Hanging prominently—but curiously—in the front office of the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York is an enlarged photograph of one of the most seminal victories of Kazushi “The Gracie Hunter” Sakuraba. The photo is from the closing moments of the fight between Sakuraba and Renzo Gracie at Pride 10, won by Sakuraba from a standing kimura with just 17 seconds remaining in the second and final round.
This victory by Sakuraba was his third over a member of the Gracie family, and arguably his most impressive. When he defeated Royler Gracie at Pride 8, Sakuraba had a weight advantage of more than 40 pounds, and the fight was stopped by the referee, which was supposed to have been against the special rules of the bout. When he defeated Royce Gracie in a 90-minute marathon match during the Pride Grand Prix 2000, Royce had fought only once in the previous five years. While the victory over Royce, whose corner threw in the towel, tremendously enhanced Sakuraba’s popularity and reputation, there were still many who questioned his talent.
Renzo Gracie, then 33 years old, entered the fight with a documented record of 9-1-1. He had defeated standouts Maurice Smith, Sanae Kikuta, and Oleg Taktarov, and had only lost a decision to Kiyoshi Tamura in Rings, while getting a draw with Akira Shoji at Pride 1. With both fighters wearing shorts and no shoes, this evenly-matched bout featured an array of back-and-forth striking and grappling, with Renzo holding his own throughout.
As the end of the fight approached, Renzo attempted a takedown and managed to gain standing back control, but Sakuraba trapped Renzo’s left arm. They eventually went to the mat, with Sakuraba turtling up, still holding Renzo’s arm. Then Sakuraba exploded upward, spun to his left, and twisted Renzo’s left arm into a kimura arm lock.As they went back to the mat, Renzo’s arm broke, and the referee stopped the fight.
Why is this photo hanging in the academy of this proud member of the Gracie family? Renzo gave two reasons: “The first reason is because I didn’t tap. So that was a victory of mind over my body,” Renzo says. “The second reason is to remind me that I need to improve every time. So, every time I walk in, I look at that picture and remember the defeat, and I go back to train again and improve myself. It’s a very humbling picture that I keep there to remind me of how human I am.”
Renzo believed he was winning the fight before the stoppage, and admitted, with a laugh, “I was already celebrating the victory, because in my head, I couldn’t lose in the last 30 seconds. And I lost in the last 17!” He also praised Sakuraba’s grappling and called his jiu-jitsu “unbelievable.”
Renzo summed it all up with this message: “Living and learning—that’s the secret to fighting.”