In the year 2000, as mixed martial arts was starting to rise in popularity, Royce Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba had emerged as stars and were set to collide in an epic bout for the ages. Sakuraba had established himself as a star fighter in Japan’s Pride and had victories over Royce Gracie’s brothers. This made for some bad blood between Sakuraba and the Gracie family.
In 2000, both Royce Gracie and Sakuraba entered Pride’s Grand Prize Tournament. The two fighters were placed on the same side of the tournament bracket, which meant they could possibly meet up at some point for a bout. The Gracies had requested that if this did in fact occur, that special rules be put in place for the fight. These rules would mean no limits on the number of rounds, and that the fight would only end by way of knock out or submission.
It turned out that the two fighters would in fact meet in the tournament’s quarter finals. Though Sakuraba almost ended the fight during the first round with a knee-bar, the two ended up battling each other for ninety minutes over six rounds. The fight actually seemed to favor Sakuraba as it went on in duration as Gracie, known for his excellent grappling skills, seemed to wear down, allowing Sakuraba to take advantage of his wrestling skills. After the sixth round of the fight, Royce’s brother Rorion Gracie threw in the towel, giving Sakuraba the victory. After the fight, the two exhausted warriors embraced each other after a grueling, hard fought contest.
The Gracie family did not gain any revenge over Sakuraba who seemed to have the Gracie family’s number. However, in 2007, Royce would once again face Sakuraba in a rematch. This time, Gracie came out on top, but was caught using an illegal substance and was subsequently suspended. It will always be the first bout between these two fighters which will be remembered as one of the great epic fights in the early days of Pride.