Sakuraba-Gracie Rivalry Continues at Dream 14

By Tony Loiseleur May 10, 2010
TOKYO -- Kazushi Sakuraba will fight Ralek Gracie May 29 on the Dream 14 card at the Saitama Super Arena, Dream event producer Keiichi Sasahara announced Monday at a news conference.

The bout will be contested at an 84-kilogram/194-pound catchweight.

Ralek will be the fifth Gracie family representative after Royler, Royce, Renzo and the late Ryan to face Sakuraba. Nicknamed “The Gracie Hunter,” Sakuraba became a significant fixture in Japanese MMA for defeating the Gracies in early Pride events when they were perceived as invincible.

Often a playful media presence, Sakuraba spent little time Monday speaking about the upcoming bout with Gracie, instead diverting attention to his interest in the Japanese animated series, Evangelion. Sakuraba then struck poses of the eponymous giant robot character for the media.

The Japanese MMA legend’s last action was a kneebar victory over Zelg Galesic at Dream 12 on Oct. 9, the promotion’s inaugural cage event. Sakuraba’s upcoming bout with Gracie will mark his second consecutive venture into Dream’s “white cage.”

“I never used the cage itself in my fight career, so I don’t know if I’m suited for the cage or not,” Sakuraba said. “But when I train here [at my gym], I get pushed against the walls, so I think about the cage in those instances. Whether I use the cage or not depends on the fight. For example, in my last fight [against Galesic], it happened all at the center of the cage. There’s no real difference to me between the cage and the ring.”

The son of UFC co-founder Rorion Gracie, Ralek made his MMA debut in Japan at K-1 Hero’s in July 2007, defeating pro-wrestling convert and Sakuraba stablemate Katsuyori Shibata by first-round armbar. He was scheduled to face Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in a grappling match in June 2008’s Dream 4, but Filipovic pulled out due to injury. Gracie instead faced replacement opponent Alavutdin Gadjiev in an MMA bout, also submitting him by first-round armbar. The planned bout against Sakuraba will be Gracie’s third career MMA fight.

Also added to the Dream 14 bill is a battle of WEC veterans Yoshiro Maeda and Kenji Osawa in Dream’s 63-kilogram/138-pound featherweight class.

Maeda makes his return to Dream and the white cage after suffering a knockout loss to former WEC featherweight champion Cole Escovedo at last March’s Dream 13. The bout will be Osawa’s first since being cut from the Zuffa roster after dropping a unanimous decision to Antonio Banuelos at WEC 44.

Both fighters were largely complimentary, but had hidden barbs for each other in their comments.

“Whenever Maeda looks like he's fighting at a winning pace, he somehow slips up and makes a mistake,” said Osawa of Maeda’s perennial flakiness. “I think it will be a hard fight and it'll be a very mental battle, but I have the ability to turn the fight around with one strike."

“When I was fighting for Pancrase, [Osawa’s] was a name that came up for a potential fight,” said Maeda. “I imagine him as a strong, well-rounded fighter who can handle any situation perfectly, and thought that if I had to fight him, I’d like to fight him as soon as possible. So I’ve been preparing to fight Osawa since then, and I believe I’m more prepared to fight him than he is to fight me.”

Monday’s announcement has Dream 14’s card officially at six fights. Sasahara said a remaining two to three bouts would be added to the final card, with the last several fights being lightweight and/or featherweight bouts. Expected participants are Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Katsunori Kikuno.
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