Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie II
Evolution vs. Revolution
Written By: Rich Davidson
Someone recently posed the question to me, “Can Royce Gracie beat Kazushi Sakuraba the second time around?”
The answer is yes, of course he can. As we’ve seen recently, a fight is indeed a fight, and the outcome is a mystery until it happens. If you’re the gambling type, don’t bet on mixed martial arts. Anything can happen.
However, in this particular situation I believe the question was worded wrong.
Royce Gracie represents the revolution of mixed martial arts in North America. He showed us that the size and strength of a man are certainly not the most important variables in a fight. Smooth technique and a strong defense were his weapons. These weapons, powered by the pressure to maintain the legacy of his famous family, allowed Gracie to be a dominant force and the face of the original UFC owned by SEG in the early and mid nineties.
Royce Gracie was undefeated.
Enter Kazushi Sakuraba.
He isn’t called the “Gracie Hunter” for nothing. At Pride 8 Sakuraba, a former pro wrestler, struck the first blow to the Gracie legacy by dismantling Royler Gracie. Adding insult to injury, he won by way of kimura. This fight was a mismatch from the beginning, both standing and on the mat.
At Pride 10, in a much more competitive fight, Sakuraba defeated a very game Renzo Gracie with a spinning kimura. The “spin” resulted in a broken arm for Renzo and another victory for the Gracie Hunter.
When the bell rang at Pride 12, Kazushi Sakuraba stood across the ring from the hyper-intense Ryan Gracie, the “pit bull” of the Gracie family. Sakuraba looked relaxed and jovial through the duration of the battle. Out-grappling and out-striking Ryan, Sakuraba took an easy decision.
In between the aforementioned fights, Kazushi Sakuraba battled Royce Gracie in one of the most memorable and historic fights in mixed martial arts history. At the time, Royce Gracie was the unofficial champion of the Gracie family. Undefeated in the UFC, he was the face of MMA during its inception in the United States and therefore would only fight by his own set of rules. No time limits, no stand-ups.
Adhering by these rules, Sakuraba beat Royce Gracie, arguably in his prime, at his own game. The fight was a ninety-minute war. By the time the fight had run it’s course, Gracie was beaten mentally and physically.
His family threw in the towel, and the fight was over.
Fast forward to May 2007, and the historic rematch is less than one month away.
I answered yes when asked if Royce Gracie could beat Kazushi Sakuraba this time around. Anything’s possible.
The real question.
Will Gracie beat Sakuraba in June? No way. That’s a pretty bold statement, but look at it this way.
The Way It Is: If Royce Gracie is the revolution of MMA, in all fairness it could be argued that Kazushi Sakuraba represents it’s evolution. Facts are facts. Royce Gracie’s game hasn’t changed in ten years. Even though he incorporates muay thai, boxing, and wrestling in his training these days, when the bell rings Gracie falls back on what he knows best. Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu. Against Matt Hughes, a well rounded modern day (albeit heavier) mixed martial artist, two things were proven: Royce couldn’t muster much in the way of offense, and his defense of old was no match for the offense of today’s mixed martial artist.
Sakuraba has always had unorthodox but effective striking abilities. Already a world class grappler, Sakuraba regularly trains with Wanderlei Silva’s Chute Boxe academy in Brazil. His open mind and ability to broaden his game makes the Gracie Hunter the favorite in this fight for a reason. He’s never been submitted. Neither has Gracie, but take into account that Sakuraba can win a fight by ways other than submission, and the same can’t be said for Gracie.
It’s been seven years since the first Gracie-Sakuraba fight. Simply put, Royce is essentially the same fighter, whereas Kazushi Sakuaba has improved in leaps and bounds. If Gracie and Sakuraba are dead-even in the grappling department, surely Sakuraba has an easy edge in striking. I don’t think Royce has what it takes at this point in his career to combat what Sakuraba brings to the table. Great grappling, unorthodox yet strong striking and a bag of old and new tricks alike.
Think about the quality of competition each man has faced. In the early days of the UFC, Gracie faced many opponents who couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag. Kazushi Sakuraba has faced the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Igor Vovchanchyn, Vitor Belfort, Kevin Randleman, and Mirko Cro Cop. As mentioned earlier, he’s also more or less dismantled the entire Gracie family with the exception of Rodrigo and, of course, Rickson.
Sakuraba has fought better opponents and more often. He’s as good if not a better grappler than Gracie, and his striking has evolved. Sakuraba simply overwhelms Gracie in the rematch, as he did the first time around.
In this fight Kazushi Sakuraba doesn’t win by way of knockout or submission, he wins via evolution.