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Global Training Report


Article about

 Sakuraba Kazushi



August 18, 2002


 By Takao Kondo

Translated by Kondo Yoko


Life Line is Speed!

The fighter's  introduction flashes in an enormous monitor, the theme music, "SPEED TK RE-MIX〜炎のコマreverberates through the hall and Sakuraba Kazushi in the orange trunks makes his appearance on the stage set at the back of a stage passage. This snappy and lascivious melody reminds us of Sakuraba's fights in Pride imprinted in our memory.

The fight with Carlos Newton, which was very technical and impressed the audience; and the fight with Royler, which was Sakuraba's first fight with the Gracies and during which the whole hall was enveloped in an unusually tense atmosphere; and the fight with Royce, in which Sakuraba made the Gracie side throw in the towel at the end of the desperate struggle; and the fight with Renzo Gracie, which was held in Seibu Dome in the summer heat and Sakuraba showed off his strong spirit toward finalization by finishing Renzo's arm just before the time was up; and the fight with Vanderlei Silva held on Friday of 13th,  which resulted in Sakuraba's loss after receiving a series of kicks on his face; and the second fight with Silva, which Sakuraba stood up to under a vow of revenge, but he was smashed into the ground by sheer power and his left shoulder got dislocated. As the result he was compelled to take a long rest. All of these fights still remain vividly in my mind. 

In the last four years, Sakuraba developed a certain ability and a steady popularity while fighting regularly in the ring of Pride. It is not too much to say that the kakutougi world [in Japan] is rotating around Sakuraba now. Even after his defeat by Silva two times, Sakuraba didn't lose his glitter with the fans. For about nine months he hasn't come out to the ring, and the fans have been impatient for him to make his comeback. And finally he will come back to the ring for the first time in 298 days. It will be a comeback fight, a big stage, and a big fight.

His revival stage will be the National Stadium on Aug. 28. And his opponent was decided to be a Croatian striker named Miroko, a kick-boxer who has specialized in K-1fighting but who also has not lost in his last four consecutive fights in the vale tudo ring. This summer Sakuraba will step into a new stage, because it is the first time for him to fight with a pure kick boxer of a different style. 

The style should be "the Pride rule"; nothing else is conceivable.

"I want to knock him down by the right high kick", Sakuraba said at a press interview held at the National Stadium on July 9. 

A laugh broke out among the reporters gathered there. Not to mention that he really didn't really mean it. He befuddles people with his mysterious utterances. This is his customary style at a press conference. Miroko, his opponent, has knocked many enemies to the mat with his left high kick so far. Sakuraba made such an unexpected statement as a sort of riposte against the favorite technique of Miroko. 

Under the burning sun, Sakuraba showed up at the press conference wearing a suit. Wiping off the sweat dropping from his face with a handkerchief handed to him by one of the staff, he said, "I am not tense at all yet. Everything is the same as usual. I still have time until the fight, and it will probably happen from now that I get nervous. I've already started training. But it doesn't mean I started training suddenly. I have been training according to the recovery of my shoulder. I have no problem with the shoulder now."

He had kept on fighting at a high pace for three years since he entered Pride in 1998. He accumulated a winning record, but he'd got injured a lot during those days. His knee, which easily gets out of joint, is always taped. He said before, "I have become to get injured easily since I turned 30 years old." As long as he keeps on fighting, it will probably never happen to him that he can recover his ideal physical condition. 

However, since his comeback is decided, his condition can be considered to be back to normal. What concerns me more than his condition are the rules. Nothing has been announced about the rule at this point (as of July 15th) yet. Basically it should be the vale tudo related rule, but the details have not determined yet, such as if the round system is used for it, or if a break is used when the ground fighting reaches a deadlock. In the case of the fighters of a different style from each other, the rules of the fight greatly influences what the fight turns out to be.  I wonder under what kind of rule this fight will be fought. This is what concerns the fans most. Sakuraba was speaking with a smile again, "I want the rule without striking at all."

That sounds reasonable to him. If Miroko is deprived of striking technique, it would not be possible for Sakuraba to lose. But setting up such a rule is out of the question. The negotiation must be done repeatedly between both sides from now on. 

An official announcement on the rule will be probably released at the beginning of August, but I predict that the Pride rule will be adopted for this fight. Although there might be some small changes in the rule, nothing else is conceivable but the rule based on the Pride rule. 

Miroko fought with a round system in his last four vale tudo fights. One round was three minutes.. This was very convenient for Miroko. Miroko, a kick boxer, wants to avoid fighting on the ground. As long as it is just a three-minute fight, he is not taken to the ground so easily. And even if it happens to him, he can endure such a short time as long as he has trained defense thoroughly. He can start the next round from his favorite standing position. Then he can have a chance to defeat his opponent with striking at least five times. In addition, a kick boxer is physically used to the three minutes in one round. A way of fighting for three minutes sinks into the body. In fact, this is a big point. 

But I don't think that a round system advantageous to Miroko will be adopted, because the fans won't stand for it. In May this year, Miroko and Vanderlei Silva fought five rounds under this rule and the result was a draw, which disappointed the fans. If the fight between Miroko and Sakuraba is performed under the same rule, it would be highly possible to finish with a draw again. In order to avoid it, Mr. Morishita, president of "Dream Stage Entertainment" which promotes "Pride", is strongly demanding that Pride rules be used.. He says, "we want to adopt the rule the fans want."

On July 14th, the 31st birthday of Sakuraba, Miroko said something which follows this proposal after he won by KO in the K-1 tournament in Fukuoka. "It will probably become the Pride rule. It is different from what I want, but once it is decided, I will accept it."

It seemed that Miroko would insist to fight under the rule of three minutes and five rounds, but he tries to accept the Pride rule. It looks a little strange, but there must be some reason. I can see his intention behind his words that he doesn't want anybody to complain about his weight advantage over Sakuraba, in return for accepting the rule.

Sakuraba's weight is in the middle 80's [kgs]. As for Miroko, it is over 100kg. It is almost 20kg difference in weight [1 k.. = 2.2 lbs.] Sakuraba has stuck to match with the weight of his opponents so far. "I don't want to fight a fighter with a big difference in weight." This is what he is consistent with. So there are some fighters who were forced to lose weight considerably after their arrival in Japan. However as far as this fight is concerned, the Sakuraba side will compromise on weight. In light of that, it is predicted that they will take a firm attitude toward the rule. 

Maybe I should give you a brief explanation about the Pride rule here. The fighting hours are total three rounds; one round is 10 minutes, and second and third rounds are five minutes each other. Attacking the groin area, thumbing, and attacking the spinal cord and the back of the head are prohibited. Any attacks other than those above are accepted almost freely. But it doesn't look at all that this rule is disadvantageous to Miroko, and advantageous to Sakuraba. Originally, in the case of a fight by the fighters from a different style from each other, it is desirable to abolish the regulations the both sides have as many as possible. Then it will be possible for Sakuraba to demand a one round fight with no-time limit, not adopting the round system. In the original sense of the word "fight" [in Japanese, "tatakai"], there is no limitation as to rounds, etc. {Therefore, the writer is implying, this "fight" also should have no, or as few as possible, limitations.] Anyway, as a result of taking into consideration the opinion from both sides, it will be highly likely that the Pride rule will be adopted.. 


Experience and determined personality accelerate the speed twice as much

"Every fighter has an unguarded point. The key to win is to aim at that point." Sakuraba always says that when he talks about fighting. Naturally he wants to lead the fight to  the ground in this fight with Miroko. The usual way to take him down to the ground is by a tackle before being attacked by a high kick in standing. 

At the end of last year, Nagata Yuji, a pro wrestler coming from an amateur wrestling  the same as Sakuraba, was controlled his pace in standing and sank on the mat in just 21 seconds after tasting one of Miroko's left high kicks. In the same way, Fujita Kazuyuki, a pro wrestler coming from wrestling, was scooped out the above his eye by the left knee when he tried to tackle Miroko. With a bloody face, Fujita lost by a referee stop in 39 seconds. 

Miroko is a kick boxer. He is by no means a complete vale tudo fighter. But there is no doubt that he had studied the wrestlers' mentality [their way of attacking]. Well, then what about Sakuraba? Would he also become the victim of Miroko's high kick attack.? No, if I tell you my conclusion first, I predict Sakuraba will win. It is inconceivable that Miroko will be able to anticipate the movements of Sakuraba. 

Speed is what is indispensable for Sakuraba to control this fight.. It is the life line for Sakuraba as far as the fight with Miroko is concerned. 

I am talking about two kinds of speed. One is the speed of tackling. Sakuraba says this about the basis of his fighting:  "the most important thing is sparring. In order to be strong, I do sparring over and over again. There are a lot of things I can learn from it, and there is no growth as a fighter without sparring. I learn positioning and make my body learn how to use techniques while sparring many times repeatedly. For example, when you do arm lock, using only a hand power is not enough for finalization. What you learn there is to stretch an opponent's arm by using the spine. That is what sparring is for. It is the same to taking an opponent down by tackling."

In the case of the fight with Miroko, it can be said that whether or not Sakuraba can tackle him will be the decisive point of the fight. Sakuraba continues, "I have no physical ability at all, although I have a minimum ability necessary to fighting. Compared to other fighters, my weight is so light that I can't take an opponent down by tackling with only power. So I aim at timing. Man has two legs, doesn't he? Unlike animals with four legs, man standing on two legs is apt to lose his balance even by a casual movement. For example, when you get your balance moved in walking, the weight is put on one leg without fail, isn't it? If you tackle one leg of your opponent at this moment, he will fall down. The key to success is to aim at this timing."

Miroko is a kick boxer with his lower body well-balanced. And he will be on his guard against Sakuraba's tackles. Even so, I feel that Sakuraba will take Miroko to the ground with a single leg tackle when Miroko makes a small mis-step. What makes me think so is that Sakuraba is superior to others in the tackling speed. And it doesn't mean only the simple lineal speed. His way of catching the timing and his determined personality accelerate it's speed twice as much. He was defeated by Silva, but his single leg tackle immediately after the start in the second match with Silva was marvelous. Even though Silva had to have been on his guard against it, Sakuraba succeeded with his first attempt. 

"It is the same to both striking and tackling, but if you go and do it with a belief that you can give him a punch or can make the tackle, you can do it most of the time. If you have no confidence in what you do, you will fail."

Everybody knows how powerful Miroko's punches are. That's why fighters who fight with him have a feeling of hesitation before going for the take down. But Sakuraba is different. When the time comes, he will shoot in without hesitation. He is a fighter who has enough speed and courage to "do" it without fear. 

Ethan Milius said, "what the hell that reaction speed............."

Well then, what is the other speed? It is the thinking speed of Sakuraba called "IQ wrestling". Or in other words, it is the judging speed or reaction speed. 

If Sakuraba can take Miroko to the ground with a tackle and get a top position, Miroko will take a guard position and concentrate on defense. Miroko has been training defense on the ground thoroughly. But it is unconceivable that Miroko can tide over the difficulties with this technique as he has done so far. The thinking speed of Sakuraba  has always confused his opponents so far. It is maybe not irrelevant to his success. 

No matter how hard Miroko defends himself using power, Sakuraba will find an unguarded point to attack without fail. Or he will lead Miroko to an unguarded point by using various techniques. But once Sakuraba finds even a brief window of opportunity, his body will quickly react to it and lead the way to the finish. There is no doubt that Miroko is a striker with an excellent ability. But as far as the vale tudo fighting is concerned, it seems that Sakuraba is superior to Miroko in the fighting ability. 

It reminds me of the summer in 1998. Sakuraba flew to the United States with Takada Nobuhiko who was planning to do the second fight with Rickson, and had done a special jiu-jitsu training at "Beverly Hills Jiu-Jitsu Club" in the suburbs of Los Angeles for about one month. Their teacher at that time was Ethan Milius, son of the famous movie director John Milius and who used to be a student of Royce Gracie before. One day he told me after the training, "I am impressed by Sakuraba. Apart from his technique, what the hell his reaction speed is!"

Four years have passed since then. On the night of August 28th, his theme music "Speed" will reverberate through the National Stadium filled with 100 thousands fans. A big applause will arise just like a high wave. Sakuraba must be prepared for an entrance performance to entertain the fans. But without being fascinated by that stage production, I want you to remember and I want you not to miss this point; that is, the point of this great fight lies in the two kinds of speed of Sakuraba. 


(c) 2002, Yoko Kondo. All rights reserved.

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