A deal couldn’t be worked out for mixed martial arts legends Frank Shamrock and Kazushi Sakuraba to fight while they were in their primes, but it’s finally going to happen. On Oct. 15, Shamrock and Sakuraba will finally meet in competition at RIZIN Fighting Federation’s event in Fukuoka, Japan. It’s not the fight for which fans were once clamoring, but the two will compete in a special rules grappling match.
When Shamrock won the UFC light heavyweight title in 1997 at UFC Japan, Sakuraba fought on the same fight card winning the UFC Japan Ultimate Heavyweight Tournament. Sakuraba remained in Japan and built a legendary career with the PRIDE organization, while Shamrock went on to defend his title four consecutive times inside the Octagon.
A fight between the two nearly happened in 1999. Negotiations went on for months and Shamrock appeared on a PRIDE broadcast calling out “The Gracie Killer.”
“We were in talks for six months and they pursued me heavily did PRIDE, and I wanted to be in PRIDE, but just to face Sakuraba.” Shamrock told MMAWeekly.com. “When it came down to the final negotiations and I couldn’t get his name on the contract, I was like, come on. This isn’t what I signed up for.
“I’m a business man and it wasn’t clearly defined. His name was not on that contract. I was going there to do one thing, and that was to fight Sakuraba. We were never able to get in the same space after that,” added the first UFC light heavyweight champion.
Shamrock thought his days of competing were behind him. And then a phone call came. Dan Henderson was originally slated to grapple Sakuraba, but was forced to withdraw after suffering a neck injury. After nearly two decades of wanting to face Sakuraba, the opportunity presented itself.
“It was totally random,” said Shamrock. “They reached out and said, Dan has been hurt. Do you know anybody that can wrestle, and they followed up with maybe you can wrestle.
“I honestly thought that I would never be competing again, and especially competing in Japan. That phone call was super left field,” he added.
Shamrock is admittedly not in the best shape of his life, but not completely out of shape either. He’s remained active since retiring from fighting in 2009 and couldn’t pass up his chance to finally face the Japanese icon.
“I’ll be 45 this year, and my days of doing athletic performances are most certainly coming to an end. But this has been on my bucket list for a long time, and that is to wrestle Sakuraba. So I’m going to scratch this one off and then I’m going to jump out of an airplane on Nov. 11 and scratch that one off,” he said.
“You can’t pass this up… It’s like God wants me to go wrestle Sakuraba and kick his ass,” Shamrock added. “I’ve literally been waiting 18 years to lay my hands on this man.”