Rise of the Gracie Hunter – Sakuraba Documentary Script

INTRODUCTION

Kazushi Sakuraba, The IQ Wrestler. A Japanese catch as catch can and professional wrestler who became legendary for his bouts with much Larger fighters and his multiple victories over members of the Gracie Family that also earned him the nickname The Gracie Hunter. 

In this study, we are going to look at the career, techniques, impact and the legacy of Sakuraba on the sport and entertainment side of the industry. As a professional wrestler, he made sure his entrances into the Pride ring were always a spectacle and entertaining, and it was another form of entertainment that would be the catalyst for Sakurabas Entrance into the sport of mixed martial arts. 

Born in Japan in 1969, As a youth, he was a fan of the Japanese Manga or graphic novel called Tiger Mask which tells the story of a professional wrestler who battles against a mysterious organisation of wrestling villains known as the Tigers Den. The Manga also had an anime television show featuring the same professional wrestling storyline that inspired Sakuraba to follow the career path of the protagonist. 

Sakuraba as a child.

Sakuraba began amateur freestyle wrestling in high school that lead to him having success representing Chuo University. There he was coached by Olympic Gold Medalist & world champion Shozo Sasahara. But after turning down the opportunity to stay on and coach at the university, he decided to continue with his original intention. He started his professional wrestling career in the Union of Wrestling Forces International organisation. But how does a quirky athlete pursuing a career in professional Wrestling become the biggest adversary of a notorious no holds barred fighting family? This is where we have to explore the origins of professional Wrestling and how Sakuraba trained. 

Sakuraba & Billy Robinson

Many of the moves that Sakuraba used to defeat his opponents can all be seen in vintage professional wrestling matches. This is because the roots of professional Wrestling can all be traced back to catch Wrestling or catch as catch can. Catch wrestling is a collection of several English wrestling styles, the most prominent of these being Lancashire catch-as-catch-can and dating back to around 1870 in England, a full decade before the establishment of Judos Kodokan Dojo.  

Catch wrestling was a legitimate combat sport that involved winning by pin or submission. Catch wrestling was even included in the second modern Olympic games in 1904. But eventually with some submission techniques considered too dangerous rulesets evolved that removed submissions and led to the creation of folkstyle Wrestling in America and Freestyle Wrestling in the Olympics. 

Professional Wrestling also evolved out of this style. So in the beginning, all-pro wrestlers had legitimate grappling skills, or as it was known the ability to “shoot”, making the bouts seem more realistic. They may have even issued challenges for anyone in the crowd looking to test their might against the travelling show. Overtime professional wrestling drifted further away from the sporting aspect and towards the entertainment, with promoters finding it more profitable to have matches with outcomes within their control resulting with less of a requirement for wrestlers legitimate grappling credentials. 

But eventually, a return to more realistic matches was seen in Japan which leads to the creation of Japanese Shoot-Style or Strong Style wrestling. Spearheaded by Karl Gotch, known as the God of wrestling in Japan and who the German suplex is named after, and the legendary Antonio Inoki who famously had an early mixed rules match against Muhammed Ali. Both these men were pivotal in the creation of the Japanese MMA scene. Now Shoot Style was professional Wrestling performed in a hybrid style that intended to appear as legitimate freestyle fighting while still retaining a predetermined winner. And the UWFi that Kazushi Sakuraba made his debut in was one of a handful of these shoot-style promotions.

The UWFi employed legendary catch wrestler Billy Robinson to train its wrestlers with the legitimate submission grappling skills of catch-as-catch-can to increase the level of submission grappling ability in their bouts. Billy Robinson learned his catch wrestling at the legendary Wigan Snakepit in England under Billy Riley who learned Lachashire catch as catch can from the coal miners of the area. After learning his skills as a young man, Billy Robinson then became an experienced professional wrestler who travelled all around the globe performing. Sakuraba, now with his catch wrestling training he received under the watchful eye of Billy Robinson, was able to use that submission grappling style and the influence of the Wigan Snakepit in all his future bouts. 

Now beginning with Antonio Inoki, Japan had a tradition of entering their pro wrestlers into freestyle fights to prove their strength. While the outcome often didn’t go the way of the wrestler, it was from this tradition that Sakuraba entered the UFC in Japan as a late replacement to help promote the Kingdom Pro Wrestling league. Shockingly defeated the much larger Marcus Silveira, becoming the first person in the UFC to tap a BJJ Blackbelt and winning the UFC Ultimate Japan Heavyweight Tournament. From then on representing Pro Wrestling, Sakuraba would become one of the all-time greats of freestyle fighting with many of his victories coming from Catch as Catch can submissions. But before Sakuraba could use his catch wrestling, he would have to deal with the fights starting standing and work with his striking skills. 

STRIKING

Now Sakuraba was never known for his striking prowess, a southpaw he was mainly characterised from his rushing flurries and swarms towards his opponent. His main goal would have always been to secure a takedown and work towards a submission, but he was not afraid to throw down with some of the scariest strikers in the sport including Mirko Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva and Rampage Jackson. He was able to throw off his opponents and with an array of unique and deceptive tricks including a standing double axe handle or hammer fist. 

But along with the catch wrestling training, Sakuraba also received training in Muay Thai from Bovy Chowaikung. He was employed to train the wrestlers and also competed for the UWFI in a series of kickboxing matches in what was known as the UWF International Stand-up Fighting Division. As such he was able to strike and had a few sleight of hand techniques like faking a hook and throwing a straight and feints and deception, in general, played a significant role in his striking game. 

After two fights with Wanderlei Silva, he even went to Chute Box in Brazil to work with Rafael Cordero and also won two contests from using his punches. One against Ken Shamrock as he slapped down his lead hand to land a straight left and against the Judoka Yoon Dong-Sik after battering him in his debut. But perhaps a more substantial part of his striking arsenal was his array of kicks including massive head kicks and relentless low kicks whenever an opponent attempted to step in and even spinning back kicks. 

The consistent volley of leg kicks also setup other avenues for Sakurabas feints as he would then be able to feint his leg kicks to put an opponent onto one leg and then follow through with a straight punch that would catch fighters off guard. He even worked his leg kick feints into setting up takedowns. The repeated leg kicks and perhaps the heavily taped knees would also draw opponents into leg kicking back at Sakuraba. That would also lead to further takedowns for him as he was adept at catching an opponents kick out of mid-air and turning it into a wrestling exchange where he could put them onto the mat. 

TAKEDOWNS

Once he was in a wrestling exchange, Sakuraba’s wrestling experience allowed him to implement a wide variety of takedowns including body locks, ankle picks, double legs, trips and his most frequently used the single-leg takedown. Sakuraba’s amateur wrestling career was also quite successful. At high school he placed as high as second in the nation and in his university career where he would also serve as team captain, he won the east japan tournament in his freshman year and in his senior year he finished in fourth place in the all japan tournament and held a notable win of future Olympic bronze medalist Takuya Ota.

The art of Catch Wrestling is also very rich in takedowns along with the submissions as the standup wrestling portions would take up a large amount of the bouts. It invariably valued top position more where you can ride your opponent and use your weight and gravity on them. Sakuraba was also able to score many takedowns caused by changing levels on his opponents as they rushed or blitzed towards him in striking salvos. Once Sakuraba had put his opponent to the mat with his single leg unless he was able to land in side control, he often found himself at the end of their feet. It allowed them to guard which would be one of Sakuraba’s most challenging yet most exciting parts of his game. 

TROUBLED GUARD PASSING

Which the guard does exist in Catch Wrestling where it is called the Body Scissors, due to the nature of pinning it is not as extensively developed or trained as other grappling styles. At the end of an open guard, Sakuraba was so troubled that he might even elect to drag his opponent around the mat rather than look to pass and also the phenom Vitor Belfort sat to guard as he knew it was a weak area of Sakurabas game. 

Sakuraba would still launch thrilling attacks like baseball slide kicks and round kicks over the top of the guard and when he did attempt to pass it often became some of the most memorable moments for fans. His most notorious method would be the cartwheel guard pass, where he would look to cartwheel over the side of the opponent’s guard. Keeping a hand posted he would run at the opponent and launch into spectacular cartwheel attempt that was visually impressive but never worked effectively as a successful pass. 

The other method that wowed the fans would be a high flying jump over the top of the guard. Sakuraba might try to land cleanly on the other side, or come down with a stomp on the opponent or ever throw a dramatic flying punch. Sakuraba did this so often that merely taking a few steps back for a run-up would get the crowd anticipating the high flying attack. He was also able to use the threat of the jumping guard pass to help brutalise the legs of his opponents with kicks. As he would fake a jump, the opponent would raise their feet, exposing their thighs for Sakuraba to fire off devastating low kicks. 

Kicking the opponent’s legs in the open guard was an area that Sakuraba did become proficient at and was able to inflict a lot of harm as he showed when he brutalised Royler Gracie’s legs in their outing. But kicks were not the only way Sakuraba would attack the legs as Leglocks were also a preferred technique of Sakuraba and Catch Wrestling. 

LEGLOCKS

Sakuraba Leglocking Carlos Newton

Karl Gotch even once stated that “If a jiu-jitsu guy has you in his guard and you didn’t break his leg with a leglock, you should quit Wrestling forever.” and Sakuraba certainly embodied this ethos as he dived for toeholds, kneebars and foot locks at every opportunity. 

Catch wrestling always valued leg locks as a technique and even influenced other arts like Sambo to incorporate them into their style. As the4 name catch as Catch can suggest, you take whatever your hold your opponent gives you so if an opponent plays guard then the feet, ankle and legs are always going to be the first avenue of attack.  

And Sakuraba had a commitment and belief in the power of leglocks that would see him hold onto some for an extraordinary amount of time as he would chain between toeholds, kneebars & straight ankle locks while absorbing a remarkable amount of punishment. So while on the ground Sakuraba was on the hunt for leglocks and this would even help open up opponents guard, allow Sakuraba to get back to his feet or it could also set up successful guard passing opportunities.

Once Sakuraba did get past the guard, he would start to look for another quick kill by diving onto armbars. It’s here where we will pick up with part 2 as will finish by examining his use of Catch wrestling armbars—rolling to his belly and turtle, his infamous double wristlock and the legacy that Sakuraba has left on the sport and entertainment industry of Mixed Martial Arts. 

Rise of the Gracie Hunter – A Kazushi Sakuraba Documentary (Part 1)

Cryotherapy vs ICE BATHS for MMA & BJJ Athletes

MMA & BJJ Athletes will often experience muscle soreness after heavy training sessions and are always looking for efficient recovery options and if something promises to give them an advantage over an opponent they are often willing to try it out especially if it also happens to be spruiked by Joe Rogan on his podcast. Recently, many athletes can be seen on social media using whole body cryotherapy where they stand in rooms or containers that are chilled to sub-freezing temperatures. Still, the question remains as to how much better are the expensive cryotherapy treatments than the cold water immersion ice baths that athletes have long used before?

Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) is an increasingly popular recovery strategy. WBC involves spending 1.5-3 minutes inside a chamber that has had the air-cooled down anywhere as low as -150 degrees whereas Ice baths or Cold-Water Immersion (CWI) involves immersing the entire body in cooled water for up to 10 minutes at a temperature of 10 degrees.  CWI is a far more common means of recovery and a systematic review of the literature found that a large body of evidence did support the use of CWI in alleviating muscles soreness post-exercise (Leeder, Gissane, van Someren, Gregson & Howatson, 2011). Additionally, one study looked specifically at MMA athletes and found that CWI following intense training sessions worked successfully to reduce muscle soreness in the athlete (Lindsay et al., 2017).

While the evidence does support the use of CWI for helping recovery and reducing muscle soreness in the athlete, it may come as a surprise that the evidence is not that clear when it comes to WBC. A study that looked at the effectiveness of CWI when compared to WBC in athletes concluded that clinical trials for WBC were lacking and that most of the evidence supporting it was anecdotal (Holmes & Willoughby, 2016). Additionally, a meta-analysis of studies testing WBC for athlete recovery found that current evidence was unable to support the claim that WBC worked in reducing muscle soreness or subjective recovery and that no evidence existed at the time that trialled the recovery method on women or elite athletes (Costello et al., 2016).

On top of this lack of evidence to support the use of WBC in athlete recovery, another study found that CWI performed better than WBC for recovery after exercise with the reduced muscle soreness and perceived recovery levels gained from CWI potentially being due to the time spent in each recovery option with WBC being limited to only 3 minutes while CWI can be up to 10-15 minutes (Abaïdia et al., 2017).

Part of the current popularity in WBC may be due to a bias that “colder is better” when it comes to recovery and the extremely low temperatures that WBC reaches can be seen as unbeatable by other recovery methods. But tests to find the ideal temperature for CWI have found the belief that “colder is better” not to be the case.Studies show that water temperatures of 5 degrees perform worse on recovery tests than water with higher temperatures with the best protocol for CWI found to be with water temperature between 11-15 degrees and for a time of 11–15 minutes (Machado et al., 2015).

In summary, although WBC is currently a popular solution to recovery at the moment, not enough evidence exists on this recovery method and the high additional costs associated with it means it cannot be recommended as a suitable addition to the training routine.  Alternatively, CWI offers a relatively cheap and easy way to accelerate recovery and reduce muscle soreness that is also evidence-based.

References

Abaïdia, A., Lamblin, J., Delecroix, B., Leduc, C., McCall, A., & Nédélec, M. et al. (2017). Recovery From Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: Cold-Water Immersion Versus Whole-Body Cryotherapy. International Journal Of Sports Physiology And Performance, 12(3), 402-409. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2016-0186

Costello, J., Baker, P., Minett, G., Bieuzen, F., Stewart, I., & Bleakley, C. (2016). Cochrane review: whole-body cryotherapy (extreme cold air exposure) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise in adults. Journal Of Evidence-Based Medicine, 9(1), 43-44. doi: 10.1111/jebm.12187

Holmes, M., & Willoughby, D. (2016). The Effectiveness of Whole Body Cryotherapy Compared to Cold Water Immersion: Implications for Sport and Exercise Recovery. International Journal Of Kinesiology And Sports Science, 4(4). doi: 10.7575/aiac.ijkss.v.4n.4p.32

Leeder, J., Gissane, C., van Someren, K., Gregson, W., & Howatson, G. (2011). Cold water immersion and recovery from strenuous exercise: a meta-analysis. British Journal Of Sports Medicine, 46(4), 233-240. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2011-090061

Lindsay, A., Carr, S., Cross, S., Petersen, C., Lewis, J., & Gieseg, S. (2017). The physiological response to cold-water immersion following a mixed martial arts training session. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, And Metabolism, 42(5), 529-536. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2016-0582

Machado, A., Ferreira, P., Micheletti, J., de Almeida, A., Lemes, Í., & Vanderlei, F. et al. (2015). Can Water Temperature and Immersion Time Influence the Effect of Cold Water Immersion on Muscle Soreness? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine, 46(4), 503-514. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0431-7

BJJ Brown Belt Grading Photos

BJJ Brown Belt Grading Photos

BJJ Brown Belt Grading. This was at the Langes MMA 2014 end of year grading where i received my brown belt in BJJ.

Photos from my BJJ Brown Belt Grading.

Sonny Brown BJJ & Grappling 2014 Highlight Reel

Sonny Brown BJJ & Grappling 2014 Highlight Reel

Sonny Brown BJJ

Sonny Brown BJJ

Hails,

I have put together a video clip of highlights from matches I had the video of this year while competing as a purple belt. Set to A Corporate Merger by Estradapshere. Have just tried to put as much action and movement in as I can as a lot of slow, plodding Jiu-jitsu is not entertaining . Please check it out and let me know what you think. Enjoy !

Peace, Love and Raging Waters,
Sonny Brown BJJ

 

ISKA No Gi Grappling Video – NSW Open 2014

ISKA No Gi Grappling Video – NSW Open 2014

Hails,

U83kg ISKA No Gi Grappling

U83kg ISKA No Gi Grappling

Competed in my first ISKA tournament in the u83kg ISKA No Gi Grappling division. Had 3 Matches nd won them all by submission to take out 1st place. Was a good day out and never a dull moment as ISKA has so many different forms and styles all going on at once it really is quite spectacular.  The martial arts tricking divisions were particularly impressive with the level of athleticism on display.

All three of the matches are in the video below.

Peace, love and raging water,
Sonny Brown

NSW BJJ Summer Cup 2014 Match Videos

NSW BJJ Summer Cup 2014 Match Videos

NSW BJJ Summer Cup 2014

NSW BJJ Summer Cup 2014

Hails !

I competed at the NSW BJJ Summer cup a few weeks back and was lucky enough to come away with 2 first place finishes and a 2nd place (Although i am still yet to receive the actual medals  for this, but that is another story. ) .

Below is the Videos of the Gold medal matches for the Purple Adult No Gi Open weight division and the Purple  Adult No Gi 79.5KG Division.

In the opens division i was very lucky to come up against my friend and training partner the 127KG heavyweight Karl King . I say lucky as we had been talking it up all week as to what would happen if we had to face each other , which is where the SMS messages have come from that you can see in the start of the video . Needless to say getting the win was very satisfying .

NSW BJJ Summer Cup 2014 – Purple Belt No Gi Open Weight Division – Gold Medal Match

 

NSW BJJ Summer Cup 2014 – Purple Belt No Gi 79.5KG – Gold Medal Match

Now hopefully they end up sending me the medals for these divisions !

Peace, love and raging waters,
Sonny Brown