Friday, October 29, 2010

Profiling Japan's Mixed Martial Arts Legend Kazushi Sakuraba

By Ross Everett

The toughest decision a boxer of MMA fighter will face in his career is deciding to hang up the gloves. Boxing history is rife with top notch fighters that hung around too long, and in a sure sign that its matured as a sport MMA is now experiencing the same phenomenon. After his punishing knockout loss to Melvin Manhoef at DREAM 4 it has become apparent that the time has come for Japanese fighting legend Kazushi Sakuraba to retire.

Mixed martial arts is booming in America, but there's not one specific fighter responsible for its upswing in popularity. That's not the case in Japan, as Sakuraba is almost universally acknowledged as having brought MMA to the mainstream of Japanese sports and popular culture. In particular, his on-going feud with Brazil's Gracie family made him a major superstar and national hero.

While Sakruaba's record in the sport is certainly worthy of this acclaim, the reality is that he hasn't defeated a credible opponent of any sort since his 2003 win over Kevin Randleman. At this point, he's doing nothing to enhance his legacy and is putting it at risk by continuing his career well past his competitive prime.

Boxing experts often evaluate fighters as being young or old for their age. A fighter whose career has been mostly comprised of knockouts or other easy victories against uninspiring opposition would be described as young for his age. Conversely, a competitor that has been through many grueling fights and wars against top notch rivals is often judged to be old for his age. Perhaps the best recent example of a boxer that was old for his age is Erik El Terrible Morales who retired late last year at the age of 30, having fought a series of epic battles with fellow Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera that left him physically and emotionally drained. As a result, boxing commentators often suggest that Morales was an old 30. Evaluated by a similar rubric, there's no doubt that Sakuraba is an old 38. The 90 minute confrontation with Royce Gracie alone likely took a significant physical and emotional toll, and after that Sakuraba continued to fight the best level of opposition in the world.

Furthermore he'd frequently find himself across the ring from much larger superstars, his popularity and fearlessness producing matchups that could never get sanctioned in the US but are commonplace in the wild wild west environment of Japanese fighting. The quality of opposition he faced is staggering"Royce Gracie and several other members of the legendary family, Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, Vitor Belfort, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira stand out as the most impressive names on his record. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, he had difficulty when stepping up in class against heavier fighters and most of these matchups resulted in losses by brutal knockout or other type of stoppage.

Sakuraba has been less active in the past couple of years, but has shown little indication that he'll formally retire. Hopefully this decision won't undermine his legacy or more importantly negatively impact his long term mental and physical health.

About the Author:

No comments:

Post a Comment