Thursday, 19 January 2012

Japanese Fighting Legends - SAKURABA KAZUSHI-

So.. I was wondering what interesting topic I could write about for a post, and couldn't really think of anything apart from things similar to what I've already done before. Still not sure that what I eventually settled on would be particularly interesting for people reading it but oh well, might as well try.


Japanese Fighting Legends - SAKURABA KAZUSHI-

So here's my first post on a (possibly) running series which I unimaginatively named 'Japanese Fighting Legends'. I'll be trying to introduce some highly regarded martial artist of Japan in these posts, which will hopefully be somewhat enlightening for those reading.

As you may have noticed from the title(s) this post will be on man named Sakuraba Kazushi, a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. I'm not sure how familiar you are with professional fighting, but generally fighters are divided into different divisions based on their weight and only fight people of roughly the same size as themselves. Sakuraba however, is famous for taking on fighters much heavier and bigger than him and very often beating them. And not just people that are simply big, but the strongest and powerful ones among them.

At a glance at his face, you wouldn't expect this person to be a competitor at one of the most bloodiest and violent forms of professional fighting. He looks more suited to being a quiet farmer wearing a straw cat and tending cows, or being a shy store clerk at some ordinary supermarket. Even as he enters the ring wearing his trademark orange fighting shorts, he still doesn't really seem to fit the picture. Once he starts fighting however, he exudes a silent and calm yet menacing aura and suddenly transforms into one of the most talented fighters in the world. Much loved for his humble sportsmanship, his entertaining style and original moves, Sakuraba was a superstar in Japan and followers of the sport.

Cart wheeling through defences

Although his career doesn't have the best stats in regards to the number of wins and losses, that is mainly because of the fact that he almost only fought people far bigger and heavier than him. This is one of the reasons why Sakuraba's fans love him though. Time and time again, he would fight top fighters that outweighed him in David vs Goliath type matches. And he beat them, most of the time. The most important of his victories however, were with the fights against 'The Gracie Family', an elite martial art family of Brazilian Jiujitsu fighters trained by the late great Helio Gracie. At the time, the Gracie family dominated MMA (mixed martial arts) with their brand of fighting that put great emphasis on grappling on the ground.

Sakuraba's first encounter with Gracie was with Royler Gracie. In the fight, Sakuraba caught Royler in a arm lock and the referee stopped the match, handing the victory to Sakuraba. This caused an uproar from the Gracie family and Royler himself, as he had not tapped to signal that he had given up (usually that's how matches end). Not only that, but the arm lock Sakuraba used resurfaced memories of the historical rivalry between Japanese fighters and the Gracie family. The arm lock he deployed was the 'Kimura lock', a move that was used by the legendary judo-ka Kimura Masahiko on Helio Gracie, the co-founder of the Gracie family all the way back in 1951. This sparked a kind of Sakuraba vs Gracie family war and would lead to Sakura fighting and BEATING, four of the top Gracie fighters at the time. Most famously he beat Royce Gracie, the strongest fighter of not only the family, but all of MMA. In that particular match, the Gracie's asked for it to have no time limit and no referee stoppages. This meant that the fight could only stop when someone either forfeited or was seriously injured. In the end Royler Gracie's brother had to throw in the white towel to forfeit, after an exhausting bout that lasted a whopping 90 MINUTES.
Famous image of fight with Royce Gracie as he towers over the Brazilian.

Many people claim that Sakuraba would have easily been the best fighter ever if he just fought people of his own size.  However, he constantly battled with people that outweighed him and has suffered many injuries because of that. For example, he had an ear torn off and has had is face pummeled into a bloody pulp numerous times. Check out his ear on the image on the right (x_x)...

He is still an active fighter but is past his prime. The accumulation of injuries and head blows over the years of fighting men that are more closer to beasts than humans have turned him into a shadow of his past self. Despite that, he is still considered a legend of the sport and is a firm fan favourite, who have many fond memories of all the entertaining and epic matches he created.

Here's a video tribute to the man from youtube that shows many of his highlights.

I'd really like you to watch this 10 minute documentary about him from youtube too.


 I'm actually only a casual fan of watching martial art matches but for some reason I really found the fights with Sakuraba really entertaining. I had a look at highlight clips of other fighters considered great but they didn't seem half as interesting as videos of Sakuraba. Maybe I'm biased towards him because he's Japanese? I don't know. Well, I like him more because he's Japanese but I don't think that has anything to do with how interesting I think his fights are. He's probably actually much more entertaining than the others.

Sooo, well I hope you found that somewhat interesting.

 Errrr...yeah bye lol. See ya next time :)


  1. Interesting post (and a lot of blood on some photos).
    I didn't know anything about him before (and same for mixed martial arts) but seeing the video tribute, I like his humbleness when he was bowing at the same time at his opponent.
    Seeing him performing cartwheels and spanking his opponent was rather funny. And it seems like he likes a lot the orange color (even his hair was bleached in orange).

    Random question: when Japanese athletes are competing against foreign opponents, do they speak in English with them?

    I really hope you will keep doing more posts about Japanese athletes because it's really interesting to discover them.
    Previously, the ones that I really know were Asada Mao and Ando Miki because figure skating is rather well broadcasted here.
    Then not long ago, I discovered Hasegawa Hozumi through a documentary made by NHK World about his regular training days and even if I don't follow boxing at all, it makes me respect him a lot after that.
    I also know Tani Ryoko (but recently she's more famous with some articles about some Japanese women disliking her etc) and probably some sumo wrestlers too when NHK talks about them.

    1. Gald someone found it interesting lol
      Yeah MMA is only just starting to get lots of attention recently. Well at least where I live anyway. It has been popular in Japan for ages though.

      Orange is his trademark colour for some reason. Not sure why though...

      As for your Question. I suppose most Japanese people that have to verse lots of foreign people and go overseas try to learn a little bit of English. Probably not on a fluent level though. It depends on the person too I guess.

      Those ice skating girls you mentioned are huge stars in Japan. They get covered by the media A LOT when there's some sort of tournament. Asada Mao keeps losing to a Korean girl and always gets silver though haha.

      Do you have NHK world on your tv? Or do you watch it on the internet somewhere? I also start liking people when I watch documentaries about them too. You get to see how incredibly hard the train, it makes you admire their strength.

      And hahaah yeah I don't know why some people don't like Tani Ryoko for some strange reason. She's the most successful female judo-ka though....

      Ohhh I might write about sumo next~. I think I actually had that idea sometime ago but forgot about it.

      Well anywho, thanks for the comment!

    2. I know this is a year old, but I can answer a lil bit of it. In Sakuraba's case he doesn't speak English so usually after his matches one of his teammates named Matsui would translate for him when speaking to his opponents. I'm not 100% sure of the origin of his orange trunks, but it is something he was wearing back in his pro wrestling days aswell.

      The great spanking incident came when he fought Ryan Gracie. Ryan was considered the bad boy of MMA at the time. So Sakuraba felt the boy needed a little disciplining. Unfortunately it didn't take as Ryan went on a rampage a couple years later and died in jail.

  2. You're not alone in finding Kazushi Sakuraba's matches to be the most entertaining. He's been the inspiration for many of today's great fighters aswell as the fans. Many things that are somewhat commonplace in todays MMA were things he actually coined back then and many others he coined simply could only be pulled off by the IQ wrestler (another nickname).
    He's also much endeared to the fans not only because of his willingness to fight anyone reguardless of size, but because he places putting on a great fight over winning as his first priority. Many times he could have used his Olympic calibur wrestling skill to control his much larger opponents to victory in what would be boring fights, but shunned that style for a more aggressive one, putting himself in danger.

    1. Thanks for the interesting information. I don't know a whole lot about the sport so what you told me was enlightening. He's a really great athlete and I find him quite inspirational to look up to. He sounds even more awesome now though.