For Matheus Nicolau, promising UFC career launched by Wanderlei-Sakuraba VHS tape


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Before he chose his current profession, Matheus Nicolau and his brother ran across an old VHS tape that eventually solidified his career choice.

It contained a 2001 PRIDE fight between Wanderlei Silva and Kazushi Sakuraba – the first of three between the MMA legends.

When it came time to think about his own future, a young Nicolau (13-1-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC), who continued his undefeated octagon run with a recent and dominant decision victory over flyweight Louis Smolka (11-5 MMA, 5-5 UFC) at UFC 219, popped in the tape and watched in awe. It was 98 seconds of pure violence.

“Wanderlei is liking using nasty knees and stuff, like kicking the head on the ground and stuff and everything,” Nicolau recently told MMAjunkie Radio. “And man, that for me was like, ‘I want to do that. I want to do that one day.’”

The 24-year-old Brazilian prospect was also familiar with the famed Gracie clan, who bought Brazil and its version of jiu-jitsu to the world. But with Silva, he saw how grappling and muay Thai could be combined and create a seemingly unstoppable fighting style.

“I started training jiu-jitsu, but since the beginning when I started jiu-jitsu, I had it in my mind, ‘Hey, I want to do MMA. I want to try MMA,’” he said. “Back in the day, it wasn’t even MMA. We called it vale tudo.”

And it was all due to the savage fighting style he saw Silva successfully implement. Sure, he soon learned to appreciate the likes of Georges St-Pierre and longtime training partner/former UFC featherweight titleholder Jose Aldo, but for Nicolau, watching that Silva-Sakuraba tape proved to be a life-changer.

Nicolau, who turned pro as a 17-year-old, was a semifinalist on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4” in 2015. Although he’s registered just one official UFC fight per year from 2015-2017, the win over Smolka gave him some serious momentum heading into 2018.

The goal now? Ranked opponents, preferably non-Brazilian ones since he trains with and knows so many fighters from his home country.

“I want a gringo and a top-ranked guy,” he said. “I can tell you that for sure.”

One possibility? Former title challenger Henry Cejudo (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC), who’s No. 3 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA flyweight rankings. The Olympic gold-medalist wrestler is coming off back-to-back wins over Wilson Reis and Sergio Pettis.

“I’m ready for whoever,” Nicolau said. “I’ve been training like a champion since I was 17, and I really believe I’m ready for whoever. Let’s see who the UFC has for me, and let’s see if (Cejudo) wants it.

“I’m open. Cejudo would be a huge challenge for my career, and that’s what I’m looking for.”

For complete coverage of UFC 219, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to

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Source: MMA Junkie

Tatsuya Kawajiri joins Rizin FF 7, looking for bantamweight grand-prix spot

Tatsuya Kawajiri is taking a step toward fighting at bantamweight.

The 39-year-old Japanese vet, who’s fought at lightweight and featherweight for organizations rankings from the UFC to PRIDE to Strikeforce since his 2000 pro debut, is looking for a spot in the bantamweight grand prix when he fights at Rizin FF 7.

Rizin FF 7 takes place Oct. 15 at Marine Messe Fukuoka in Fukuoka, Japan. North American broadcast plans haven’t been announced.

Kawajiri (36-11-2) fights Gabriel Oliveira (9-0) at a catchweight of 138.9 pounds, officials recently announced.

According to a press release, Kawajiri sent Rizin FF General Manager Nobuhiko Takad a picture of him standing on a scale at 138 pounds, which prompted the booking of the vet for a wild-card qualification bout.

“The only reason why I am doing this is because I want (Kyoji Horiguchi),” Kawajiri stated. “If he wasn’t in this tournament, I would never go through all of this pain to just make weight. I want to put everything I have, everything I have worked for, in this tournament to fight the icon of Japan’s young, promising generation.”

Kawajiri recently halted a three-fight skid, which included UFC losses to standouts Cub Swanson and Dennis Bermudez, with a unanimous-decision win over Anthony Birchak at Rizin FF 5. Oliveira, a 27-year-old promotional newcomer, is a veteran of the South American fight circuit, where he holds two regional titles, and has four knockouts in nine career wins.

The latest Rizin FF 7 card includes:

For more on Rizin FF 7, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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Don Frye on courage of fellow legend Kazushi Sakuraba: 'I'm just a child compared to a giant',AAAABvaL8JE~,ufBHq_I6FnxR-PQW_F3sm5QdUbP7D6E9&bctid=5510591811001
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Don Frye knows he had guts back in his fighting days. But still not quite as much as fellow MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba.

Sakuraba, who became known for his willingness to step up against opponents who largely surpassed his 6-foot frame, was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame this year. And Frye, who received the same honors in 2016, was tasked with making his formal introduction during the official ceremony held in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Although Frye (20-9-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) ended up getting way off track handling that particular task, he shared his thoughts on Sakuraba (26-17-1) with MMAjunkie Radio a few hours before.

“He had the biggest heart and courage than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Frye said. “I had a pretty good heart back when I was fighting, but it’s not even the same solar system compared to that guy. I’m just a child compared to a giant when it comes to his perseverance.

“He put books in his pants to be able to weigh in for the UFC fight over there in Japan.”

The event that Frye refers to took place in 1997. In what turned out to be Sakuraba’s only trip to the octagon, he fought Conan Silveira twice in one night. The first, which ended on a botched stoppage, led to a quite literal immediate rematch. Despite a 60-pound disadvantage, Sakuraba settled it with a first-round armbar submission.

Of course, MMA has seen a number of changes in the two decades since. Rules and numerous weight classes have been introduced in order to ensure the physical safety of the fighters, making the David vs. Goliath type of battle a lot more rare – at least in the more mainstream MMA organizations.

But if you ask Frye, who met (and beat) the likes of former sumo wrestler Akebono inside a ring, they should be given credit for more than the sheer size of the opponents they went up against.

“You get these guys, they bitch about somebody being one pound overweight,” Frye said. “Sakuraba and I, we both fought guys who were twice our body weight. And more than that, too. You’re talking real athletes, too.

“You’re not talking just some big fat guy who just got off the couch. That’s an idiotic statement, when anybody says that. You’re talking real freaking athletes who are fighting.”

When it comes to his own career, Frye has a handful of meetings that he believes stand out. There is, of course, the grueling PRIDE 19 battle with Ken Shamrock that left lingering damage on both. There’s the PRIDE 21 demolition of Yoshihiro Takayama in 2002. There are the victorious battles with Amaury Bitetti and Tank Abbot, both in 1996.

But, oddly enough, Frye considers a losing battle his best one.

“I think the best fight was the loss to (Mark) Coleman, at UFC 10,” Frye said. “Because it showed to the world that I’m not just here – I’m (not) good with the win. I came to fight and I’ll stick into the fight. It showed me a lot about myself, too. I was happy.

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia and producer Brian “Goze” Garcia. For more information or to download past episodes, go to

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Source: MMA Junkie

UFC Hall of Famer Kazushi Sakuraba on historic mismatches: 'I just took whatever fight was coming',AAAABvaL8JE~,ufBHq_I6FnxR-PQW_F3sm5QdUbP7D6E9&bctid=5495465451001
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Hailing Kazushi Sakuraba as one of his all-time favorite fighters, UFC President Dana White has lamented never getting a chance to see him perform in a proper weight class under his UFC watch.

Sakuraba (26-17-1) is now 47 and, after a RIZIN FF loss to Shinya Aoki in 2015, doesn’t seem all that likely to make an MMA return. But, who knows? Maybe White can still make that one wrong right.

“It’s not too late,” Sakuraba said after 2017 UFC Hall of Fame induction at International Fight Week in Las Vegas this past week.

The fact that Sakuraba broke into laughter as soon as the interpreter started translating his answer, however, indicates that White might want to save himself the trouble of getting those documents ready.

Sakuraba, of course, did get to fight in the UFC. In fact, he did so twice. In the same night. Both against Marcus “Conan” Silveira – the first ending with a bad stoppage that led to a rematch as immediate as they come. But that was in 1997, before Zuffa had taken over and details such as weight divisions became standard promotional practice.

Not that Sakuraba was one to care about these technicalities. In fact, the Japanese legend became known as exactly the type of fighter who was never about to let a few dozen pounds get in the way of a matchup. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Ricardo Arona, Kevin Randleman and, of course, Silveira himself serve as evidence.

Now, in a much more regulated era of mainstream MMA, what may have looked like thrilling David vs. Goliath battles look more like egregious mismatches. But, looking back on it, Sakuraba said the idea of turning down an opponent simply wasn’t there.

“Offers would come,” Sakuraba said. “And I didn’t feel, personally, that I had the choice to run away from this fight or that fight. So I just took whatever fight was coming.”

While he’s, for all effects, retired from MMA, Sakuraba said he is still active as a pro wrestler. Asked whether he believes MMA could exist the way it does today – with the entertainment element so present – without the foundation laid out by pro wrestling, Sakuraba candidly answered he wasn’t sure.

But he does think that the magic lies somewhere in the intersection.

“Pro wrestling is about showing the fans an exciting fight, giving them something to cheer about,” Sakuraba said. “And MMA is basically about winning. It’s when those two are combined that you really get an exciting sport.”

To hear from Sakuraba, check out the video above.

And for more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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Source: MMA Junkie

A look at 2017 UFC Hall of Fame inductees Maurice Smith, Kazushi Sakuraba, Joe Silva, Urijah Faber

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The UFC Hall of Fame officially has four new members.

The industry leader added Maurice Smith, Kazushi Sakuraba, Joe Silva and Urijah Faber and as its 2017 induction class during a ceremony on Thursday at Park Theater in Las Vegas.

The ceremony, hosted by UFC commentator Jon Anik, paid tribute to their accomplishments in the sport and served as part of the 2017 UFC International Fight Week.

The promotion announced the new additions earlier this year, but each new hall of famer got an extensive – and often whacky – introduction.

Don Frye, a 2016 inductee who’s back from a rough year of personal and health problems, got a ways off track introducing Sakuraba after spotting Miesha Tate in the audience, noting he’d bought a computer just to make her nude 2013 “ESPN the Magazine Body Issue” cover his screensaver.

“Get your pictures now! I’ll never be invited back here again,” he said.

UFC President Dana White tried to make light of the situation, cracking, “I didn’t know Don worked for FOX News. Miesha came in here and was like, ‘Well, these were great seats, huh?’”

But for the most part, it was a respectful gathering where the new entrants got a chance to take their due. Here’s a rundown of the new UFC Hall of Fame members:

Maurice Smith

Smith, 55, is the 13th fighter to join the Pioneer wing of the UFC Hall of Fame. A former professional kickboxer, he made his octagon debut at UFC 14 and immediately made his mark by defeating Mark Coleman for the heavyweight title. He defended it once, patenting the “sprawl-and-brawl” style that grew to prominence as the sport of MMA flourished. A decision loss to Randy Couture marked the end of his title run, and after a decision loss to Renato Sobral at UFC 28, he was out of the UFC. He formally retired from the sport in 2013 at 51.

Maurice Smith

Right off the bat, Smith (14-14 MMA, 4-3 UFC) corrected his professional record and said biographical information that claimed he was inspired by Bruce Lee was bunk. He first and foremost identified himself as a kickboxer who stumbled into MMA, later forming one of MMA’s first teams in “The Alliance.” He thanked fellow Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock for shaping his career and his opponents for making him a better fighter.

“Without all the people that helped me become who I am, there wouldn’t have been a Maurice Smith,” Smith said. “Without you fans, even though you fans are not my generation, this sport wouldn’t have grown to what it is.

“The UFC, the Fertittas, Dana White, Joe Silva – these guys put in their money and time to get you guys to come support us, to make a career for us to entertain you. It’s not all about me. It’s all of us, in a weird way. I need you to help pay my bills, and you need me to entertain you, and we need each other to make this sport grow. Even though I’m a kickboxer at heart, I became an MMA fighter.”

Kazushi Sakuraba


Sakuraba, 47, is the 14th addition to the Pioneer class. Despite competing in the UFC on only two occasions, twice fighting Marcus “Conan” Silveira after a bad stoppage, he’s one of the most recognizable fighters in the sport’s history.

An icon in Japanese MMA, he was the first homegrown star in the now-defunct PRIDE FC organization, where he was dubbed “The Gracie Killer” for a series of triumphant wins over MMA’s first family. A 90-minute showdown with Royce Gracie remains one of his most iconic performances.

Kazushi Sakuraba

True to form, Sakuraba (26-17-1), who retired in 2015 after a loss to Shinya Aoki under the DREAM banner, walked to the UFC Hall of Fame podium in a mask and kimono.

“I can’t express how deeply moved I am to receive this honor,” he said. “Up to this point, I’ve lived a life without awards and titles. It’s been a little while since I won something, and it was the first prize in a bingo game.”

On his post-fight life, Sakuraba said he continues to pass on new techniques to the next generation of fighters. But he isn’t much for taking long trips across the globe to pick up awards.

Rather than see the sights of Las Vegas, he said, “I have a very important appointment downtown at a gentlemen’s club with Don Frye.”

Joe Silva

Silva, 51, is the fourth person to join the Contributors wing as the promotion’s long-running – and now-retired – matchmaker. Originally a consultant who had ideas on how to make the show better, he joined the UFC full time in the late 1990s, when the promotion was owned by Sephamore Entertainment Group. He booked more than 3,000 fights over 340 events around the globe. Less than one year after the promotion was sold to WME-IMG, he retired following UFC Fight Night 107 in March.

Silva said he still watches all the fights and texts UFC executives, adding he’s glad he’s not there to have to deal with it after 16 years on the job.

Joe Silva

So what’s he up to in retirement? Movies, music and martial arts – all the passions that drove him before he took the job.

“I know that (current UFC matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard) will continue to make great fights in the years to come,” Silva said. “People ask me if I miss all the excitement, and really I don’t. Urijah Faber texted me and asked me how retirement is going. I told him it’s been four months, and I haven’t had a bad day yet.”

On Faber’s inclusion into the UFC Hall of Fame, he quipped, “I guess they relaxed their height standards.”

Urijah Faber


The third addition to the Modern Era wing of the UFC Hall of Fame, 38-year-old Faber got his start at events held on Native American reservations. As a smaller fighter, he struggled to find opportunities until UFC parent Zuffa purchased the WEC, where he was a longtime featherweight champion. He became the promotion’s first face and defended his belt five times until Mike Brown dethroned him.

Faber (34-10 MMA, 10-6 UFC) never again got his hands on gold, but he remained one of the sport’s biggest stars when the WEC folded into the UFC. He fought for a title four times in the octagon, most recently falling short to now ex-champ and rival Dominick Cruz. He retired this past December after a decision win over Brad Pickett in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., where he founded Team Alpha Male.

Urijah Faber

After an intro from his longtime teammates Joseph Benavidez and Cody Garbrandt, who showed off his bantamweight title as proof of an enduring legacy, Faber riffed on his auspicious start in the sport.

“I was the era of the hustler,” he said.

A $460 paycheck was the first big score that set Faber on the path to becoming a full-time fighter. Later, he snuck into a fight by impersonating a reporter to meet Dana White. Years later, he flew with White on the UFC’s private jet.

Now, Faber said his main focus is achieving the kind of success White has enjoyed. Although he could continue to fight, he feels his next contribution is centered around business and entertainment.

“Maybe I’ll get that itch again, but the honest truth is that I exhausted some title shots,” he said. “You may or may not have noticed that.”

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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