Kazushi Sakuraba was a legend for more than a decade. Don’t remember? Retrieve that Rubbermaid from your garage and pull out the November 2000 issue of Black Belt. Turn to Page 83 and read what MMA pundit Stephen Quadros wrote: Kazushi Sakuraba is the biggest name ever to come out of the Japanese no-holds-barred circuit. Although he has an extensive wrestling background, it’s his unconventional strikes, pre-fight humor and all-around showmanship that make his star shine brighter than that of any other competitor in the under-200-pound division. … He rose to the top of the NHB world with victories over the greatest names in the sport: Vitor Belfort, Ebenezer Fontes Braga, Carlos Newton, Vernon ‘Tiger’ White, Marcus ‘Conan’ Silveira (a member of the Carlson Gracie team), and Royler and Royce Gracie. Note the last three names on Kazushi Sakuraba's win list. Before the year was out, Kazushi Sakuraba had defeated Renzo Gracie and Ryan Gracie. His new nickname reflected his fight record: “Gracie Hunter.”
Ralek Gracie's brother, Rener Gracie, shows you and your kids how to stop violence before it starts in this new FREE Guide —Stop Physical Bullying: The Rener Gracie Guide to the Facts on Bullying and Ways to Prevent Bullying Using the Gracie Bullyproof Program.In 2007 Royce snagged a rematch and won a unanimous decision over Kazushi Sakuraba in K-1 Hero’s Dynamite!! USA, but when the Brazilian tested positive for steroids, the victory was forgotten. In the eyes of the MMA-watching public, Kazushi Sakuraba was still the Gracie Hunter. Then Ralek Gracie came along. Ralek Gracie: The New Kid on the Block Born to Rorion Gracie in 1985, he was 16 years younger than his family’s nemesis, but he was also a lot less experienced despite focused training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves. Kazushi Sakuraba had 41 bouts under his belt when the two met, while Ralek Gracie had only two. For most mixed martial artists, that 39-fight gap would be insurmountable. Characteristically Gracie, Ralek took his cache of Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves into DREAM 14 to face Kazushi Sakuraba with total confidence, even though the event took place in Japan, his foe’s home turf. Ralek Gracie bore the weight of three generations of jiu-jitsu champions on his shoulders as he took his shot at vanquishing an enemy who’d done his best to tear down an empire. The two clashed on May 29, 2010, at the Saitama Super Arena. One man attacked while the other nullified and countered, then they switched — like a couple of chess masters waging war. The fight went the distance, after which the judges unanimously gave Ralek Gracie the nod over Kazushi Sakuraba. Sure, the victory lacked the glamour a knockout or a submission would have conferred, but in the oh-so-technical world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves — where every technique, every escape, every reversal is a work of art — it spoke volumes about the enduring validity of the family’s fighting method. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Moves for Countering the Kimura When the Black Belt crew caught up with Ralek Gracie at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Torrance, California, the action of the bout was so ingrained that he could recall all the Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves he used — every technique and every response. This, of course, was a fortunate turn of events for all martial artists who like to learn from experience, even when it’s not their own. “In the fight, I got behind Sakuraba with my hands locked [around his torso],” Ralek Gracie began. As he spoke, he kneeled behind his demo opponent, placing his chest against the man’s back. “He’s known for his kimura — he’ll grab your wrist and wrap his [other] arm around your arm and hold onto his wrist,” Ralek Gracie continued. “This can be devastating because if he’s able to turn and bring your arm [behind your back], he can cause a lot of stress in the arm.”
To demo his point, Ralek Gracie let his opponent complete the kimura and lie back, driving Ralek’s head against the mat as his arm was wrenched behind his body. “He’s done this to some of my family members, so I knew about it,” he said. “This is exactly what happened: Sakuraba lifted his right leg and put it between my legs and went for the arm lock, lying back to throw my balance off,” he explained. “He rolled me all the way over with the arm lock. What I did initially to save my arm is I positioned my [right] arm in front of my body so that when he went for the kimura, he pushed my entire body instead of just the arm. “As I rolled, I was already thinking I’ve got to come up. As I came [onto my knees], he, as a good jiu-jitsu practitioner, started to bring his legs up, as well. So I got on top, but he also got his legs in position [for an armbar]. I happened to get his left leg to keep it from being tight around my neck, slowing him down.” Kazushi Sakuraba managed to slip his legs into position for the armbar anyway, but Ralek Gracie locked his hands together to bolster his ability to resist. At the same time, he “stacked” Kazushi Sakuraba. Stacking the Opponent — In Ralek Gracie's Case: Kazushi Sakuraba Stacking is an effective defense against an armbar. Most of the opponent’s weight is on his shoulders. His body is bent because he’s trying to maneuver his legs into a position that will enable him to engage his major muscle groups to straighten his back and hyperextend the trapped arm. The counter — stacking — entails placing your weight on him to prevent him from straightening out. It also makes it tough to breathe.
“I wanted to keep his weight and his legs centered over his head,” Ralek Gracie said. “And I kept my weight centered over his legs. I was positioned so I could put the most stress on his neck. His hips were up high, so he had very little leverage to push. “He was using a lot of strength to try to extend my arm, but he couldn’t because of my grip [on my other hand]. If I’d switched to [a figure-4 lock], it would have made my grip even tighter.” With Kazushi Sakuraba feeling the physical discomfort of not being able to breathe and the mental discomfort of not being able to complete the technique on this upstart, he relaxed a tiny bit. That was all Ralek Gracie needed. “I sat up and ripped my arm out,” he said. “From there, I continued to the open-guard pass. “He just got out of something that was extremely uncomfortable, and now he could breathe a little — and I was already following up with my next move. He was distraught. My knee came through, and I was hugging his head. I was holding his left leg with my arm, then I slid my right knee [over his thigh] to pass.” Ralek Gracie cautioned grapplers not to overlook the stack. It’s a basic technique but a profound one, he said. “A lot of people make the mistake of over-stacking, giving the person a chance to spin out.” That entails letting your opponent somersault under you and winding up in a prone position, from which he can still armbar you even though he’s facedown. To prevent that, keep your weight centered and consider extending your leg, the one that’s nearest his head, like an outrigger canoe. “And don’t lean too far forward,” Ralek Gracie said. “Stack him until he releases, then rip your arm out. From there, you can go to a foot lock or turn all the way through for a knee lock.” How Ralek Gracie Used Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Moves to Attack Kazushi Sakuraba's Leg Having escaped from the attempted armbar, Ralek Gracie was now in charge, his body positioned on top while he held his opponent’s far shoulder. “From the side mount, I can do the knee-on-the-stomach and control [him],” he said. To demonstrate, he fired a series of palm strikes at his opponent’s arms and head, then placed one palm on the man’s chest, using it as a pivot point. Spinning, he put his left leg over the partner’s head, as though he was about to do a classical armbar. If the opponent raises his right leg to block, Ralek Gracie said, he can underhook his ankle, grabbing the foot with his left hand and locking his right hand on his left wrist. “Then I twist, putting pressure on the foot,” he said. “I can pop the outside of the ankle. People who have tighter ankles will tap right away.”
Ralek Gracie was going for this move in the Kazushi Sakuraba fight, he said, but the round ended before he could complete it. I pressed him for more info on the finishing move. “If someone has a flexible ankle, you need more of a body position for this type of move to put the pressure on,” he said, shifting to a knee-on-stomach orientation and facing the man’s feet. Against Kazushi Sakuraba, a fighter known for his flexibility, Ralek Gracie said, making it work probably would have required him to abandon the ankle lock, trap the leg and lie back for the kneebar. “From there, I could have controlled the leg and really ripped it. I would have had a lot more leverage with both my legs holding his leg.” If time had been on his side — like it was in the heyday of his father and grandfather, both of whom typically fought without a time limit — spectators might have gotten a chance to see just how flexible Kazushi Sakuraba’s ankle was ... and whether Ralek Gracie, the man who stopped the Japanese legend, had what it takes to submit him. About the Author: Robert W. Young is the executive editor of Black Belt. For more information about Ralek Gracie, visit GracieAcademy.com.