Kazushi Sakuraba (桜庭 和志 Sakuraba Kazushi) born in July 14, 1969 is a Japanese mixed martial artist and professional wrestler, currently signed to Pro Wrestling Noah, where is the current one-half of the GHC Tag Team Champions. He has competed in traditional puroresu for New Japan Pro Wrestling and shoot-style competition for UWFi and Kingdom Pro Wrestling. He has fought in MMA competition in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Pride Fighting Championships, Hero's and Dream. He is known as the "Gracie Hunter"[1][2][3][4] or the "Gracie Killer"[5][6][7][8] due to his wins over four members of the famed Gracie family: Royler Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Ryan Gracie, and Royce Gracie. In particular, Sakuraba is famous for his initial fight with Royce, which lasted ninety minutes.

Known for his excellent skills in catch wrestling, he is considered to be one of the greatest mixed martial art fighters of all time.

Background[edit | edit source]

Sakuraba began his career in amateur wrestling at the age of 15. A high school stand-out, he finished as high as second in the nation before joining the wrestling squad of Chuo University, a team which had counted Olympic gold medalists Shozo Sasahara and Osamu Watanabe amongst its ranks. He won the East Japan Freshman championship in his first year and served as their team captain thereafter. In his senior year, he finished fourth place in the All-Japan tournament. Amongst his notable wins was a defeat of future Olympic bronze medalist Takuya Ota.[9]

Professional wrestling[edit | edit source]

Upon graduating from the university, Sakuraba had initially thought to remain with Chuo University as a coach. However, at the last minute he decided to pursue a career as a professional wrestler. According to Sakuraba, the impetus for this stemmed from a childhood dream of one day emulating Satoru Sayama, a professional wrestler who portrayed in real life the famous Japanese cartoon hero Tiger Mask.[10] He also stated in an interview with Scramble TV that as an amateur wrestler, he weighed 68 kilograms (about 150 pounds.) He was encouraged by his peers to gain weight as it would be difficult to compete as a smaller fighter in 'puroresu', and after working to gain the weight needed to compete, he never wanted to lose it anymore, something that would be reflected in his MMA career.[11]

UWFi years[edit | edit source]

After considering the mixed martial arts organization Pancrase, he ultimately chose the shoot wrestling promotion UWFi, a professional wrestling league that was nonetheless known for its highly technical and realistic-looking bouts. His time in the UWFI would prove to be a formative experience for Sakuraba; it was there under the tutelage of Billy Robinson that he received his initial instruction in catch wrestling. It is catch wrestling that would serve as the base of the unorthodox ground-game that would later lead him to success in the Pride Fighting Championships.[12] He also trained in muay thai]] under master Bovy Chowaikung, the main UWF-i striking teacher, and refined his training under the UWF International leader Nobuhiko Takada, becoming one of his four main trainees along Kiyoshi Tamura, Yoshihiro Takayama and Masahito Kakihara.

In spite of his amateur pedigree, Sakuraba was forced to work his way up from the bottom of the UWFi's rung, as it is traditional in puroresu. Sakuraba lost his debut in 1993 to Steve Nelson and went winless through his rookie year with the league. It is also popularly alleged that under the eye of Kiyoshi Tamura, he was made to perform menial chores about the dojo.[12] Still undeterred, Sakuraba steadily built a working knowledge of submission holds upon his freestyle wrestling base until his efforts were at last rewarded with a win over Mark Silver in October 1994.

Though his record remained below .500, Sakuraba continued to edge his way closer to mid-card status through the rest of the year. Then, in 1995, the UWFi began an interpromotional feud with New Japan Pro Wrestling. The vast majority of UWFi workers came out on the losing end of the booking to the larger and more mainstream promotion and Sakuraba was no exception. He was defeated in high-profile bouts to Tokimitsu Ishizawa, Koji Kanemoto and Shinjiro Otani, bringing Sakuraba a new level of exposure to the public. The ring psychology and technical prowess he displayed in the bouts also impressed the management of the UWFi enough that he was finally pushed towards main event status.

New Japan's dominance in the feud injured the marketability of the UWFi promotion, which had pressed the perception that their athletes boasted legitimate skill in catch wrestling and kickboxing. In a bid to regain credibility, Yoji Anjoh travelled to California to challenge Rickson Gracie in the latter's own dojo, only to be swiftly and brutally defeated before the assembled Japanese press that had followed him there. With the UWFi's formerly fearsome reputation in tatters, its attendance numbers swiftly decreased, with the federation closing its doors once and for all in December 1996. In their final show it was Sakuraba who at long last headlined, defeating Anjoh by submission.

Kingdom Pro Wrestling[edit | edit source]

Following the close of the UWFi, Nobuhiko Takada, the most popular of the UWFi workers amongst the mainstream public founded Kingdom Pro Wrestling, taking in Sakuraba and the majority of his fellow UWFi alumni. In the vein of its predecessor, Kingdom was primarily a league devoted to shoot-style realistic-looking works. Having by now established his ability, Sakuraba was this time booked as a main-eventer from the outset. However, unlike the UWFi, Kingdom struggled from the beginning to draw substantial crowds.Mixed martial arts was growing in popularity, and the dominance of the Gracie family and their fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners over the field and more specifically over professional wrestlers, left the Japanese public ever more unconvinced as to the fighting ability of Kingdom's stable of athletes.

Return to New Japan[edit | edit source]

On August 12, 2012, Sakuraba, alongside Katsuyori Shibata, returned to New Japan Pro Wrestling.[13] Sakuraba and Shibata wrestled their return match on September 23, defeating Hiromu Takahashi and Wataru Inoue in a tag team match.[14] Sakuraba and Shibata, collectively dubbed Laughter7,[15] continued their winning ways at the following two pay-per-views, King of Pro-Wrestling on October 8 and Power Struggle on November 11, both times defeating the team of Togi Makabe and Wataru Inoue.[16][17] Also at Power Struggle, Shinsuke Nakamura nominated Sakuraba as the next challenger for his IWGP Intercontinental Championship.[17] On December 2, Sakuraba won his first exchange with Nakamura, when Laughter7 defeated Nakamura and Tomohiro Ishii in a tag team match to remain undefeated since their return.[18] On January 4, 2013, at Wrestle Kingdom 7 in Tokyo Dome, Sakuraba suffered his first defeat since his return to professional wrestling, when he unsuccessfully challenged Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.[19] Sakuraba and Shibata returned to their winning ways at the following pay-per-view, The New Beginning on February 10, where they defeated Hirooki Goto and Wataru Inoue in a tag team match.[20] On April 7 at Invasion Attack, Sakuraba and Shibata suffered their first tag team loss, when they were defeated by Hirooki Goto and Yuji Nagata via referee stoppage, when Sakuraba injured his right elbow, after taking a belly-to-back suplex from Nagata, and unable to continue the match.[21] New Japan later announced that Sakuraba would be sidelined for two to three months.[22] Sakuraba wrestled his return match on July 20, defeating Yuji Nagata via submission.[23] On September 8, Sakuraba and Shibata took part in the Wrestle-1 promotion's inaugural event, defeating Masakatsu Funaki and Masayuki Kono in a tag team match.[24] Sakuraba continued his rivalry with Yuji Nagata at the September 29 Destruction pay-per-view, where he and Shibata defeated Nagata and Manabu Nakanishi with Sakuraba pinning his rival for the win.[25]

On October 14, Sakuraba was defeated by Nagata in a singles rematch between the two. Following the match, Sakuraba and Nagata came together to accept a challenge issued by Daniel and Rolles Gracie[26] On January 4, 2014, at Wrestle Kingdom 8 in Tokyo Dome, Sakuraba and Nagata defeated the Gracies via disqualification, after Nagata was choked out with a gi.[27] A rematch between the two teams took place on February 11 at The New Beginning in Osaka and saw Rolles submit Sakuraba for the win.[28] Sakuraba suffered another loss against the Gracies on May 3 at Wrestling Dontaku 2014, where he teamed with Shinsuke Nakamura.[29] On May 25 at Back to the Yokohama Arena, Sakuraba ended the Gracies' win streak by defeating Rolles in a singles match.[30] Sakuraba then started a new rivalry with Minoru Suzuki,[31] while also forming a partnership with Toru Yano, who was also involved in his own rivalry with Suzuki's Suzuki-gun stable. The partnership led to Sakuraba becoming an associate of Yano's Chaos stable,[32] eventually becoming a full-time member.[33] The rivalry between Sakuraba and Suzuki culminated in a match on January 4, 2015, at Wrestle Kingdom 9 in Tokyo Dome, where Sakuraba was defeated.[34]

On April 5 at Invasion Attack 2015, Sakuraba submitted Katsuyori Shibata in a tag team match, where he and Yano defeated Shibata and Hiroshi Tanahashi, igniting a rivalry between the former Laughter7 partners.[35][36] The two faced off on July 5 at Dominion 7.5 in Osaka-jo Hall in a match, where Shibata was victorious.[37]

Pro Wrestling Noah[edit | edit source]

After wrestling sporadically for independent promotions for a few years, Sakuraba returned to wrestling full-time for Pro Wrestling Noah, aligning himself with the Sugiura-gun unit headed by Takashi Sugiura. On August 30, 2020 Sakuraba won his first professional wrestling championship with Sugiura, with Sakuraba winning the GHC Tag Team Championship from AXIZ (Go Shiozaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima). From September 18 and October 11, Sakuraba took part in the 2020 N-1 Victory, finishing the tournament with a record of two wins and three loss, failling to advance to the finals of the tournament.

Personal life[edit | edit source]

Sakuraba is married and has a son.[38] He is an atheist,[38] and a big fan of manga and anime. Despite his status as a top fighter, he never cared much about diet, being both a hard drinker and a chain smoker.[38][39] Regarding the notable differences in weight between himself and his opponents throughout his career, as well as the banning of IV's for rehydration (and potential PED usage), Sakuraba has stated through an interpreter that "it doesn't matter if they [the opponent] use a pill or medicine to get bigger or smaller, I just train hard, eat healthy, fight at my weight and try my best to beat them. For me it doesn't matter if they use drugs, but I would not use it. I'm sure it's bad if they use it to win." [40]

In wrestling[edit | edit source]

  • Finishing moves
  • Signature moves
    • Mongolian chop[41]
    • Triangle choke[44]
    • Yurikamome (Inverted lotus hold can opener)[45]
  • Entrance theme
    • "Speed TK Re-Mix" by Tetsuya Komuro[41]

Championships and accomplishments[edit | edit source]

Professional wrestling[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. T.P. Grant. Gods of War: Kazushi Sakuraba . Bloody Elbow.
  2. Kazushi Sakuraba . Tapology.
  3. 'The Gracie Hunter' Returns: Sakuraba vs. Ralek Gracie Booked for DREAM.14 – Cagepotato . cagepotato.com.
  4. Kazushi "The Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba Fight Results, Record, History, Videos, Highlights, Pictures, Bio – ESPN . ESPN.com.
  5. Jeffrey McKinney. 20 MMA Legends That Will Never Be Replaced . Bleacher Report.
  6. [1] Archived April 20, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. Sakuraba fan, ‘TUF: Brazil’ finalist Rony ‘Jason’ promises Japanese flair at UFC 147 – MMAjunkie . MMAjunkie.
  8. Ten tough MMA debuts . ESPN.com.
  9. Scientific Wrestling – Catch Wrestling. Vol. 1 No . 10 . scientificwrestling.com.
  10. The Scientific Wrestling Times, Volume 1., No. 10, Alan Lee, "Searching for Kazushi part 1" [2]
  11. Scramble TV: Kazushi Sakuraba. YouTube. 3 September 2013. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Scientific Wrestling Times Vol. 1, No. 11, Alan Lee, "Searching For Kazushi part 2"[3]
  13. ja:2012/08/12(日)15:00 東京・両国国技館 <優勝決定戦> (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling (2012-08-12). Retrieved on 2012-08-12.
  14. NJPW 40th anniversary Destruction (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2012-09-23.
  15. 桜庭・柴田の参戦が正式決定! 真霜は真壁と一騎打ち!IWGP Jr.には田口が挑戦! 9・23神戸全対戦カード決定! (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling (2012-09-10). Retrieved on 2012-10-21.
  16. NJPW 40th anniversary King of Pro-Wrestling (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2012-10-21.
  17. 17.0 17.1 NJPW 40th anniversary Power Struggle (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2012-11-11.
  18. NJPW 40th anniversary Tour World Tag League 2012 (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2012-12-02.
  19. Wrestle Kingdom 7 ~Evolution~ in 東京ドーム (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2013-01-04.
  20. The New Beginning (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2013-02-10.
  21. Invasion Attack (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2013-04-07.
  22. ja:【お知らせ】桜庭和志選手のケガの状況に関して(※追記) (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling (2013-04-07). Retrieved on 2013-04-08.
  23. 吉野家Presents Kizuna Road 2013 (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2013-07-20.
  24. 武藤新団体「Wrestle-1」旗揚げ戦 (in Japanese). Sports Navi. Yahoo! (2013-09-08). Retrieved on 2013-09-08.
  25. Destruction (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2013-09-30.
  26. King of Pro-Wrestling (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2013-10-14.
  27. バディファイトPresents Wrestle Kingdom 8 in 東京ドーム (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2014-01-04.
  28. The New Beginning in Osaka (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2014-02-11.
  29. ja:レスリングどんたく 2014 (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2014-05-03.
  30. Back to the Yokohama Arena (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2014-05-25.
  31. Caldwell, James 2014-08-10. Caldwell's New Japan G1 Climax finals results 8/10: Complete "virtual-time" coverage of Okada vs. Nakamura tournament finals, Styles vs. Tanahashi, Jeff Jarrett, ROH tag champs, more . Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved on 2014-08-10.
  32. 桜庭まさかの悪役転身! (in Japanese). Tokyo Sports (2015-02-02). Retrieved on 2015-09-29.
  33. Chaosが旅立ちを祝福、Yoshi-Hashi、オカダが肩車! (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2016-01-30.
  34. Wrestle Kingdom 9 in 東京ドーム (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2015-01-04.
  35. 桜庭がかつての盟友・柴田から"一本" (in Japanese). Tokyo Sports (2015-04-06). Retrieved on 2015-04-07.
  36. 柴田が師匠・桜庭に宣戦布告 (in Japanese). Tokyo Sports (2015-04-14). Retrieved on 2015-04-14.
  37. Meltzer, Dave 2015-07-04. New Japan Dominion live coverage from Osaka Jo Hall – Styles vs. Okada for IWGP title, Nakamura vs. Goto for IC title and notes on biggest event since the Tokyo Dome, plus all G-1 main events . Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Retrieved on 2015-07-05.
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Interview with Sakuraba Kazushi Interviewed by Kitano “Beat” Takeshi from Winners Dead or Alive vol. 1, November 2000 . Global Training. Retrieved on 2016-01-12.
  39. Sakuraba Kazushi from SRSDX No. 38 . Global Training. Retrieved on 2016-01-12.
  40. Kazushi Sakuraba Exclusive Interview. YouTube. 22 February 2016. 
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 41.3 桜庭 和志 (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2015-09-29.
  42. Profile at Puroresu Central . Puroresu Central. Retrieved on 2013-12-14.
  43. ブシモ Presents G1 Climax 23 (in Japanese). New Japan Pro Wrestling. Retrieved on 2013-08-11.
  44. New Japan Pro Wrestling - "New Japan Cup 2013" (in German). PuroLove.com. Retrieved on 2013-12-14.
  45. Interview with Sakuraba from Shukan Puroresu, Bessatsu Tokigo (special winter supplementary issue) . Global Training. Retrieved on 2013-12-14.
  46. Kingdom Tournaments . prowrestlinghistory.com.
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