Kazushi Sakuraba remains one of Japan’s most prized MMA exports. | Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
2. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Rickson Gracie
Sakuraba earned the moniker of “The Gracie Hunter” for a reason. With victories over Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie and Ryan Gracie to his credit, the Japanese star managed to be a most consistent thorn in the side of MMA’s first family. While Sakuraba’s run through the Gracies more than a decade ago was certainly impressive, one name is conspicuous by its absence.
Now 53 years old, Rickson has not competed in the MMA arena since 2000. The Brazilian retired with a perfect 11-0 record -- in fights officially documented by Sherdog.com, at least -- with all of his triumphs coming by way of submission. Although he was competing some 13 years before Royce made his celebrated debut, Rickson was passed over to fight at UFC 1 in part because he had a more imposing physical appearance than Royce. Selling Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the masses would be easier for the Gracie family if an ordinary-looking fighter could emerge from the tournament.
Rickson has claimed to have more than 400 fights to his credit, and while that assertion has been disputed, it was generally accepted that he was the Gracie family’s foremost practitioner of BJJ. This was not lost on Japanese fight promoters, who offered Rickson obscene amounts of money to square off with Sakuraba.
However, any talk of such a showdown subsided when Rickson encountered tragedy in his personal life. In December 2000, his son Rockson was found dead in a New York hotel room, and the fighter officially retired from the sport. Not even a godfather offer from Pride was enough to bring him back.
“That fight would have been the biggest payout of all times,”Rickson told Gracie Magazine in 2010. ”They offered me five million dollars; it would have put me on easy street. He beat a number of Gracies, and it would have been a good fight for me, perhaps the best fight. He really was a thorn in the side of all the Gracies.”
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