(Kazushi Sakuraba during his PRIDE glory days in 2005.)
By Elias Cepeda
When does a person not eagerly anticipate the next time one of his favorite fighters competes? When that fighter should have retired years ago due to the damage he’s endured over the years. That’s the way I’ve feel each time Kazushi Sakuraba gets a new match — not excited, but filled with genuine concern for his well-being. The legendary “Gracie Hunter” may be the best MMA fighter the warrior-nation of Japan has ever produced, but he’s lost four fights in a row, hasn’t won a bout since 2009, and has suffered enough beatings for 12 lifetimes. (This guy knows what I’m talking about.)
What makes Saku’s situation worse is that so many of his early losses were the result of savage abuse at the hands of much larger opponents (Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, Ricardo Arona, etc.), leaving him completely broken down at the age of 42. Sakuraba competed just once in 2011 — getting choked out at Dream 17 by unheralded Brazilian prospect Yan Cabral — and has yet to fight this year, while venturing back into pro wrestling just to stay active.
It is now being reported that Sakuraba will return to the ring at Dream’s next event, for a welterweight match against Shinya Aoki. If there’s a silver lining to rolling out Saku for another pay day, it’s that Aoki is foremost a grappler like Sakuraba, so it’s possible that we could see a technical wrestling and Jiu Jitsu match with minimal blunt strikes hitting the legend. Also, Bloody Elbow’s Anton Tabuena is reporting that the fight, now signed according to him, could be Sakuraba’s final MMA appearance.