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Kazushi Sakuraba - UFC Hall Of Famer


wandshogun09
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Today's the day Sakuraba oh so deservedly goes in the UFC HOF. I was going to just whack this in the UFC 213 thread seeing as it's all part of International Fight Week but if anyone warrants a thread of their own on an MMA sub forum of a pro wrestling board...it's Kazushi Sakuraba, isn't it? 

This MMAFighting article is a good read. The story of Sakuraba's one night in the UFC...

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Kazushi Sakuraba was a UFC fighter for only one night, winning one of the weirdest tournaments in the history of the promotion.

Sakuraba will be honored during the 2017 International Fight Week in Las Vegas on July 6 with his induction into the UFC Hall of Fame. “The Gracie Killer” is arguably the most important figure in MMA history in Japan, and he scored his first-ever victory at the UFC 15.5 card at the Yokohama Arena on Dec. 21, 1997.

The four-man, one-night heavyweight tournament also included Tank Abbott, Marcus "Conan" Silveira and Yoji Anjo, and featured Sakuraba as a late-replacement addition. In the first semifinal, Abbott defeated Anjo via decision after 15 minutes. Sakuraba and Silveira entered the cage right after, and that’s when the weirdness started.

Silveira, a 3-1 heavyweight protege from Carlson Gracie’s team, outweighed the 0-1 Sakuraba by dozens of pounds. The Brazilian landed a punch that rocked Sakuraba early, and referee “Big" John McCarthy stopped the bout. McCarthy thought Sakuraba was out, even though it seemed that the he was already attempting a takedown.

Sakuraba refused to leave the cage. His team protested, and so did the Japanese crowd. Twenty years later, Silveira looks back at the chaos that went down at the Yokohama Arena.

"I won the first fight and was under pressure in the locker room,” Silveira tells MMA Fighting. "It was a delicate situation, even dangerous, I’d say. Since Anjo lost to ‘Tank' and since the Japanese involved with the UFC that night wanted a Japanese fighter to win no matter how, everything leads to believe that there was some manipulation.”

Abbott suffered a broken hand during his win over Anjo in the other semifinal, so the promotion decided to book Silveira vs. Sakuraba again, this time as the tournament final. The Brazilian wasn’t comfortable with the decision, though.

"I felt trapped after I won the fight,” says Silveira, who had his master Carlson Gracie, Ricardo Pires, Vitor Belfort, and his brother with him in Japan. "I was celebrating when someone came in and said, ‘You have to fight him again, you have to fight him again. It’s a no contest now.’ The reality is that I was pretty much forced to fight."

"They were no longer insisting, but obligating me to fight again,” he continues. "I had no other way out, I had to fight him or fight him. The feeling I had was if I don’t fight him, something could happen. I don’t want to use other words, but I felt threatened by those people outside my locker room."

“Conan" doesn’t think McCarthy made a mistake that night, and thinks the UFC would never have booked him against Sakuraba in the final had Anjo defeated Abbott, since “they couldn’t have a UFC in Japan without a Japanese (fighter) winning a fight.”

"We didn’t debate, they just imposed that,” Silveira says. "I said I wouldn’t come back, but they pressured me. I had no other option. I couldn’t just not go back. I wasn’t afraid, but you’re in a different country and you don’t speak their language, you understand absolutely nothing, and it was logical that they were manipulating.

"You open the locker room door and there’s a bunch of guys in black suits, those mean faces… my friend, what do you think it’s going to happen? That’s how threatened I felt. I fight or something might happen, you know?"

Silveira’s teammate Belfort quickly tapped Joe Charles with an armbar that night, and it was time for “Conan" to return the cage and rematch the same foe he just fought.

"I wasn’t worried about winning or losing anymore,” he says. "I just wanted to get back to my hotel and pack my bags and leave. I wasn’t worried about the fight, I just wanted to leave. Not that I consider myself to have a weak head, but that affects you. I couldn’t believe that was actually happening.

"There are fights that you think the referee might have stopped it early, but coming back against the same opponent in the same night, even back then, was completely crazy and unusual. I felt that even if I had knocked him out cold in the first fight, I’d have to come back. They needed a Japanese winning a fight."

And the Japanese fighter won after all. In less than four minutes, Sakuraba shocked everyone in the arena by submitting the jiu-jitsu black belt with an armbar.

It took over a year for Silveira to fight again, and he ultimately went 2-2 over the next three years. For Sakuraba, though, his win over “Conan" led him to sign with Pride FC, where he became a superstar.

"I don’t have anything against Sakuraba, I’m a fan of his,” Silveira says. "After that controversy, he proved to be a great athlete. I’m happy that he’s being inducted to the Hall of Fame, but I know that I won the first fight between us despite what’s written in our record. What happened, happened. We can’t pretend it happened in a different way.

"MMA was a wild west, who draws first wins. There was no law. And literally being in enemy territory, there was no way out. You find yourself in a situation that the result is not what matters the most, you just have to protect yourself."

Silveira is now one of the leaders of American Top Team, and he often meets with McCarthy when he’s cornering ATT fighters at UFC events.

"We’re friends since,” Silveira says. "'Big' John would apologize many times (after when) we met [laughs]. I told him, 'my friend, there’s nothing to apologize for, it wasn’t his fault.' He interpreted the situation and did what he thought was right.”

"We see each other all the time, and I admire him,” Silveira adds. "He’s an excellent referee. He’s an old school referee but still improves and helps the sport to improve as well. I admire him not only as a referee, but also as a person. I’m a fan."

With Sakuraba living in Japan and Silveira running a successful team in the United States, it took years for the two to finally meet again.

Eighteen years, to be exact.

Silveira flew to Japan to corner "King Mo" Lawal for a RIZIN fight in Dec. 2015. Lawal was set to meet Brett McDemott that night (he won via first-round knockout), and as fate would have it, Sakuraba was entering what ended up being his retirement fight against Shinya Aoki.

"He didn’t believe it was me,” Silveira says, laughing. "I gave him a hug. No hard feelings. Life is too short to have hard feelings.”

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Edited by wandshogun09
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Good news. Dana was always a massive Sakuraba fan, which is quite a surprise, given that Dana wasn't always kind to Pride alumni. Especially those who primarily made their name in Pride. For example, despite later signing him, I always got the impression that Dana didn't rate Gomi. 

Sakuraba was a fighter's fighter. There couldn't be anyone like him today. A fighter who would willingly battle Heavyweight monsters like Vovchanchyn and Cro Cop, have marathon affairs with Royce Gracie, yet still find the time to tackle elite level fighters of his own size, such as Rampage, Belfort and Wanderlei. More often than not, he gave a good account of himself as well. Fighters don't jump around like that anymore, and for good reason.

He was probably the best fighter in the world from 1999-2001. He was electric during that period, and his resume in that time makes for impressive reading even today. The Wanderlei losses put a dent in him; he was no longer the reference point on the P4P list. After that, the losses started to pile up a bit. It was always going to happen. He fought too often, chain smoked, and was booked without caution. It was hardly a recipe for career longevity and a padded record; but where would the romance be in that? 

Edited by jimufctna24
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one of my favorite fighters of all time...the end of his career was painful to watch but wasn't without it's magic moments, the guy was a one off.

My first experience of Sakuraba came with hearing of the Gracie series and the Wanderlei Silva series. I was a fan by the time Silva damn near killed Sakuraba in the 3rd fight and was following the sport but i'll never forget first stumbling across the name...

it was when i was trading VHS tapes and the odd MMA show was find itself in my order along with some dodgy Big Japan Pro Wrestling deathmatches or grainy ECW footage...i would read match listings for MMA shows with no real knowledge of what i was reading but Sakuraba's name would get listed and you'd usually find notes next to the listings saying things like 'the best fighter on earth' and 'the gracie hunter', in my mind he was going to be the real life equivalent of a Hong Kong martial arts master (yeh, i know he's Japanese), but that's what i imagined. Originally seeing him and seeing him fight was actually deflating because he was a very normal looking Japanese bloke in orange pants but his charm quickly worked on me and i ended up loving the bloke.

The Hall of Fame ceremony is on Fight Pass, im gonna have to watch it.

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Yeah, Dana's always loved Sakuraba. You don't often hear Dana talk in a glowing tone about fighters he had little to do with or fighters who weren't 'UFC guys', but he's never had anything but good things to say about Sakuraba. And he's been consistent with that forever. Right back to when he was guest commentating on the 2003 Pride GP. The commentators asked him what he wanted in return for loaning Chuck to Pride, and Dana just blurted out "I WANT SAKURABA!" Think about that. He could've said Cro Cop, or Wandy or Fedor. He wanted Sakuraba in the UFC. Now granted, he got fuck all as it was but Sakuraba was who he would've chose. 

He's also never missed a chance to rock the Sakuraba t-shirts at weigh ins and on TUF. He fucking loves him some Sakuraba. 

 

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I'm baffled by that post Rey. I'm trying to figure out if you've mistyped something there, or if I'm being thick or what. 

Anyone who saw Sakuraba fucking mangle the arms of Renzo and Royler will be pretty convinced those fights weren't fixed. 

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Edited by wandshogun09
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13 minutes ago, Egg Shen said:

what did you mean by 'gracies' though?

I was talking about Daniel "Gracie" Simoes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Gracie

 

6 minutes ago, wandshogun09 said:

I'm baffled by that post Rey. I'm trying to figure out if you've mistyped something there, or if I'm being thick or what. 

Anyone who saw Sakuraba fucking mangle the arms of Renzo and Royler will be pretty convinced those fights weren't fixed. 

I meant his pro wresling stuff he did against Rolles Gracie jr and Daniel Gracie.

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Oh thank fuck for that! Thought I was losing the plot there for a second. Or you were on the troll. 

I'd never heard of that. Wasn't he supposed to actually have a pro wrestling tag team match with Wanderlei at one point as well? 

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yeh, going by wiki, that pro wrestling stuff only happened a couple of years ago. I was starting to think there was a few pro wrestling matches that had happened side by side with the fights back in the day for a minute.

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Anyone notice Todd Grisham absolutely butcher his name on the TUF finale? How the fuck do you land a commentary job at the UFC without being able to pronounce Sakuraba?

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On ‎07‎/‎07‎/‎2017 at 10:30 PM, Egg Shen said:

yeh, going by wiki, that pro wrestling stuff only happened a couple of years ago. I was starting to think there was a few pro wrestling matches that had happened side by side with the fights back in the day for a minute.

He did do some pro-wrestling around the same time as his MMA, though I don't think he had a worked fight with a Gracie before the NJPW match a couple of years ago. He mostly worked the shoot-style promotions, though; UWFi, Kingdom and the like, and a cup of coffee with NJPW in '95 during the interpromotional feud that probably inspired the NWO.

Even as late as last year, I love seeing Sakuraba pop up in NJPW. Just something about him that will always get a pop out of me. Any interaction he's had with Shibata or Suzuki in NJPW leaves me grinning like an idiot.

 

Here is fighting Bad News Brown!

 

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