51 Date (5/1) of 2000 when one of the most amazing performances in the history of mixed martial arts took place in the Tokyo Dome at the PRIDE Grand Prix 2000 Finals. And the guy who turned in the performance didn't even win the tournament.
This date eight years ago was when Japan's Kazushi "The Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba hooked up with famed UFC fighter Royce Gracie. Only some six months earlier Sakuraba defeated Royler Gracie by submitting him with a Kimura late in the fight. Gracie did not tap but the referee stopped it due to the submission. It was the first time a Gracie had lost in competition in quite some time. The Gracie's were angry with the decision and wanted to reassert their dominance in the fighting world.
So the stage was set for Sakuraba and Royce to do battle, but this wasn't enough. Royce wanted special rules including no time limit and no referee stoppages. The men squared off during the second fight of the night at the 2000 Grand Prix and toward the end of the first 15 minute frame Kazushi almost ended it with a kneebar. Later on it was Gracie who almost caught Kazushi in an inescapable guillotine. But the men fought on, and fought on, and fought on.
Finally, after six, 15 minute rounds, an hour and a half of fighting, Royce's brother Rorion threw in the towel. Royce's legs were battered due to low kicks and he suffered a broken bone in his foot. Sakuraba was the victor; he'd now defeated two Gracie's in a six month stretch.
Now here's where it gets even more amazing! Remember, this was a Grand Prix, a tournament and after approximately an hour break Sakuraba was scheduled to meet up with famed striker Igor Vovchanchyn. Most thought there was no way he would come out to fight, and maybe most men wouldn't have, but this is Kazushi Sakuraba we're talking about! He climbed back through the ropes and hooked up with Igor for 15 minutes. The contest was close, but after the first round Sakuraba was too exhausted to continue. The fight was stopped and Kazushi Sakuraba's marathon night came to an end.
After the May 1st victory Sakuraba wasn't done with the Gracie family. He went on to submit Renzo Gracie with a Kimura a little less than four months later. And then some three months after that he won a decision over the now deceased Ryan Gracie. These victories truly cemented him as "The Gracie Hunter". Some seven years later Royce and Kazushi fought again, this time in California and Royce won what many consider a controversial decision.
May 1, 2000 is a memorable date in the MMA world. It further cemented the legend of Kazushi Sakuraba. A man who has continually fought guys who were much bigger than him, has continually fought against the odds, and has continually amazed fans for nearly 12 years. As a matter of fact, two nights ago he was at it again. This time in the DREAM 2 Middleweight Grand Prix 2008 Opening round where in only 8:20 he submitted Andrews Nakahara, so the legend of Kazushi "The Gracie Hunter" Sakuraba continues to this day!
For more numbers and stories like this check out Sports by the Numbers MMA.