(Does a Kimura by any other name hurt just as much? Pic: JudoInfo.com)
To enter the cage, to square off against another man trained to hurt you, makes you a tough guy. To make him surrender—the fight, his pride, his win bonus, his status in the sport—makes you a fighter. To become so proficient, so inventive in the art of submission that they name a particular form of kicking another man’s ass in your honor, that makes you immortal. One by one these men will fall, each and every one of them, but every time a limb is cranked, every time a man is rendered unconscious, their legacy will live on. Here’s a tribute to five men whose names grace the finer side of fighting.
We may as well go ahead and start at the top. There’s a damn good reason we don’t have to listen to Mike Goldberg fumble his way through “reverse ude-garami” every event, and his name is Masahiko Kimura. Brazilian brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie were taught the sacred art of Kodokan Judo by Japanese immigrant Mitsuyo Maeda. Forced to hone the art into an efficient, finesse based discipline by his frail disposition, Helio refined the techniques that would come to form the backbone of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Along the way, he’d put both his style and his body on the line against boxers, wrestlers, and judoka from around the world. After choking out judoka Kato, the thirty-eight year old Helio had proven himself worthy to challenge Masahiko Kimura, one of history’s finest judoka.
Few gave the Brazilian, who weighed 80lbs less than his opponent, any chance of victory, and you can count Helio among that group. Kimura himself said Gracie surviving more than three minutes in the match would be a victory in its own right. In fact, Helio survived thirteen minutes of wild throws and by his own admission was momentarily choked unconscious, but he refused to give up. Kimura again hurled him through the air, pinning his opponent and securing an arm as they collided with the mat. Torquing the arm with a reverse ude-garami yielded the sound of cracking bone but no tap. Kimura wrenched the arm back again, snapping another bone, but Helio refused to surrender. As the judoka prepared to twist once more, a white towel flew in from Gracie’s corner and the bout was halted. Kimura took home the victory, and both men earned the other’s respect. The Gracies renamed the submission in his honor, and Helio was intived to teach at the Imperial Academy of Japan.
Some 48 years later, the next generation of Gracie fighters would bring their family trade back to the Land of the Rising Sun to test their skills in the Pride Fighting Championship. Four of them would face Japanese pro wrestler turned MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba under the Pride banner, and all would taste defeat. Cousins Royler and Renzo fell victim to vicious kimuras but refused to tap. Renzo—like Helio before him—would leave the ring with a loss, a broken arm, and his pride.