This New Year’s Eve, MMA fans everywhere will be treated to a long-overdue classic night of true Japanese style fights, with the birth of new powerhouse organization RIZIN Fighting Federation.
With former PRIDE FC boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara behind the wheel, a brutal 8-man Heavyweight Tournament to be concluded New Years’ eve, the return of Fedor Emelianenko, and an impressive/authoritative word like ‘Federation’ inserted into the name of the company, we may finally be witnessing the birth of a real potential successor to those golden PRIDE days of old.
One fight on the card however that really sucks is MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba vs Shinya Aoki.
Aoki is 32 years old, the ONE FC Lightweight Champion, Founder of the Nippon Top Team, and holds tons of accolades in top submission grappling championships around the world. Sakuraba on the other hand is 46, on a 4-fight losing streak, and has been damaged throughout his career arguably more than any other fighter on the planet.
Simply put, Sakuaraba has no chance, and is almost sure to be hurt. I understand that this in a way might actually be the charm of a Sakuraba fight… but the older he gets the more difficult it becomes as fans to suspend our disbelief.
So out of love and support for this new RIZIN endeavor, I offer (for free) 10 better options for this match, in hopes of maximizing the honor of having Sakuraba on the card. I hope its not too late, and that Sakikaraba still might read this and change the match.
Here they are, in reverse-order of preference:
10. Melvin Manhoef
Sometimes I think the fans in Japan just like to see Sakuraba get hurt.
It has always been tradition to either feed Sakuraba easy opponents he can beat, or to throw him in with raging beasts often several weightclasses above him. I will never understand this kind of passive-aggressive sado-masochistic kink, but if all the fans want to see is their hero try to defend himself against an inevitable hospitalization, a re-match with Manhoef would be immensely more satisfying (ya sick bastards).
9. Bob Sapp or Akebono
Another fight on the card that could be improved, Super Heavyweights Bob Sapp vs Akebono could easily be shuffled around with Sakuraba to improve the matchmaking.
Sakuraba vs Akebono would capture the magic of ‘The IQ Wrestler’ perfectly; a crazy exhibition-style match where, if clever enough (which is why we love him), Sakuraba would have a legit chance to find a way to win. Saku vs Akebono would also free up Bob Sapp to be matched with someone else more deserving of his entertainment status. Reversely, if Sakuraba were matched with Bob Sapp, they would likely script a worked fight of epic proportions that would entertain us completely. And no one would miss Akebono.
8. Hiroshi Tanahashi
While Sakuraba’s MMA career has been looking more and more pitiful over the years, his role as a pro-wrestler with New Japan Pro Wrestling is as fun and exciting as ever.
Hiroshi Tanahashi had recently formed a Tag-Team with Sakuraba’s former partner Katsuyori Shibata, betraying Sakuraba, and fought the Gracie Hunter in a Tag-Team match at Invasion Attack 2015. Their rivalry, history and storylines are great classic pro-wrestling fun, and a re-match under MMA rules would be amazingly exciting. Saku and Tanahashi’s respective tag team partners could both be in their corners, bringing added drama to the spectacle.
7. Rudimar Fedrigo
During the PRIDE years, Sakuraba was repeatedly fed to a completely ‘roided-up primed Wanderlei Silva not once, not twice, but 3 bloody times.
But who was the mastermind that first figured out how to break Sakuraba’s style? Who was the genius behind the killer machine that came out to decimate poor Saku again and again? Who would cheer and whoop and clap in Wanderlei’s corner for every fight and made a healthy profit off of Sakuraba’s pain? I think it’s high time that Sakuraba finally get his proper revenge. But not against Silva, but against the engineer that CREATED Silva, and orchestrated those beatings. Although Fedrigo’s age is unknown, he must be over 40 by now, and physically may be a very close matchup for our hero.
6. Justin Trudeau
Newly ‘elected’ Prime Minister of Canada, this son-of-a-former Prime Minister is riding his handsome looks and the publicity train all the way to the bank.
But not everyone is convinced. His father was also a media-darling, but those who look beyond the mainstream knows that he also sold out the Bank of Canada in decimating fashion to private banking oligarchies, forever pitting the nation into perpetual debt. Justin flashes around a lot of liberal talk about legalizing pot, but merely parrots the same scripted rhetoric about war and foreign policy, and avoids talk of conspiracy as if it were the French-Canadian plague. Awakened canuckistans would love to believe that he is the real deal, but are not willing to just hand him the benefit of the doubt just yet. A fight with Sakuraba, win or lose, would show his true colors, either cementing him as hero or exposing him as a heel, long before we see if any of the campaign promises he sold us come true or not. Justin and Sakuraba are the same age, and just to make it competitive it must be noted that Trudeau actually has a winning record in amateur boxing, and didn’t even look that bad.
5. Rikako Yuasa
There is an awesome PRIDE poster from 2000 where Sakuraba is being choked out by a girl.
Everyone knows that Saku is too broken to compete realistically in MMA, but his genius for grappling is something that has a much longer shelf-life. Maybe not against a primed opponent like Aoki, but if he were given someone smaller, lighter – a girl – it might likely be the most intriguing grappling match ever. “Lady Sasa” is a prestigious multi-world champion black belt under the legendary Yukinori Sasa, and holds a direct student-lineage to Mitsuyo Meada, who first taught the legendary Gracie Family Jiu Jitsu. The appeal of this match for grappling fans would be a LOT of fun, and the groundbreaking spectacle of having Sakuraba actually fight a girl would be immensely entertaining win or lose.
4. Nobuhiko Takada
Let’s face it; Takada used Sakuraba to make himself rich.
He stole Saku’s rightly deserved matches with Rickson Gracie TWICE, and was known for a number of worked fights that greatly inflated the actuality of his MMA status. Once a loyal and key face of the Takada Dojo, Sakuraba left his former mentor and PRIDE to go fight under Akira Maeda’s HERO’S Fighting organization. We can only assume there was some bad blood, and a good scrap to clean the air and see who’s the better man would likely be healthy for everyone.
Of course I could be wrong, maybe Takada is a really great guy and he and Saku are tight as ever…. But that’s not as good of a matchup.
3. Mark Coleman
Saku has a chance to win, but would still likely be the underdog. Classic. Plus Mark needs the money. Aoki ain’t selling his belts to feed his kids, I can tell you that. If Sakikaraba had any honor, he would respect this legend of our past and throw him a bone.
2. A Firing Squad
Most of us can’t bear to see Saku getting beaten down anymore.
If you’re gonna do it, just get it over quick. No need to prolong the agony for him (or for us).
1. Big Bottle of Expensive Japanese Sake
Leave the man alone, FFS.
He’s a legend, he’s done enough. Give him the finest Yakuza-quality spirits you can find, pay the man his money, and film just 10 minutes of him at his favorite bar getting drunk.
It will be vastly more entertaining.
Enjoy the fights, everyone!!
Oh, and PS: