Japanese MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba achieved almost mythical status in the sport during his days in the now-defunct Pride FC promotion, often taking on opponents considerably larger than himself and displaying the kind of warrior spirit that Asian fight fans so greatly admire.
But ‘Saku’ is perhaps best-known for his series of fights with members of the Gracie family, who are widely regarded as the greatest martial arts family of all time and are responsible for the birth of MMA in the western world. Over numerous contests with respected Gracies in Pride, Kazushi went 4-0, including an infamous submission win over Renzo Gracie whom, coincidentally, he fought in a submission-only rematch at Metamoris 5 this past weekend.
Inside the Pride Icon Issue of Fighters Only magazine (available in stores now), Sakuraba gives his most in-depth interview in recent years and offers personal insight into his most famous Pride fights, including those with Royce and Renzo Gracie.
“I didn’t have a vendetta against the Gracie family, there isn’t really much of that inside me. I knew that like my other opponents, (Royce) Gracie was only human. I knew he would have a weak point. There wasn’t any sort of special consciousness,” Sakuraba says.
“The excitement levels for our fight compared to Pride 1 were getting better too. There was an advertisement on TV and people weren’t just occasionally going ‘Ahh! That was fun.’ The anticipation grew more each time, gradually trying to create something good and that’s why it was a success. The TV adverts really brought the audiences in. I think the audience members who came to the shows were important.
“I was angry because the rules of our fight changed. When everyone was saying we should do a tournament, I was the only one told to go balls out. I don’t like to call people out when they are being selfish, but I thought if they wanted to use their own rules why didn’t they put on their own event? In the press conference, I went typical professional wrestler, got angry and said ‘Winner takes all!'” he laughs.
“Afterwards on my way home in the lobby I bumped into Gracie. I was like, ‘Oh, hey.’ When I did that everyone who was with him was saying things like, ‘You always talk such big talk.’ Gracie, however, half laughed, shook my hand and said, ‘Let’s have a good fight,’ and we went our separate ways.”
“The Renzo Gracie fight (at Pride 10) was good. I thought it was a good match, our strikes looked sloppy but our timing mixed well,” he says. “When he put his weight on me I would get him with a low kick. The kimura I used to win the fight was good technique. When I used it on Renzo it wasn’t something normal, the wrist was being cut off so I twisted with all my might. I think that’s when the joint came off.
“When Pride was in Fukuoka (at Pride 18) we bumped into each other in the lobby. I told him I was going drinking and he said he wanted to come. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was with us that time too. I was very drunk so I was trying to make the atmosphere merry so I grabbed Wada Satoshi and Shimo Yanagi and started hugging them tightly. It was fun!”
For the full interview with Kazushi Sakuraba, plus many others, get the Pride Icon Issue of Fighters Only magazine – on sale now!