New Years is always a special time of year for JMMA (Japanese Mixed Martial Arts) fans. Typically we get treated to the best match ups of the year and today was no exception. We get Rolles & Daniel Gracie in a tag team match against Kazushi Sakuraba & Yuji Nagata! But something didn't seem right...
Before we get into the fight, a little history is in order. As anyone reading this blog surely knows, Japan plays a HUGE part in the development of martial arts. BJJ would not exist if it were not for the hard work of men like Judo founder Jigoro Kano & Mitsuyo Maeda who brought Jiu-jitsu to Brazil.
Even the general public of Japan has a deep appreciation of the martial arts that their culture developed. Watch any Japanese MMA event and you will hear the silence as the crowd waits and then you'll hear the eruption of cheers when a sweep or submission attempt occurs. Sadly, this is a stark contrast to what you hear from the crowd at a UFC event in the USA where grappling often elicits boos from the crowd.
Along with martial arts, pro-wrestling is huge in Japan. In fact, before MMA become popular in the 1990's in Japan, pro-wrestling was on of the "sports" of choice to watch on TV. Guys like Yuji Anjo, Nobuhiko Takada, Kiyoshi Tamura, Hiromitsu Kanehara, and even Kazushi Sakuraba were well known pro-wrestlers before they put on the MMA gloves. Who would have thought that these guys who put on "works" actually had the skills to fight?
While the Gracie's were on top of the martial arts scene with Royce's legacy in the UFC, Kazushi Sakuraba was the one to single handedly defeat all of the Gracies who were willing to step up at the time. The years were 1999-2000 and Kazushi "Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba had wins against Ryan, Royce, Royler, and Renzo Gracie.
It's worth noting that Sakuraba did suffer defeat in a lackluster rematch against Royce in 2007 and Ralek Gracie in 2010 although many will be quick to point out that Sakuraba was well past his prime at this point.
So here we are on January 4th, 2014 - 14 years after Sakuraba's peak and word has it that Daniel & Rolles Gracie issued a challenge to Sakuraba for a fight. Eager to keep the family rivalry going or eager to make some quick yen? I'll let you decide that.
I suppose anyone tuning into an event called Wrestle Kingdom 8 should know what they are in for - this was in fact a pro-wrestling match. Personally, I don't see much of the appeal of a worked fight but I just look at it as demonstration. It's still nice to see Sakuraba - the legend - in the ring and it makes me happy that I don't need to see him continue to get beat up as he refuses to stop abusing his body through MMA.
Pro-wrestling is where Sakuraba came from and it will be where he ends his career. He has nothing left to prove in MMA. He left us a legacy of amazing fights that will live on in the history of MMA.
So back to the tag team match. Here we see Rolles getting a standing arm triangle that forced Sakuraba to retreat to the ropes
Nagata turns the tables by going for an arm triangle on the ground against Rolles.
In the most exciting moment of the match, Sakuraba attempts his trademark kimrua while Rolles counters with a suplex!
For BJJ fans, you do get to see a cool intro with graphics of many Gracie family members on the big screens and you get to see Daniel & Rolles show some good jiu-jitsu. It's not BJJ though and it's not MMA. But watch it for entertainment's sake and you might enjoy it as I did. Here's the video in full. The event starts at 2:40 in with the Sakuraba match starting at 1:46:00. Note, there is no music during the entrances and ending due to licensing issues.
***Spoiler alert*** For the non-Japanese speaking fans, I'll explain what happened. The match ends with Rolles using his gi to choke Nagata. Apparently using the gi is against the rules of this event. So the Gracies are dq'ed and Sakuraba & Nagata become the winners.
With this controversial ending, Rolles grabs the mic and says:
"I took this match because I thought there were no rules. Let's fight again to determine the real winner, next time with no rules! I'll take my gi off to fight you but next time, the guy that gets choked out loses!"
After some hesitation, Nagata takes the mic and responds
"Maybe I should put on a gi for our rematch, you idiot!"
And with that, we end the latest chapter in the Sakuraba vs Gracie rivalry.