A pro fighter faces the most difficult decision of his life when contemplating the prospect of retirement. Unfortunately, too many hang on well past the time when they can compete at the highest level only serving to diminish their legacy and damage their health. MMA is no different than boxing in this respect, and following his brutal knockout loss to Melvin Manhoef at DREAM 4 Japan’s legendary Kazushi Sakuraba appears to fit the description of a fighter who needs to call it quits but is unwilling to do so.
Despite the recent explosion in the sports popularity, the United States MMA scene doesn’t really have anyone of comparable status to Sakuraba in Japan. Hes credited for helping the nascent sport of mixed martial arts emerge from Japanese professional wrestling as well as for making MMA a major league sport in Japan. Sakuraba is also considered by many to be pound for pound the greatest Japanese MMA fighter ever, with some suggesting that he transcends the national qualifier and should be regarded as the pound for pound best fighter in the brief history of the sport. A legendary series of matches against various members of the Gracie family further elevated the status of MMA in Japan and in the process made Sakuraba a superstar. In particular the 90 minute long battle against Royce Gracie at PRIDE’s 2000 Grand Prix tournament is frequently cited as the greatest match in MMA history. Hes also considered the best box office draw in Japanese fight sports of the past decade, which is part of the reason that hes been persuaded to stick around longer than he should have. Hes not only Japans greatest MMA fighter, but one that still sells tickets.
Sakuraba’s record definitely justifies the high regard in which he’s held, but the reality is that he’s done nothing to build on his legacy for a number of years. His last really impressive win was over former UFC light heavyweight champ Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, but he hasn’t even defeated a credible opponent of any sort since his 2003 win over Kevin Randleman.
Boxing pundits frequently speak of a fighter’s age in terms of ‘ring years’. For that reason a younger fighter who has endured a series of grueling fights against high level opponents can be considered ‘old in ring years’, while an older fighter who has taken an easier path is considered ‘young’ by the same metric. Under this evaluation, there’s no doubt that Sakuraba has to be considered old in ‘ring years’. His 90 minute battle with Royce Gracie alone took a significant toll on Sakuraba, and he continued to face high level opponents after that.
Furthermore he’d frequently find himself across the ring from much larger superstars, his popularity and fearlessness producing matchups that could never get sanctioned in the US but are commonplace in the wild wild west environment of Japanese fighting. The quality of opposition he faced is staggering”Royce Gracie and several other members of the legendary family, Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, Vitor Belfort, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira stand out as the most impressive names on his record. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, he had difficulty when stepping up in class against heavier fighters and most of these matchups resulted in losses by brutal knockout or other type of stoppage.
Despite his recent setbacks, Sakuraba has made no indication that hell be retiring anytime soon. Hopefully, this decision doesn’t put his long-term health and future well being at risk.
Ross Everett is a widely published freelance writer and highly respected authority on sports betting Uk marriage visa odds comparison. He writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sports news and Uk marriage visa betting odds portal sites. He lives in Southern Nevada with three Jack Russell Terriers and an emu. He is currently working on an autobiography of former interior secretary James Watt.
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