Written by Xavier Sales, Black Belt, Head instructor at Alpha Jiu Jitsu Academy Richmond, Sydney Australia, jiujitsurichmond.com.au
Without a doubt the fights that made him an MMA legend were his battles with members of the Gracie family. Earning Sakuraba the nickname “The Gracie Hunter.”
In this article we will break down the 4 fights Sakuraba had against the Gracie’s in Pride. Each has a special story and are fights you really should check out if you’ve never seen them.
Sakuraba vs Royler Gracie
Sakuraba met Royler Gracie at Pride 8 in a catchweight bout. The match pitted a Jiu Jitsu world champion against a standout catch wrestler.
Kazushi came into the bout at 7-1-1 and at the time was undefeated in Pride. However he was an underdog in the fight going against Royler who was the most decorated competitor in the Jiu Jitsu family. People also assumed since his last name was Gracie that he was clearly the favorite.
The fight would not workout the way Royler thought the fight would go for him. He tried to use his Jiu Jitsu to get Sakuraba to the ground, but Sakuraba’s wrestling ability prevented this.
Gracie spent most of the time on the ground trying to get Sakuraba to come into his guard. The Japanese fighter would not play into the Brazilians Jiu Jitsu game and would batter Royler’s legs with kicks.
At the end of the fight Royler finally got Sakuraba in his guard, and couldn’t do anything. Kazushi moved to half guard and locked on a kimura.
The referee immediately stopped the match causing a controversy with the Gracie family. This would mark the beginning of the war between Sakuraba and the Gracie family.
Click photo to read our previous article on “The Epic Moment Rickson Gracie Met Sakuraba & Why They Never Fought”
Rickson Gracie was cornering Royler Gracie during his fight with Sakuraba. He was irate with the ref’s decision to stop the fight.
After the match, Sakuraba took the microphone and officially challenged Rickson to a match. Gracie said he was disappointed in Sakuraba and how he fought. Rickson thought it was cowardly that Sakuraba did not engage in Royler’s guard during the fight.
Pride did offer Rickson a huge sum to fight Sakuraba after the Royler fight. Unfortunately, around this time was when Rickson’s son (Rockson Gracie) had passed away when he was offered the fight contract.
At this time Rickson was in his forties and was past his fighting prime, but still very dangerous.
He did some soul searching and decided it was best that he retire from fighting and focus on his family.
If he and Sakuraba did fight it would have been one of the most watched fights at time. Possibly an all time great fight.
Sakuraba vs Royce Gracie
As fate would have it Sakuraba would meet MMA pioneer Royce Gracie in the semifinals of the inaugural Pride Grand-Prix. This was Gracie’s first chance to get revenge against Sakuraba for beating Royler.
The Gracie’s didn’t want a repeat of the fight with Royler, so they insisted on a no time limit bout. To ensure no involvement of a referee and to also gain an advantage in the fight for Royce.
This would go down as an all time great fight. Royce decided to wear his Jiu Jitsu Gi and this was a drastic mistake putting him at a huge disadvantage.
Sakuraba would use Gracie’s Jiu Jitsu Gi against him using it to throw aggressive strikes and takedowns. At the 90 minute mark, Royce refused to continue and his brother Rorion threw in the towel.
With this win over an MMA pioneer, Sakuraba cemented himself his place in MMA history. Also earning him the nickname, “The Gracie Hunter.”
3 months after his iconic performance at the Pride GP, Sakuraba would face Renzo Gracie at Pride 10.
Renzo came out aggressive just like his brothers did against Sakuraba. Bringing the fight to him and trying to get Sakuraba to the ground.
Sakuraba would again have a stoic demeanour as he fought and took control of the fight. Gracie would pull guard and get Sakuraba to the ground, but the catch wrestler would immediately get up.
Kazushi would rain down kicks on Renzo’s legs, battering them just like he did to his brothers and cousins. At one point, Renzo took back control from standing, but Sakuraba did his patented kimura roll.
As Sakuraba rolled, Renzo seemed to have broken his arm and from half guard, Sakuraba fully locked the kimura.
The referee saw that Renzo’s arm was broken and immediately stopped the fight knowing Renzo would never submit.
This marked 3 wins against the Gracie’s and added to Sakuraba’s growing legendary status.
Sakuraba vs Ryan Gracie
In his last fight against a Gracie in Pride FC, Kazushi would meet the short tempered Ryan Gracie (RIP). Ryan was younger and bigger than his relatives that fought Sakuraba, but this made no difference.
Sakuraba would take control of the fight early on and never let it go. Landing multiple takedowns, ground and pound, and a few different submission attempts. Earning him a unanimous decision victory.
The Gracie’s would get their revenge against the Gracie hunter in 2007. Royce Gracie won a rematch against Sakuraba at Dynamite USA by decision. His nephew Ralek also would win a decision 3 years later at Dream 14.
Although Sakuraba was far past his prime when he fought these two feeling the effects of the wars from Pride. Even though Sakuraba lost his last 2 meetings with the Gracie’s it did not affect his legacy.
Kazushi “The Gracie Hunter” Sakuraba is an MMA legend and one of the most respected fighters of all time. He has been very influential in MMA and Jiu Jitsu still revered and idolized by many within combat sports.
Kazushi Sakuraba is one of the most well-known MMA fighters, Catch Wrestlers and grapplers in the world.
He rose quickly to fame after defeating some of the Gracie’s and using his trademark technique “The Kimura.”