Most fighters are men of dreams, willing to roll the dice and take their chances, hopeful that their chin and heart will ultimately take them to the top.
They make sacrifices we will never know about, all toward the end of winning the next fight, and the fight after, and so on.
When they talk about themselves, they try to project optimism because they are always swimming the seas of promotion.
Of course, Kazushi Sakuraba is not like everyone else.
When American audiences got their first real look at Sakuraba, it was during his appearance at UFC: Ultimate Japan. His attitude was humble and seemed to say: “you win some, and you lose some.”
Of course, on that night he went on to become the first-ever Japanese fighter to win a UFC tournament, and in the heavyweight division no less.
That started what would turn out to be a stunning career for Sakuraba, at least while he was still in his prime, fighting opponents of similar size.
But much has changed since he was atop the MMA world. He’s taken some savage beatings in the ring and is currently sitting atop a four-fight losing skid.
Still, if he has a mind to continue fighting, why not fight in the UFC?
Some might laugh at the idea, but truth be told, it is not that far out of the realm of possibility.
So, what advantages would Sakuraba have fighting in the UFC as opposed to other organizations?
Read on and find out.
If there is one thing that cannot be forgotten, it is the image of Sakuraba dislocating Renzo Gracie’s arm via a wicked standing kimura at Pride 10.
During his prime, Sakuraba was a submission machine who was bold in transitional scrambles, possessing a kind of sixth sense about the ground game.
He’s defeated legends in the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and even now, given all the wear and tear he’s suffered, still possesses the skills to submit just about anyone who dares go to the mat with him in MMA.
If he were to make a run in the UFC, he would be able to ply this aspect of his craft against opponents similar in size and power, which is far better for his health than trying to accomplish the same feat against someone who outweighs him by 30 pounds or more.
That’s not to say he wouldn’t have a tough time of it, but the man knows how to grapple, and above all, he is exciting on the mat. Those qualities would not only be appreciated in the UFC, but could see him start to get back on the winning side of competition.
Sakuraba is a fighter’s fighter, a warrior who fights to win and has proven time and again that he has the grit to go out on his shield.
During the final days of Pride, Sakuraba was pitted against fighters who were so much bigger and stronger than he was that it was simply unfair.
Much of his time in Pride saw him fighting against light heavyweights and heavyweights, when in truth he should have been in against welterweights or at most, middleweights.
Still, Sakuraba never complained. He went into battle, shocking many in his victories or inspiring more with his show of heart during his bloody defeats.
On an even playing field, and in a new setting with different rules, the heart of Sakuraba probably wouldn’t skip a beat.
On an even playing field, against opponents of equal size, Sakuraba was excellent.
If Sakuraba were to join the UFC, fighting at middleweight, or perhaps even welterweight, it could be a brand new start for him.
Other fighters in the past have seen such changes rejuvenate their career, and the same thing could happen for him.
No longer would he be hopelessly struggling against huge disadvantages in weight and power.
Fights against such notables as Jake Shields, Matt Serra or Matt Hughes, Nick or Nate Diaz and so on, would make for exciting bouts given the style clash and Sakuraba’s proven commitment to compelling combat at all costs.
If one thing is clear, it’s Sakuraba has a fan in UFC president Dana White.
As reported by VendettaFighter.com, White discussed the topic on The MMA Show with Mauro Ranallo. White talked about Sakuraba, and how he felt the Japanese superstar’s career was hurt by competing against opponents far too large for him.
“I’m a huge Sakuraba fan. The problem with the Sakuraba story is, Sakuraba should have fought at 170 pounds instead of doing all these Japanese freak show fights where they got him destroyed by guys who were two weight classes heavier than him. So, it goes unanswered whether Kazushi Sakuraba could have been the greatest fighter to ever come out of Japan. The Japanese ruined him!”
Having friends in high places never hurts, especially when they are fierce advocates for fairness in competition.
If White could get Sakuraba into the UFC, you can bet he would treat him like the legend he is while allowing him to prove himself on his own merits.
For too long now, Sakuraba has needed to work with men like White who put on competitive fights on a level playing field.
We don’t know how long Sakuraba’s career in the UFC would last if his losing ways continued, but we do know White would be looking out for his best interests in the long run.
Even if Sakuraba really has taken too many serious beatings in his career to enjoy any success as a fighter, competing in the UFC at this stage of their height and popularity would still be a great victory lap for him.
He would no doubt get to fight in Japan again, and this time, with far more exposure that he has ever known. It would be a hero’s homecoming if the UFC could have Sakuraba on a card in his home country.
And that kind of recognition, win, lose or draw, is befitting a legend.