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Long after his prime, Kazushi Sakuraba is in the position to save Japanese MMA

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At 46 years old, Kazushi Sakuraba, Japan’s all-time MMA legend, has no business in the ring. But the man who beat the Gracies and put the sport on the map in Japan is now fighting a much bigger fight, trying to save the sport he built a generation after he did so the first time.

It was 16 years ago next month, at the Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo, when Kazushi Sakuraba saved a declining Japanese MMA scene.

It led to a popularity peak, built on his brutalizing his body against killers that he never should have been in the ring with, that the sport has never quite seen anywhere.

Today, at the age of 46, long past the point anyone should even consider putting him back in the ring, he’s being asked to save it once again.

Last week, Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s Rizin Fighting Federation announced shows on Dec. 29 and Dec. 31 at the Saitama Super Arena. The main event on the first night pits Sakuraba against Shinya Aoki. It was 15 years earlier, to the month, that the newly-opened Saitama Super Arena housed its first major sports event. Pride 12 “Cold Fury” was a sold out ….View original article