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The Majesty That Was Sakuraba

For three years or so, right at the turn of the millennium, Kazushi Sakuraba was the best pound for pound MMA fighter in the world. Coming out of Japan's catch-wrestling tradition, Sakuraba ran off a string of victories that thrilled Japanese fans and won the admiration of MMA fans world-wide. He beat Renzo, Royler, Ryan and Royce to earn the nickname "Gracie Hunter". He beat Vitor Belfort, Ken Shamrock, Rampage Jackson, Kevin Randleman and Carlos Newton but ran aground against a series of bigger fighters -- especially Wanderlei Silva. Frankly they just kept putting him in against guys too big for him and his kick defense was non-existent.

Here's the HL reel:

And for my dollar, here's one of the best ever grappling matches in MMA: Sakuraba vs Carlos Newton:

The thing that always fascinated me is the contrast between Newton's Jiu Jitsu style which emphasizes getting positional dominance (mount, guard, side-mount, back etc) vs Sakuraba's willingness to sacrifice position (even giving up his back repeatedly) and just go balls out and try to catch an exposed limb. Hence the term, "catch wrestling". The kneebar at the end is a thing of beauty -- and of course Sak got it by letting Carlos have his back -- but the reversals all the way through are many and both fighters put on great performances.