From the treasure chest: Sakuraba’s trip to Brazil

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In September 2005, a couple of GRACIEMAG reporters finally managed to get the Japanese hero to soften up and speak to an instrument of the western press for the first time. Both naïve and innocent, Sak livened up training at Chute Boxe in this article rescued from the old treasure chest.

Sakuraba training with former rivals at Chute Boxe. Photos: Gustavo Aragao

Everything suggested that Kazushi Sakuraba’s trip to Brazil to train at the academy of his age-old rival Wanderlei Silva was just a rumour without rhyme or reason. But the improbable happened. On August 19, 2005 the Japanese star arrived at Chute Boxe academy somewhat sheepish, greeting everyone with quick nods of the head, the sort of reverence and ceremony common in Japan. All it took, though, was a few weeks living with the chuteboxers for Sak to loosen up, conforming to more laid-back greetings (such as punching each others hands and pats on the back), and Sak the showboater shone through.

Fighter Marlon Mathias saw it all first hand. A rumor surfaced in Curitiba that Saku, with his faithful sidekick doubling as translator Wataru Takahashi, entered a newsstand in the capital of Parana and came face to face with one of those videos you have to be over 18 years of age to purchase. The two fell in love with some comely ladies on the cover of a porn DVD and, as they couldn’t read Portuguese, they couldn’t heed the warning printed on the cover: “She-men.”

Once recovered from the shock of seeing the beauties undressed on the TV screen, Sak and Takahashi decided to give a little present to a training partner. “Boy, that Sakuraba is a handful. After trying to deceive me, he now wants the DVD back to give to Takada,” said Mathias, referring to Nobuhiko Takada, not just the head of the gym where Sak and Takahashi train in Japan (Takada Dojo), but also one of most influential men in the Pride Fighting Championship organization.

Luck or setback?

Since the atmosphere was so relaxed, we decided to provoke Sakuraba a bit and ask about the cap the fighter gave Wanderlei Silva to wear into the ring at the Pride GP where he would face Ricardo Arona, on August 26. Since Wand lost the battle, wasn’t the cap a curse for the fighter from Curitiba?

“A curse? But Shogun won the GP… The cap was lucky, so much so that Chute Boxe won the tournament,” Sak retorted.

We also asked about the best and worst fights from Sakuraba’s career but he wouldn’t discuss it. We ran into the same dead end when we prodded him about his rivalry with the Gracie family. His willingness to answer our questions only returned when the topic came to retirement: “There’s no time limit to fighting, I’ve never contemplated quitting ,” said the ace of 37 years of age.

Limited vocabulary

What Sakuraba can say in Portuguese doesn’t go beyond expressions such as “Bora, time!” (“Let’s go, team!”),  and the most recurrent one: “I’m tired.” Moreover, Sak has no doubt that training at Chute Boxe is much more challenging than those he usually goes through in the Land of the Rising Sun. “The other day he asked me how to spell ‘I’m not tired’. I think Sakuraba wants to make a shirt with these slogans to climb into the ring with in his next fight in Pride,” said a suspicious Rudimar Fedrigo, leader of Chute Boxe.

The idol’s performance during practice at CB resembles the theatrical style of a pro-wrestler, making a lot of faces and posturing, with flashy moves and funny screams. “He also likes to play dead to suddenly lunge,” says Master Rafael Cordeiro. ” Sakuraba is a trickster,” he says.

Sak said that it was at Chute Boxe that he did his first Jiu-Jitsu training session. “I lent him a symbolic black belt to take a picture with,” says Cristiano Marcello, who considers Sakuraba a black belt in MMA. It is likely readers agree with Marcello’s opinion, with all Saku’s first-rate exhibitions in Pride. If we count only his victims from Brazil, the Japanese fighter has beat in MMA: Nino Schembri, Ryan, Renzo, Royler and Royce Gracie, Ebenezer Braga, Vitor Belfort and Marcus “Conan” Silveira.

Marlboros and local beer

Sak’s accomplishments become even more impressive when the idol of Pride admits to consuming alcohol and smoking cigarettes. “Just a little, just a little,” justifies Sakuraba, using some of the few words he knows in English. In Portuguese “just a little” means “just a little”, but the guys from Chute Boxe insist it isn’t so…

” Sakuraba has already paid a bill of $ 2 thousand at a nightclub here in Curitiba,” says a chuteboxer who declined to be identified. “A draft beer at a party on the weekend I even tolerate, but if I catch him smoking I’ll grab Sakuraba by the neck,” promises Rafael Cordeiro.

A fan of barbecue and chicken soup, he often walks around with an ice compress on his famously bunk, his face completely recovered from the punishment he suffered at the hands of Ricardo Arona in the quarter-finals of the Pride GP (on June 26), Sak also says he is dying of longing for his family back in Japan

But when the intensive training session at Chute Boxe ends and the foreigner returns to his country, it’s likely the Brazilian team will miss the Japanese warrior. Each will have at least one funny story from the charismatic Japanese fighter as a souvenir, though.

Daniel Acacio, for example, already has his: “I’ll never forget the day I took Sakuraba to swim at a gym here in Curitiba. There he wore a swimsuit that in my definition is nothing but a hang-glider-shaped thong. The thing may well be common in Japan, but in Brazil it’s somewhat awkward. The staff at the club asked me to convince him to put briefs, but Sakuraba put his foot down and wouldn’t change the thong by any means. ”   If the trend picks up …

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