Kazushi Sakuraba was a legend for more than a decade. Don’t remember? Retrieve that Rubbermaid from your garage and pull out the November 2000 issue of Black Belt. Turn to Page 83 and read what MMA pundit Stephen Quadros wrote:
Kazushi Sakuraba is the biggest name ever to come out of the Japanese no-holds-barred circuit. Although he has an extensive wrestling background, it’s his unconventional strikes, pre-fight humor and all-around showmanship that make his star shine brighter than that of any other competitor in the under-200-pound division. … He rose to the top of the NHB world with victories over the greatest names in the sport: Vitor Belfort, Ebenezer Fontes Braga, Carlos Newton, Vernon ‘Tiger’ White, Marcus ‘Conan’ Silveira (a member of the Carlson Gracie team), and Royler and Royce Gracie.
Note the last three names on Kazushi Sakuraba’s win list.
Before the year was out, Kazushi Sakuraba had defeated Renzo Gracie and Ryan Gracie. His new nickname reflected his fight record: “Gracie Hunter.”
Ralek Gracie’s brother, Rener Gracie, shows you and your kids how to stop violence before it starts in this new FREE Guide — Stop Physical Bullying: The Rener Gracie Guide to the Facts on Bullying and Ways to Prevent Bullying Using the Gracie Bullyproof Program.
In 2007 Royce snagged a rematch and won a unanimous decision over Kazushi Sakuraba in K-1 Hero’s Dynamite!! USA, but when the Brazilian tested positive for steroids, the victory was forgotten. In the eyes of the MMA-watching public, Kazushi Sakuraba was still the Gracie Hunter.
Then Ralek Gracie came along.
Ralek Gracie: The New Kid on the Block
Born to Rorion Gracie in 1985, he was 16 years younger than his family’s nemesis, but he was also a lot less experienced despite focused training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves. Kazushi Sakuraba had 41 bouts under his belt when the two met, while Ralek Gracie had only two. For most mixed martial artists, that 39-fight gap would be insurmountable.
Characteristically Gracie, Ralek took his cache of Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves into DREAM 14 to face Kazushi Sakuraba with total confidence, even though the event took place in Japan, his foe’s home turf. Ralek Gracie bore the weight of three generations of jiu-jitsu champions on his shoulders as he took his shot at vanquishing an enemy who’d done his best to tear down an empire.
The two clashed on May 29, 2010, at the Saitama Super Arena. One man attacked while the other nullified and countered, then they switched — like a couple of chess masters waging war. The fight went the distance, after which the judges unanimously gave Ralek Gracie the nod over Kazushi Sakuraba.
Sure, the victory lacked the glamour a knockout or a submission would have conferred, but in the oh-so-technical world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves — where every technique, every escape, every reversal is a work of art — it spoke volumes about the enduring validity of the family’s fighting method.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Moves for Countering the Kimura
When the Black Belt crew caught up with Ralek Gracie at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Torrance, California, the action of the bout was so ingrained that he could recall all the Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves he used — every technique and every response. This, of course, was a fortunate turn of events for all martial artists who like to learn from experience, even when it’s not their own.
“In the fight, I got behind Sakuraba with my hands locked [around his torso],” Ralek Gracie began. As he spoke, he kneeled behind his demo opponent, placing his chest against the man’s back.
“He’s known for his kimura — he’ll grab your wrist and wrap his [other] arm around your arm and hold onto his wrist,” Ralek Gracie continued. “This can be devastating because if he’s able to turn and bring your arm [behind your back], he can cause a lot of stress in the arm.”
No. 1: Countering the Kimura