shibata came out striking aggressively, but was soon taken to the canvas by Sakuraba's trademark single leg. Shibata unleashed a torrent of blows off his back, but the more experienced Sakuraba responded with strikes of his own before transitioning into an arm bar and finishing the bout.

Following his victory, Sakuraba accepted Funaki's challenge and praised the fighting spirit of Shibata[11].

More information at Wikipedia

Last fights

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Eye witness reports / Comments

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Posted: 2007-09-20 at: 07:56
Thats my favorite mma fighter of all the times!!! Definitely...
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