Is Kazushi Sakuraba the greatest fighter of all time?

by Mike Coughlin

This is one of a continuing series of blog entries on the greatest fighter of all time. The two most common choices are Fedor Emelianenko and Anderson Silva. Another candidate is Dan Henderson.

Years ago, Dave Meltzer's F4WOnline did an admittedly pro-pro wrestling piece, that argues unequivocally the greatest fighter of all time is Kazushi Sakuraba.

After years of complete dominance over the Mixed Martial Arts world, Kazushi Sakuraba has been in a bit of a downfall, to understate it. Newer fans may be watching him for the first time and, after hearing all the hype, find themselves saying, "What's the big deal? This guy keeps on losing." And long-time fans, who jump from bandwagon to bandwagon, now like to say that Saku was over rated.

Not only is Sakuraba not over rated, he's the greatest fighter in the history of MMA. And not just the greatest fighter by a little bit, but by such a wide margin that his skill level may never actually be met by another competitor for generations, if ever.

In order to explain why I've made such a definitive statement, one must understand weight cutting.

In August of 2002, the best heavyweight fighter in the world, Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera fought Bob "The Beast" Sapp. Sapp had previously fought in exactly two MMA fights, while Noguiera was the Pride Heavyweight champion, a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, and had 19 fights in his career. Bob Sapp, the very definition of a novice, quite literally almost killed Noguiera during that match, and gave Rodrigo all he could handle for almost 12:00. The reason Sapp was able to do this?


One has to ignore the Sakuraba that currently exists. He's a shell of his former self. He has added considerable weight, though it mostly appears to be fat, as opposed to muscle. To get a picture of Sakuraba's true weight, one has to look at Saku in his prime.

Saku's weight was reported to be 183 lbs for his fights with Royce Gracie, Vitor Belfort, and all the rest. In the regular, non "combat sports", world 183 lbs is a big person, in MMA, that's incredibly small.

if Sakuraba properly cut weight, and being a former college wrestling star, there's no doubt he could, Saku would be a lightweight. Also, keep in mind that at 183 lbs, Saku's body was still far from ripped. In fact, at that weight, he still had enough fat on him that he had no visible abs.

Sakuraba is a lightweight. With that in mind, when one now takes a look at who Saku has defeated, it's not just incredible, it's basically impossible, except for the fact that Saku did it.

Saku holds victories over TWO top 10 Light HeavyWeight fighters, one former UFC HEAVYWEIGHT champion, a former UFC Welterweight champion, and four members of the legendary Gracie family. His only losses before his collapse, except for the fluke loss to Nino Schembri, were:
Wanderlei Silva when he was Pride MW (LHW under Unified Rules) champion;
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira then a top 10 LHW,
Mirko CroCop when he was a top 5 HW, and
Igor Vovchanchyn, then the #1 HW in the world.

Saku was clearly winning for the first 10 minutes of the Vovchanchyn fight, before he finally lost all his energy (which was the result of having fought for 90 minutes earlier in the night). By most accounts, Saku was competitive with "Lil Nog", was firmly in control of CroCop until suffering an unfortunate eye injury, and actually had Silva in a choke during the 2nd fight.

Sakuraba has fought and beat people who realistically outweigh him by anywhere from 30-50 pounds and has beaten most of them, or was at least very competitive against them.

Kazushi Sakuraba is a man who could realistically fight at 155 lbs, but who has fought and beaten some of the best in the world at 205 pounds, and who almost beat some of the best in the world at around 225 lbs. And not only beat people 50+ lbs bigger, but beat the most skilled people on earth at those higher weights. There will never be a man whose skill level is so great that he could routinely negate 50+ pounds. In the history of mixed martial arts, there is Kazushi Sakuraba, and then there is everyone else.

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