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Kazushi Sakuraba to Dig Out the Ol’ Orange Wrestling Briefs for DREAM/IGF New Year’s Eve Show

(Human speed-chess: Kazushi Sakuraba and Kiyoshi Tamura put in work at a UWFi show in March 1996. Video via theperfectone)

If you’re a student of Japanese MMA history like we are, you know that legendary fighter Kazushi Sakuraba got his start as a professional wrestler in the 1990s, honing his grappling chops in the UWFi and Kingdom Pro Wrestling leagues. But once he tasted success at the UFC Japan tournament in December 1997, Saku’s career shifted away from worked matches, and he soon became PRIDE’s most beloved native hero.

Now 42 years old and riding a four-fight losing streak — the last three losses by stoppage — Sakuraba has agreed to re-capture some of his lost youth in a tag-team wrestling match at Fight For Japan: Genki Desu Ka Omisoka 2011, the New Year’s Eve show promoted by DREAM and IGF at the Saitama Super Arena. Sakuraba will team up with fellow wrestling/MMA crossover star Katsuyori Shibata, against Shinichi Suzukawa and Atsushi Sawada. (I’ve never heard of the second guy, but Suzukawa is that dude who beat Mark Coleman even though he wasn’t supposed to.)

Sakuraba hasn’t announced an official retirement from MMA, but we get the feeling that this could be the first step towards a new life that doesn’t involve being choked out or getting his ears ripped off. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Another pro wrestling match between actual fighters Kazuyuki Fujita and Peter Aerts has also been booked for Genki Desu Ka, while MMA bouts featuring Japanese stars Shinya Aoki and Megumi Fujii have been added as well. Check out the current lineup below…

- Fedor Emelianenko vs. Satoshi Ishii (HW)
- Shinya Aoki vs. Satoru Kitaoka (for DREAM lightweight title)
- Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Takeshi Inoue (for DREAM featherweight title)
- Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Kazuyuki Miyata (FW)
- Hayato Sakurai vs. Ryo Chonan (WW)

- DREAM/K-1 Special Rules Bout: Yuichiro Nagashima vs. Katsunori Kikuno

- Megumi Fujii vs. Karla Benitez* (115 pounds)

IGF Rules Bouts
- Kazushi Sakuraba & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Atsushi Sawada & Shinichi Suzukawa
- Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Peter Aerts

Bantamweight Tournament
- Masakazu Imanari vs. Antonio Banuelos
- Bibiano Fernandes vs. Rodolfo Marques
- Hideo Tokoro vs. Yusup Saadulaev (reserve bout)
- Winner of Imanari/Banuelos vs. winner of Fernandes/Marques (final)

* Benitez is 4-0. Cough.

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