Kazushi Sakuraba vs Royce Gracie I, Pride Grand Prix, 1 May 2000

kazushi sakuraba

Photo from sherdog.com

This is a monumental fight in MMA history and signifies the evolution of the sport.

Kazushi Sakuraba is known as The Gracie Hunter or even as The Gracie Killer. Throughout his career, he defeated four members of the Gracie family including Royler, Royce, Renzo, and Ryan. He single-handedly dismantled the unbeatable institution.

This is the legendary fight, Kazushi Sakuraba vs Royce Gracie. The rules for the match were altered to reflect the Gracie mentality of allowing the best fighter to prevail. The match had no time limit and virtually no rules except for no eye gouging and no attacks to the groin. Rounds were 15 minutes each with one minute rest in between. This epic and engaging thriller lasted 90 minutes but without a single dull moment.

Kazushi Sakuraba began his fight career as a high school free-style wrestler. He wrestled on the Chuo University team where he trained with members of the Japanese Olympic team. Although Kazushi Sakuraba had a successful career as a pro-wrestlers, he turned to MMA in 1996.
Upon his entering the ring, he immediately showed incredible talent for the sport. In his fifth pro MMA fight, he defeats Carlos Newton with a knee-bar submission. Kazushi Sakuraba goes on to beat Vitor Belfort in his seventh fight at Pride 5 and Royler Gracie in Pride 8.
Sakuraba’s win against Royler Gracie was steeped in controversy. Not only was this the first time a Gracie was defeated in Pride, but was defeated with Jiu Jitsu. Sakuraba had a kimura on Royler Gracie towards the last seconds of round two. The fight was stopped by the referee but the Gracie family never admitted defeat as Royler did not tap.

The Gracie family wanted revenge. Seven months later we are treated to Kazushi Sakuraba vs Royce Gracie at the 2000 Pride Grand Prix in Tokyo, Japan.

Since there is no time limit, fight fans were expecting the match to be a long, slow, cerebral and strategic fight. This was about the Gracies proving that they were fighters and exacting revenge on Kazushi Sakuraba. However they forgot one thing, the world of MMA had evolved and moved on. Fighters like Kazushi Sakuraba are professional and scientific fighters. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is no longer something new. MMA fighters are now conditioned athletes not only well trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but in wrestling, and boxing, and kick boxing. This fight, Kazushi Sakuraba vs Royce Gracie is not only an incredible fight, but is significant in what it represents in terms of the evolution in MMA

Round one starts with Royce Gracie attacking. There is a bit of a stalemate against the ropes. Towards the last seconds of the round, Sakuraba goes for a knee-bar which is pretty deep and extended. However Royce Gracies refuses to tap and the round ends. The most significant points to take away from the first round is that Royce Gracie’s striking is not on par with Kazushi Sakuraba, and that Kazushi Sakuraba’s excellent wrestling background is neutralizing Royce Gracie’s take downs.

Kazushi Sakuraba and Royce Gracie spend most of round two in the corner with Gracie leaning on Sakuraba, trying to wear him out. Sakuraba takes advantage of Royce Gracie wearing a gi and uses it to push Gracie away from him…and to entertain the audience. Perhaps event to get into Gracie’s head.

The third round starts with Kazushi Sakuraba accidentally kneeing Royce Gracie in the groin. Once Royce recovers there is some incredible stand-up exchange. Royce Gracie has clearly trained a little kick boxing as he executes high kicks, knees in the clinch, and even accurate jabs. It is still clear that Kazushi Sakuraba has the better striking. The Japanese fighter also realizes that Gracie has no knock out power in his hands and there is no reason to fear the KO. Kazushi Sakuraba starts the systematic low kicks to Royce Gracie’s legs. These will add up and take a toll on Royce Gracie’s movement and ability to attack.

Round four, Royce Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba continue to exchange in small spurts. This is either to conserve energy or to strategize, or both. Royce Gracie takes small breaks to tuck in his gi after each exchange. Sakuraba ever the honourable fighter does not attack during these vulnerable moments. Round four shows more of Kazushi Sakuraba’s superior MMA that neutralizes any of Royce’s attacks.

At this point, Royce Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba have been fighting for one hour. This is an incredible amount of time to spend in the ring, both mentally and physically draining. However it is quite an exciting fight for the fans and the crowd roars in applause as the fifth round starts.

Round five, starts with Kazushi Sakuraba immediately falling into Royce Gracie’s guard. This is Gracie’s world! Sakuraba shows solid ground and pound including a double karate King Kong chop. Sakuraba is eliminating most of Royce’s Jiu-Jitsu setups and countering submissions. This is also the found where Kazushi Sakuraba again uses Royce’s gi to his advantage. He pulls Gracie’s gi almost trying to flip him over. This puts Gracie into a compromising position where Sakuraba landed good ground and pound.

Round six and Kazushi Sakuraba rushes towards Royce Gracie at the ring of the bell. Sakuraba lands in Royce Gracie’s guard again and the fighters find themselves in a bit of a stalemate. Five minutes into the round, the fighters stand and Kazushi Sakuraba explodes with strikes. Low leg kicks and boxing. Royce Gracie is bleeding out of the mouth. The significant moment in the round occurs when Sakuraba knocks Gracie down with a low leg kick. Gracie doesn’t seem to be able to keep standing and doesn’t have any solution to defeat Sakuraba. Towards the end of the round, Sakuraba is picking Royce Gracie apart and beating him up.

Rickson Gracie throws in the towel in between round six and round seven. The fight is over. Kazushi Sakuraba has won, beating the Gracies with their own rules and at their own game.

Watch the full fight here

If you liked this fight, watch a Kazushi Sakuraba Best of the Best fight against Carlos Newton here