This Week’s MMA Birthdays: Kazushi Sakuraba Turns 44

By: Brian Knapp
Jul 14, 2013
Kazushi Sakuraba remains one of MMA’s most beloved figures. | Photo: Taro Irei/

Few fighters have had a greater impact on mixed martial arts than Kazushi Sakuraba, who will celebrate his 44th birthday on July 14.

Sakuraba rose out of the ashes of Nobuhiko Takada’s failed MMA career and became one of the sport’s unlikeliest superstars. A professional wrestler and gifted submission grappler, he successfully merged the two disciplines, emerged from the early days of Pride Fighting Championships and helped lift the Japanese promotion to unprecedented heights.

A rivalry with MMA’s first family remains the centerpiece of Sakuraba’s career. He became known as “The Gracie Hunter” during a remarkable 13-month stretch from November 1999 to December 2000, when he defeated Royler Gracie, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie and Ryan Gracie. The crown jewel of the series was Sakuraba’s epic 90-minute showdown with Royce in the Tokyo Dome on May 1, 2000. Their struggle ended when Rorion Gracie threw in the towel on his younger brother’s behalf after six grueling 15-minute rounds.

Though Sakuraba lingered in the sport well past his prime, he was a special fighter during his heyday and a pivotal figure in MMA’s growth.

Those in MMA celebrating a birthday the week covering July 14-July 20:


Kazushi Sakuraba (44)
Mostapha Al-Turk (40)
Falaniko Vitale (39)
Wagnney Fabiano (38)
Rolles Gracie (35)
Leonard Garcia (34)
Shane Roller (34)


Antony Rea (37)
Matt Mitrione (35)


Javier Vazquez (36)
Toby Imada (35)
Kazuhiro Nakamura (34)
Walel Watson (29)


Alexander Otsuka (42)
Yuki Kondo (38)
Ricardo Arona (35)
Mamed Khalidov (33)
Mike Byrnes (23)


Crosley Gracie (34)
Hatsu Hioki (30)
Ben Askren (29)


Jeremiah Constant (39)
Raphael Assuncao (31)
Jon Jones (26)


Aaron Simpson (39)
Pat Healy (30)
Ryan Healy (30)

Fighter Profiles


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