Sakuraba-Gracie II Hardly Dynamite
It was his first fight in front of American fans but Kazushi Sakuraba proved to be a wilted fighter, whose entertainment value now resides in memories than his improvisations in the ring.
Outside of Kazushi Sakuraba, few people could have related better to Royce Gracie on May 1, 2000, than one of the men sitting in the slender Brazilian's corner.
"I know how difficult it is to fight for so long," said Helio Gracie, the patriarch of the fighting family known for his hours-long, no-rules fights. "The fact that they fought for an hour and a half makes me admire both of them."
Saturday night, seven years after Royce first lost to Sakuraba in Tokyo, the MMA legends returned to the ring at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum hoping to rekindle whatever magic they had left in front of what promoter FEG said was 54,000 admirers.
Helio, now in his mid-90s, watched again from his son's corner, though this time he did not have to suffer through the decision of whether or not to throw in the towel.
After three relatively slow-paced rounds -- equivalent to just one of the six 15-minute rounds they shared during their initial encounter -- Gracie, 40, outpointed a fight-worn Sakuraba in what should have been the card's main event.
Although there wasn't a 90-minute clash and the stakes weren't as high as when the two met in the quarterfinals of PRIDE's first Grand Prix tournament, "Gracie versus Sakuraba" still meant something to longtime followers of the sport, who clearly turned out tonight for no other reason than to support the veterans.
Unfortunately, very little happened during a bout that played out in the chilly Southern Californian night.
Fighting for the first time outside of Japan, Sakuraba (21-10-1, 2 NC) started with a left hook that knocked Gracie off balance. Sakuraba followed Royce down to the canvas, but was unable inflict any damage on a fighter that to this day has one of the best defensive guards in the sport.
Sakuraba then stood above Gracie (14-3-3), who looked fit at 188 pounds, and had his legs attacked by pushing kicks directed at the knees. Anyone who watched Sakuraba fight before expected him at some point to vault into the air and throw fists at Gracie's head, but the 38-year-old showman seemed uninterested in pursuing that type of fight.
In the second, Sakuraba connected with knees in the Thai clinch, a trick he might have picked up while training recently with the Chute Boxe Academy. Yet he failed to deliver a damaging blow and Gracie was fine heading into the third.
From ringside, it seemed clear that Sakuraba would need to finish the fight in order to have a chance at winning, and the judges' scorecards reflected that. Cecil Peoples and Richard Bertrand notched the first two rounds in Gracie's column, while Nelson Hamilton had it even heading into the third and final period.
A disappointing last five minutes from both men resulted in the bout going to the judges, who saw it for the Brazilian.
Any judgment, especially one Royce's favor, was better than quitting on the stool, which he did in 2000 after no longer being able to fight on an injured leg.
Sakuraba's first performance in front of American fans showcased a wilted fighter, whose entertainment value now resides more in our memories than his improvisations in the ring.
Even at one fight each, a rubber match seems plausible, though it's unlikely that a North American audience, to which FEG joined Dream Stage Entertainment in showing it had little idea how to court, would buy a third fight. If Sakuraba and Gracie are to find closure, it'll have to be in Japan.
With the result announced, fans began filing out of the Coliseum before the main event kicked off. Those who left missed the MMA debut of Brock Lesnar, who demolished Min Soo Kim in 69 seconds.
A former collegiate champion wrestler at the University of Minnesota, Lesnar, like many amateur wrestlers, didn't have much of a competitive outlet coming out of school. So he became a professional wrestler and logged countless miles on the road en route to becoming one of the biggest names in WWE.
If tonight's performance is an indication -- and that's a tough proposition considering the level of competition -- the 265-pound Lesnar might have a pretty decent fighting future.
Early in their clash, Lesnar dumped Kim (2-6) on the floor and quickly transitioned into the mount, from where he dropped heavy punches, including two left hands that forced Kim, a late replacement for Hong-Man Choi, to tap.
Showing at least the tools to be successful, Lesnar (1-0) now stands on the cusp of getting paid big bucks to do this for a living.
"I want to keep fighting," said the 30-year-old heavyweight after the fight. "We'll see what happens. We'll see what promoter wants to step and hand out some money. Let's get some heavyweight titles on the line."
Title fights are a tad premature, but if Lesnar is looking for a war, promoters would be best served by giving him one.
Hideo Tokoro bested Brad Pickett in an exciting clash. Reversals were the order of the day and the Japanese and British fighters were all over the canvas.
In the end, Pickett (10-4) was still a bit green to be rolling around with the likes of Tokoro, who at 153 pounds gave Royce Gracie fits the time that faced off in the ring. The Japanese fighter, now 18-11-1, snapped up an arm from the guard and finished by armbar when he forced Pickett to roll onto his back at 2:41 of the first.
Dong Sik Yoon gave the throng of Korean fans, clad in red T-shirts and slamming Thundersticks together, something to cheer about.
After having the bout threatened by the California State Athletic Commission because Yoon (1-4) refused to remove tape from a badly swollen ankle, the judoka went to war in the best fight of the night against Dutch brawler Melvin Manhoef.
As he does in every fight, Manhoef (16-4-1) went at Yoon with fierce aggression, connecting on a punch that instantly closed the Korean's right eye.
Yoon survived the early onslaught and found success in the clinch.
Between periods, a ringside doctor looked closely at Yoon's swollen eye and could have easily called the contest, but Yoon was given a chance to continue and he met Manhoef in the center of the ring.
Yoon put the fight on the floor and soon had Manhoef mounted in the corner. The explosive Dutchman pushed and rolled to escape, but he left himself open to a counter and Yoon grabbed an arm. Fully stretched out, Manhoef opted tap at 1:17 of the second rather than risk serious injury.
After losing his first four fights -- including losses to Sakuraba, new UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton Jackson and veteran Murilo Bustamante -- Yoon finally earned the first victory of his career.
Siala Siliga finished Ruben Villareal with relative ease. The hard-hitting Samoan needed just 1:33 to stop a larger foe who stepped up on short notice.
After winging punches that missed their respective marks, Mighty Mo (3-0) connected with a left hook that put Villareal (11-13-3) on the floor. Mo followed and landed more punches until referee Herb Dean put a stop to the contest.
It wasn't a lesson that needed to be learned.
Followers of mixed martial arts, of which Johnny Morton included himself, already knew that newcomers with very little experience in the fight game generally didn't fare well.
Thirty-eight seconds into his debut fight, the former USC Trojan wide receiver had that lesson hammered home when the Ivory Coast's Bernard Ackah (2-0), fighting only because he is a television personality in Japan, connected with a right hand to the jaw that put Morton (0-1) down and out.
The Coliseum, with the ring situated where the 50-yard line normally would be, fell silent and EMT personnel moved in to protect the downed fighter. Morton lay still while a cervical brace was placed around his neck, however he soon showed signed signs of life, communicating with paramedics as they placed him on a stretcher.
The L.A. crowd, which gave him a nice ovation as he made his way to the ring, again cheered for Morton as he was carried out of the venerable building.
Morton was transported to California Hospital alert and conscious, said his trainer Mike Guymon.
"He said he's totally fine," Guymon said of the NFL veteran. "He wanted to know what happened and I told him, 'Hey, you worked what we trained: throw the hands, get in, shoot in and take him down.' He just couldn't keep him down and when he got to the feet I had to explain to him, 'Yeah, you guys were throwing pretty good and he let you have one.'"
As the night came to a close, CSAC executive officer informed the media that Morton had declined to provide a postfight urine sample, and as a result had his license to fight indefinitely suspended. Also, the $100,000 owed to him for stepping into the ring was going to be withheld.
Morton, along with every other fighter on the card, provided a urine specimen on Friday. Garcia said that sample would be tested, and that the former NFL wide receiver would have an opportunity to appeal in front of the commission.
Off Pay-Per-View Fights
American welterweight Jake Shields outclassed Israeli newcomer Ido Pariente to win by submission at 2:06 of the first. A quick takedown from Shields, who on Friday was dehydrated from cutting 15 pounds in 15 hours, put him on top, where he quickly passed guard to end up with the mount.
The 28-year-old Californian toyed with Pariente (4-3) before inducing a tapout via rear-naked choke. Shields (18-4-1) joined Calvancanti as the top fighters on the card, and Pariente's chances were slim at best.
Jonathan Wiezorek, one of the few mixed martial artists to win his UFC debut but not get invited back, earned a second-round stoppage by pounding out Tim Persey in a heavyweight contest.
Wiezorek locked up with Persey, who stepped up on short notice when Antonio Silva fell off the card after the CSAC denied him a license to fight due to a medical condition associated with his gigantism, and looked for takedowns in the opening round.
Persey landed the best punches of the round after taking an accidental knee to the groin. Putting the Valdosta, Ga., native on his back, Persey connected and easily did enough to take the first round on each judge's scorecard.
He continued scoring to open the second, but Wiezorek seized on a mistake by Persey and took the Irvine, Calif., fighter down directly into back-control.
Stretched flat with someone the size of Wiezorek (11-1) on top is perhaps the worst of situations, and Persey (8-2, 1 NC) was unable to free himself. Referee Herb Dean repeatedly warned about an impending stoppage, and he finally made good on his word 50 seconds into the second period.
Katsuhiko Nagata used a grappling-first style to stifle Isaiah Hill, yet another late replacement, en route to a split-decision victory. Hill scored early with straight punches that forced blood from Nagata's face, but the Japanese lightweight was simply too much inside the clinch.
Though referee Cecil Peoples endlessly imposed himself on the fight by calling for action when Nagata, now 3-1, appeared to be throwing with a steady enough pace from the guard, the Japanese fighter never hurt Hill.
In the few moments when the fight played out on the feet, Hill (4-4) rushed forward and hurt Nagata, yet his inability to keep it standing ended up costing him the decision, which should have been unanimous.
Judge Nelson Hamilton gave the first and third rounds to Hill, while Marcos Rosales (30-27) and Richard Bertrand (29-28) had it for the winner.
The night opened with a 26-second shellacking by Brazilian lightweight Gesias "JZ" Calvancanti. The powerful grappler slipped a right hand from Westminster, Calif.'s Nam Phan and moved into the clinch.
Phan (12-4) attempted to counter a body-lock takedown, but Calvancanti's technique and power prevailed. Quickly JZ, the 2006 K-1 HERO's Lightweight Grand Prix champion, unloaded a right hand to the body before scoring with several punches to Phan's face that forced his opponent to turn away and referee Mario Yamasaki to call the contest just 26 seconds after the opening bell.
The impressive win raised Calvancanti's record to 12-1-1, and could set up showdowns against Vitor Ribeiro or recent K-1 addition Marcelo Garcia.
Josh Gross covers mixed martial arts for Sherdog.com