Kazushi Sakuraba - Some Highlights

Kazushi Sakuraba is a legend of grappling and Mixed Martial Arts. He fought anyone put in front of him including men that today would be classified several weight classes above him. From his first fight in the UFC against Marcus Silveira in 1997 to his final MMA fight against Shinya Aoki in 2015, Sakuraba's unique style and ability to entertain while beating the best fighters in the world wowed spectators. Although his MMA career has finished he still competes in the Pro Wrestling Noah organization as well as doing the occasional grappling match for his promotion Quintet.

I would like to present to you some highlights of his career. This list is far from exhaustive, but video of all listed bouts can be found online if you know where to look. Please enjoy these highlights from the career of Kazushi Sakuraba.

Versus Kiyoshi Tamura – UWFi – March 1 1996

In this pro wrestling bout Sakuraba takes on fellow catch wrestler and future Japanese MMA standout, Kiyoshi Tamura. Tamura starts the match looking for leg kicks. Sakuraba manages to catch one and takes down his opponent. They enter into a scramble as Sakuraba attempts to take the back of Tamura. Beautiful mat work by both men and the crowd showers them with applause. The match then slows down a bit and Sakuraba briefly goes to north-south before attacking a kimura. He tries to transition into an arm bar but Tamura gets to the ropes. The fight transitions to a striking battle on the feet after both men are reset by the referee. Sakuraba hits a low single-leg takedown and is in control on the mats. He then goes for another arm bar attempt but Tamura escapes and gets on top. Tamura goes for a rear naked choke but is thwarted when Sakuraba grabs the ropes. Back on the feet and Tamura lands a leg kick that trips up his opponent. A low single leg is again attempted but this time Tamura has an answer and begins to control Sakuraba on the mat. Sakuraba attempts to turn things around but Tamura has control of his leg and puts on a toe hold to force the tap out.

An entertaining match that seemed to impress the fans in attendance. These men would meet inside an MMA ring over 12 years later in 2008 with Tamura winning a unanimous decision at the end of that bout.

Versus Carlos Newton – Pride FC – June 24 1998

In an MMA bout taking place at the Budokan, Sakuraba takes on Carlos Newton who at the time had a 4-2 record and was coming off a loss to Dan Henderson in the finals of the UFC 17 middleweight tournament. Sakuraba begins the fight by landing some leg kicks. After Newton goes for a take down Sakuraba ends up on top and goes for an arm bar but Newton escapes. During a scramble Sakuraba goes for a toe hold but Newton is out quickly. They work on the mat as Sukuraba works to pass the guard of Newton. Another arm bar attempt but Newton is out and on top. The fighters stand up and Newton throws a haymaker but is taken down. A strong toe hold attempt is defended by Newton. Sakuraba’s back gets taken but he soon escapes that position and begins to work from within the guard of Newton. They are back on their feet but Sakuraba lands another low single to take down his opponent just as the bell rings to end the round.

The second round starts and Newton hits a takedown that lands him in a kimura. A quick escape later and Newton has the back. He lands a few strikes while Sakuraba turtles. Newton eventual makes some space and start landing some hard shots. But a close arm bar attempt by Sakuraba! Newton regains the back but Sakuraba goes for a toe hold then switches to a kneebar and gets the tap!

Carlos Newton had his last MMA fight on July 10, 2010. Later he opened his own gym in Ontario called Newton MMA!

Versus Renzo Gracie – Pride FC – August 27 2000

After defeating Gracie family members Royler and Royce, it was Renzo Gracie's turn for a shot at Sakuraba. The fight starts with a right kick to the body attempted by Gracie. He rushes in with punches and they clinch. Gracie pulls his opponent into his guard and has an overhook on Sakuraba's left arm. Sakuraba pulls out and Grace attempts an upkick. Back on the feet, Gracie misses with a hook and on the ground Sakuraba lands some kicks to the legs. Gracie gets the space to stand up. Fast high kick by Sakuraba! Some strikes followed by a take down attempt by Gracie. Good kick to the body followed by a shot to the head by Sakuraba who seems to have the advantage on the feet. A flurry of strikes then Gracie lands a low kick. Gracie has control of Sakuraba's body against the ropes and eventually the referee restarts the action. They stand in striking distance and Gracie lands a few strikes. The ten minute first round comes to an end.

The second round begins with Gracie rushing in and landing a glancing blow but Sakuraba takes advantage and gets him on his back. Sakuraba attempts a running side kick over the guard of Gracie but it doesn't quite work out. Unique offence from Sakuraba as he attempts to hit a back kick to the leg of Gracie. A cartwheel by Sakuraba but he ends up in the same position and continues to kick the legs of Gracie. A stand up from Gracie and they are back on the feet. Renzo charges in and is taken down again. Sakuraba goes for an axe kick or a stomp but is put in the closed guard of Gracie. Sakuraba is eventually able to get up. He lands some more leg kicks and Gracie gets back to his feet. Gracie manages to land some good strikes, but Sakuraba responds by landing a head kick. They head back to the mat and Gracie gets the back of his opponent.

Nearing the end of regulation time they are close to a corner and Sakuraba is holding a kimura grip while Gracie has his back. One minute left and Gracie makes a fight ending mistake by giving Sakuraba a little bit of space. Sakuraba wrenches on the kimura and breaks the elbow of Gracie when he refuses to tap. The referee notices and immediately calls for the bell. Kazushi Sakuraba is announced as your winner while the Pride FC victory theme rings through the arena!

Renzo Gracie, despite having his arm broken sticks around to give a short post fight speech after Sakuraba does his. He says, Many people make excuses when they lose, I have only one. He was better than me tonight. Renzo Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba would meet again in 2014, this time in a grappling match at Metamoris 5. That bout would end in a 20 minute time limit draw.

Versus Kevin Randleman – Pride FC – November 9 2003

To give some background, Kevin Randleman was a successful collegiate wrestler before getting into the Vale Tudo fight scene in Brazil apparently on the recommendation of Mark Coleman. After having a lot of success in that era of no holds barred fighting he went on to compete for the UFC and eventually wound up in a Pride ring.

Before this fight takes place Randy Couture is in the ring and gives both fighters a bouquet of flowers. How nice! The first action of the fight is Sakuraba landing a hard left hook to the head of Randleman. Sakuraba then misses with a high kick and Randleman gets the back while standing. While separating he lands a shot to the head. Sakuraba is taken down and is on the bottom near the ropes. He gets to his feet but Randleman still has control. They get back to striking distance and Sakuraba is taken down after throwing a hook that misses. Randleman is on top while Sakuraba looks for a submission. They are in this position unto the first round ends.

Round two begins and Sukuraba is knocked down after rushing in. He gets up and they stand in striking distance for awhile. Sakuraba is landing leg kicks. He lands a head kick but Randleman hits a huge take down right after. Sakuraba is again working from his guard and the second round ends.

The third and final round starts. Sakuraba lands a low kick but Randleman lands a take down and has the back. Sakuraba has the kimura grip and uses it to get his opponent off his back. He switches to the arm bar and gets the tap. The crowd explodes and your winner is Kazushi Sakuraba!

In his next fight Kevin Randleman would score a knockout win over Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic. Randleman would pass away on February 11, 2016 and was inducted posthumously into the UFC Hall of Fame on May 16, 2020

Versus Minoru Suzuki – NJPW – January 4 2015

At Wrestle Kingdom 9 it's 90s MMA trailblazer versus 90s MMA trailblazer in a pro wrestling match conducted under UWFi rules! This means that the contest can only be stopped by knockout, submission, or referee's stoppage. Suzuki is the first to enter the ring. The match begins with Suzuki holding a standing kimura grip on Sakuraba. Both men begin to exchange positions and a scramble ensues. This match is fairly fast paced! Sakuraba attempts a stomp and gets on top. A leg entanglement begins and Suzuki rolled to the ropes. Suzuki is on the apron outside the ropes while Sakuraba is hiting him with strikes on the inside. Sakuraba is then caught is an arm bar with Suzuki using the ropes to his advantage. Suzuki drags his opponent to the entrance ramp and a striking battle ensues. Sakuraba gets a hold of a kimura but they are nowhere near the ring. Suzuki walks back to the ring but Sakuraba lands kicks to the injured arm. The referee stops the action to give Suzuki a ten count. Sakuraba continues to land kicks but Suzuki fires back with hard strikes to the head. They go to the ground and Sakuraba attempts an arm bar but Suzuki gets a rope break. Back on the feet and Sakuraba is knocked down with open palm strikes. Suzuki locks in the rear naked choke and hits a hip throw. Sakuraba refuses to tap but he goes limp and the referee calls for the bell! Your winner is Minoru Suzuki!

Minoru Suzuki is now past the age of 50, but remains an integral part of New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2020. If you have a NJPW World subscription this match can be found here.

Kazushi Sakuraba continues to compete in pro wrestling and is currently one half of the GHC Tag Team champions along with Takashi Sugiura. You can watch his upcoming exploits with a subscription to Wrestle Universe!

This is my day 48 post for #100daystooffload

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