Epic Fights Collection #8 || Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie || PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 Finals
After he defeated Royler Gracie, in a fight which marked the first defeat of a Gracie in professional fighting in decades, Kazushi Sakuraba had elevated his status in Japan to that of a ‘superstar’. Meanwhile, the Gracie family had felt ‘cheated’ by PRIDE due to the loss and as a result, Royce Gracie returned to the world of mixed martial arts entering the 16-Man PRIDE Grand Prix.
There was a condition to his entry however. In the event of Sakuraba and Gracie occurring in the tournament, there would be special rules: no referee stoppages, no time-limits and the fight could only end via submission or knockout. Both men would meet in the second round of the tournament. Sakuraba managed to defeat the heavier Guy Mezger via controversial forfeit (Mezger’s coach Ken Shamrock said that both men did not agree to any additional rounds and went to the back) and Gracie defeated Nobuhiko Takada via unanimous decision.
For ninety minutes, the two fighters battled. That was exactly six fifteen minute rounds. Sakuraba nearly ended the fight in the first round with a kneebar and Gracie nearly forced Sakuraba to submit to a guillotine choke. Sakuraba had apparently tapped out during this choke but it went unnoticed by the referee and the fight continued. As the no time-limit fight continued, it began playing against Gracie as Sakuraba’s superior wrestling and balance stopped the former UFC Champion from making takedowns. Gracie’s gi allowed Sakuraba to control him easily when the fight went to the ground or when Sakuraba was on the defensive.
The Japanese fighter throughout the duration of the bout landed fierce leg kicks and it was those leg kicks which had built up and forced Royce Gracie’s corner to retire Gracie from the fight which allowed Sakuraba to continue on to the tournament. There was a question whether he would or not, but Sakuraba came out for his fight against Igor Vovchanchyn and fought for an additional fifteen minutes before his corner stopped the fight.
After the fight, Kazushi Sakuraba had been christened the ‘Gracie Hunter’ and went on to defeat Renzo and Ryan Gracie. He fell short to Royce in a rematch which took place in July of 2007, however, Royce tested positive for steroids afterwards. Most recently, he was defeated by Ralek Gracie in 2009. But despite all of this, Kazushi Sakuraba’s legend lives on as he will forever be known as the ‘Gracie Hunter’.