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The Legacy Of Japanese MMA Great Kazushi Sakuraba

A pro fighter faces the most difficult decision of his life when contemplating the prospect of retirement. Unfortunately, too many hang on well past the time when they can compete at the highest level only serving to diminish their legacy and damage their health. MMA is no different than boxing in this respect, and following his brutal knockout loss to Melvin Manhoef at DREAM 4 Japan's legendary Kazushi Sakuraba appears to fit the description of a fighter who needs to call it quits but is unwilling to do so.
by DavidGlisan


A pro fighter faces the most difficult decision of his life when contemplating the prospect of retirement. Unfortunately, too many hang on well past the time when they can compete at the highest level only serving to diminish their legacy and damage their health. MMA is no different than boxing in this respect, and following his brutal knockout loss to Melvin Manhoef at DREAM 4 Japan's legendary Kazushi Sakuraba appears to fit the description of a fighter who needs to call it quits but is unwilling to do so.

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, theres 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.

Sakuraba also made the most of his box office popularity, demonstrating his bravery by facing much larger opponents including heavyweights like Mirko Cro Cop and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. These physical mismatches would never be sanctioned in the more tightly regulated US fight scene, but were big box office in Japan. The result, however, wasn't as favorable for Sakuraba with most ending with him losing by knockout or submission.

Sakuraba, unfortunately, has shown little indication that he'll retire any time soon. Hopefully his prolonged career won't undermine his legacy of greatness, or more problematically damage his long term mental or physical well being.

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