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…on Sakuraba/Gracie II and MMA’s place in society

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Over 90 minutes back in 2000, Sakuraba outlasted Gracie

This week, I discuss mixed martial arts and its place in society and I look forward to Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie II.

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie: Part Deux

“Softbank presents DYNAMITE!!! USA” is not a million miles away. The card is set and it features one of the greatest rematches we thought we’d never see; Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie. Confusingly set for five rounds, one must assume that some sort of title has been created to get around the California State Athletic Commission and Sakuraba also needs to be medically cleared. However, should the match go ahead as scheduled, we have a curious match on many levels.

The last time the two met, it was 1st of May 2000, the quarter final stage of the PRIDE Grand Prix 2000, PRIDE’s first openweight tournament to decide the world’s best fighter. Placed on the same side of the bracket, a special set of rules were requested by the Gracies in the event of a Sakuraba-Gracie bout which included no referee stoppages and an unlimited number of 15-minute rounds, with the fight only ending in event of a submission or a knockout. Saku had defeated Royler Gracie via a technical submission at PRIDE 8, as Royler refused to submit to a kimura lock, thus the reasoning for the Gracies requesting the no stoppages rule.

In a 90-minute battle, the longest bout in modern MMA history, Saku won the bout after Gracie was retired on his stool, due to damage sustained to his legs from repeated leg-kicks. Sakuraba took away every advantage, using superior wrestling and balance to stay off the ground on Gracie’s terms and even turning Gracie’s gi to his disadvantage. However, this was under some of the loosest rules ever seen in modern MMA. This time, they fight in the US under the Unified Rules. Royce Gracie is the only one of the two to have fought under the Unified Rules, in his humiliating loss to Matt Hughes at UFC 60. However, we can assume that neither man is advantage with a knowledge of the rules. No kicks on the ground takes away Sakuraba’s soccer kicks and Royce cannot kick his way out of a submission. The lack of a gi means that Sakuraba cannot use it against Royce as he did last time. This is not half of the intrigue.

In the last seven years, Sakuraba has fought some of the toughest fighters in the world. In victory and defeat, he was gone through many bruising encounters and posted a 12-8 (1 NC) record over that time. Both men are seven years older but it is obvious that Royce hasn’t taken the seven hard years of punishment that Saku has. Many believe Sakuraba is a shot fighter and I was personally sickened by the beating he was allowed to take at the hands of Yoshihiro Akiyama. However, this isn’t 1993 and Royce, like many of his contemporaries, seems lost in the modern world of MMA.

Maybe this isn’t intriguing for the right reasons. Two men, both battling father time; one man a champion that has seemingly fallen behind the times, the other a man who looks to have taken a few too many matches too far. However, it is intriguing, it is a marquee matchup and is another reason why June looks to be an excellent month for the K-1/ProElite alliance.

The cultural place of MMA in society

A novelty program aired about Britons in the past on one of our networks in the UK. It was talking about the seven sins of the British, one of which was a predilection toward watching violent combat. In Victorian times, bare knuckle fighting was popular. The original rules of boxing, the London Prize Ring Rules and the later Marquess of Queensberry rules were devised in the UK and early boxing resembled a grappling match. This show considered cage fighting, as it is generally known over here, to be the modern day successor to this Victorian obsession.

This left me thinking about where mixed martial arts fits in society around the world. Here, many see it as a shady world of gangsters and criminals, littered with unskilled fighters. It is said in London that everybody knows a cage fighter and the cage fighter is never any good. From the outside, the US seem to treat it as a cleaner, less unsavoury world where most of the fighters are college or high school wrestlers. Sure there are the shadier fighters but they’re in the minority.

Is mixed martial arts carving out its own cultural niche? As I have said before, for all the cries of brutality, MMA is a sport less likely to cause head injury. MMA is closer to bare-knuckle boxing where you are more likely break your own hand than break your opponent’s brain. In the US, it is connecting itself to wrestling in a big way. The IFL have a connection with USA Wrestling and collegiate wrestlers are prevalent throughout the sport. We’ve yet to see formalised connections between a mixed martial arts promotion and other governing bodies or Olympic organisations from other sports but surely, it cannot be long.

I guess what I really want to look at and will have to look at in more depth is who is watching MMA and why? Who is practising MMA and why? These are not easy questions and they have different answers depending on where you are from. However, it is clear to me that MMA is forming a cultural niche in every culture and country it touches. This is why it is not a fly-by-night thing.

I’d like to hear some thoughts on these questions.

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Written by Michael Farrow

May 15, 2007 at 1:11 pm

Posted in MMA

Tagged with , ,

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