Kazushi Sakuraba vs Renzo Gracie
Now this is a match that deserves a section all to itself. We have two absolute legends, some of the greatest fighters of all time, facing off in a no-gi grappling bout.
In MMA, Sakuraba is known as Japan’s greatest champion. In his era he had defeated the best of the best - he was PRIDE’s undeclared champion for many years until his first loss to Igor Vovchanchyn. Up to that point, and even afterwards, Sakuraba boasted victories over Vitor Belfort, Carlos Newton, Quinton Rampage Jackson and four Gracies. Many don’t view the Gracies as a force in MMA anymore today, but back in PRIDE the Gracies had a strong reputation - Royce’s dominance at the UFC and Rickson’s wins in Japan were still fresh.
In 1999, Sakuraba had faced his first Gracie, Royler, which ended in ‘Saku’ winning by submission. The fact that a Gracie was submitted shocked the fighting world, especially since it was specifically by a kimura. The kimura was the technique that was used to defeat Helio Gracie decades before when Helio fought Kimura himself – the technique was named after the Japanese victor.
With such a heavy loss on their minds, the Gracies sent the rest of their champions after the Japanese catch wrestler. Royce, probably the most popular MMA figure in history, was next to face the challenge. He had challenged Saku to a no time limit bout, which lasted 90 minutes – the longest in organized MMA history. Ultimately, Royce’s corner had to throw in the towel - he could not fight any longer, giving Saku the victory.
This second victory only further pushed the Gracies to send more of their champions into the fire against this newly proclaimed ‘Gracie Hunter’. Renzo and his brother Ryan both got their chances next. Renzo would fight first, but fell victim to a kimura as well. His brother Ryan fought Saku later that year, but only to lose a hard fought decision.
Seven years later, Royce had his chance for revenge in an MMA bout, but only won by an unsatisfying decision victory. What the Gracies really wanted was to see Saku get submitted. Saku had proved that jiu-jitsu was not the prime grappling art as everyone had thought. He had shown that his submission wrestling background had given him the right tools to be just as efficient as the Gracies.
Now, Renzo has a chance to dispel what Sakuraba had done. The stage is set since it’s grappling only. Unfortunately both athletes are now far passed their prime - we will never know how they would have faired in their better years, but it will be interesting nonetheless. Saku fans around the world have wanted to view the Japanese master’s grappling skills for literally decades. Renzo has a very clean and smart jiu-jitsu game, while Sakuraba pulls tricks from his hat over and over again - completely unpredictable.
So who can you expect to win this? Considering the amount of damage Sakuraba has taken over the many years, it’s safe to say that Renzo has taken better care of himself, just as expected from a Gracie. The bout could end in a draw, or Renzo could also wear down the battle worn samurai to get the submission victory to round out the Brazil versus Japan saga.