I came across this fight video, Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Zelg Galesic. Take a look -
That is from DREAM 12, so it is long after Sakuraba’s prime, but flashes of the old magic are apparent here. Yes, the penchant to take punishment has gotten worse, and he takes a lot of punches in this fight. But he applies relentless pressure to his opponent, and is able to close the deal with a slick transition into a knee bar.
There was a time when Sakuraba was the number one fighter in the world pound for pound on most lists. Now his career has been extended to the point where it is becoming a boxing like spectacle of promotions marching out a shot fighter for the name recognition, but it should not be forgotten that he had a good two to three year window where he was flat out the best.
His matches with the Gracie family renewed a rivalry that dates back decades, to the famous matches in the 1950′s between Brazilian JJ patriarch Helio Gracie and Kimura. When Sakuraba stepped into the PRIDE ring, the entire country of Japan would stop to watch the fight. The UFC can talk all they want, and they are certainly the dominant organization in worldwide MMA today, but when Saku was at his apex, the fight group everyone wanted to be in was PRIDE.
Even in his prime, Sakuraba had his nemesis – Vanderlei Silva. Saku and the Brazilian ‘Axe Murderer’ squared off three times, and each time, Saku left the ring on his shield, the victim of brutal strikes that left him KO’d. He refused to or could not implement a different plan, so he tried exchanging with one of the most vicious and relentless strikers the game has ever seen. Even in losing, Saku was revered for his fearlessness.
Looking at Sakuraba now is getting to be kind of sad. His record is 26 wins with 16 losses, and he has dropped four fights in a row. The fact that he fought less than two months ago is not good news. It is bad news because his last fight, against Yan Cabral, saw his opponent come in hungry, and the Brazilian was 9-0 going in. The organizations that book him continue to put him in with up and comers and young fighters. If they booked him in some gimmick matches, he might win but it would further tarnish his legacy. There really would be no better time than now to call it quits for this MMA legend.
Before writing Sakuraba off as burnt out however, take time to watch the man when he was in his prime. He changed the game of MMA forever.
For those who want to see some more on Saku, take a look at this mini documentary as well – Enjoy!