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Historic MMA Rivalries, part 3: Brazil vs. Japan

Kimura vs. Gracie

Brazil vs Japan

For many years, two countries have been represented well by their native sons in the sport of mixed martial arts. Each culture embodies the spirit and wisdom necessary to be successful in the sport, as well as helping it evolve over time. 

The roots of Brazil and Japan’s contributions to MMA runs far deeper then the sport’s short history of fifteen years. The art of Jiu-Jitsu had been developed in Japan during the Feudal period as a form of hand to hand combat for war. Centuries after its development, Jiu-Jitsu found its way to Brazil thanks to Mitsuyo Maeda.

The Judoka had taught the art to Carlos Gracie in 1915 and in 1925 Carlos and his brothers (Oswaldo, Jorge, Gastao, and Helio) opened up a school in Sao Palo City, developing their own style of Jiu-Jitsu: Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. In teaching the Gracie’s his technique, Maeda may not have realized the impact he would make on the Martial Arts world in the years to come. The Gracie’s would go on to perfect their craft and make open challenge’s to all comers who thought they could best their fighting style.

24 year old Masahiko Kimura

Masahiko Kimura answered a challenge from the Gracie’s and traveled to Brazil with two other judokas, Yamaguchi and Kado. Helio Gracie had defeated Kimura’s partners in the weeks leading up to their match at Maracan stadium on October 23, 1951.

Kimura broke Gracie’s left shoulder early in the second round of their match with an ude garami, now known as a “Kimura”. After defeating Helio, Kimura would go on to fight Capoeira, boxing and Gracie jiu-jitsu champion Aldemar Santana to a draw eight years later in a forty minute Vale Tudo match.

Kimura had defeated two of Brazil’s top martial artists firing the first shot in a martial arts battle. In the decades following Kimura’s triumphs in Brazil, the Gracie family would find success of their own in the land of the rising sun.

Brazil would strike a major blow in their battle with Japan at PRIDE 1. Rickson Gracie, son of Helio, defeated Japanese pro-wrestling superstar Nobuhiko Takada via armbar on October 11, 1997 at the Tokyo Dome in front of 47,000 fans. He would defeat Takada again in a rematch exactly one year later at PRIDE 4.

The Gracies wouldn’t let up in their triumphs over the Japanese in PRIDE. Rickson’s brother Royler and cousin Renzo would go on to defeat Japanese opponents at PRIDE and Vale Tudo Japan events as well. The Japanese fans were hungry for one of their own to step up and defeat the Brazilian family. They would find their hero in the form of Kazushi Sakuraba.

Sakuraba had defeated Brazilian Marcus Silvera at UFC’s Ultimate Japan before taking on the Gracie’s in PRIDE. Sakuraba’s applied a Kimura on Royler at PRIDE 8, prompting the referee to stop the bout.

The catch wrestler would have one of the most celebrated matches of all time with Royler’s brother and UFC legend Royce Gracie in May of 2000 at the PRIDE Open Weight Grand Prix. The bout lasted an hour and thirty minutes after Royce’s corner threw in the towel.

Sakuraba would defeat Renzo and Ryan Gracie following his win over Royce and earned the moniker: The Gracie Hunter. However, even though Sakuraba would earn the admiration of fans by defeating the Gracies; there would be one Brazilian he could never topple.

Wanderlei Silva kicked off his reign of terror against Japanese fighters by defeating PRIDE doormat Daijiro Matsui the same night that Sakuraba beat Royler. Silva would defeat Sakuraba on three different occasions. Their first encounter came at PRIDE 13, then again at 17 and their trilogy ended with at brutal knockout of Sakuraba at PRIDE Total Elimination 2003.

His win at PRIDE 17 earned him the honor of being PRIDE’s middleweight champion. While the Japanese fans became enamored with “The Axe Murderer” not one of their own could bring him down. He would go on to defeat twelve different Japanese fighters in his illustrious PRIDE career, never losing to a Japanese opponent.

Since the 1950’s these two nations have endowed their wisdom and jockeyed for supremacy on the battle field of MMA. Off the shores of Rio or in the shadow of Mount Fuji, Brazilians and Japanese fighters have captivated the minds of fans for decades.

While it may be considered selfish to ask any more from the dueling cultures, it would be only one thing: Please, don’t put down the gloves.

-Matt De La Rosa

(Editor’s Note:  Matt De La Rosa is doing a five part series on Historic MMA Rivalries. Here is a link to part one of this five part series which focused on Dream Stage Entertainment vs. Shukan Gendai and the fall of PRIDE FC.  Here is a link to part two, of this five part series which is an essay on the historic rivalry between BJJ and wrestling)

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