An accomplished college wrestler trained in the "stiff" style of Japanese pro wrestling, which had more application in fighting than its American counterpart; defeated Royler Gracie by controversial referee stoppage at Pride 8, shortly after Royce Gracie had signed to compete in the tournament.
An explosive and imposing 1992 Olympic alternate who earned two UFC tournament titles and their heavyweight championship before suffering losses to Maurice Smith, Pedro Rizzo and Pete Williams; signed with Pride in 1999.
A Division I wrestling champion out of Syracuse University who entered the Grand Prix with an 11-0 record.
Jiu-jitsu's representative for the first five UFC events; had signed a two-year non-compete clause upon leaving the promotion in 1995.
An unimposing but determined grappler with an indelible will; appeared in all of the first seven Pride events
A student of famous pro wrestler Antonio Inoki who narrowly missed a place on the Japanese Olympic team; entered the Grand Prix with four years of exposure in the New Japan Pro Wrestling circuit.
A former arm-wrestling champion who made his UFC debut with an infamous elbow-piston assault on Paul Herrera; had previously lost to tournament entrants Mark Coleman and Igor Vovchanchyn.
A former Shooto heavyweight champion who made his debut in Pride 5 in a no-strikes-allowed bout due to an injury; famously candid about his ties to Japan's organized crime families.
A kickboxer who joined Ken Shamrock's Lion's Den facility in the 1990s; made his MMA debut at UFC 4 in 1994 and went on to become a King of Pancrase, an event using open-handed strikes that originated a month before 1993's UFC 1. He lost to Akira Shoji in his Pride debut in 1999.
An American journalist who covered crime for the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper (which boasts of more than 14 million readers daily), Adelstein is the only gaijin (foreigner) to be admitted access to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police press corps.
A talent agent who represented Ken Shamrock and helped negotiate Pride's U.S. distribution on satellite pay-per-view.
Joined the Gracie Academy in 1995 to handle business affairs.
The first in the jiu-jitsu family to migrate to the United States in the 1970s, Gracie taught students in his garage and later popularized a $100,000 winner-take-all challenge. Along with Art Davie, he formed WOW Promotions and created the UFC in 1993.
An athletic Judo-boxer hybrid, Johnston gained UFC experience before moving to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
A Midwest fighter/trainer with a 5-0 UFC record and their lightweight title at the time of the Grand Prix.
A former King of Pancrase who picked up the UFC's heavyweight title before retiring in 2000 due to injuries.
A fight promoter (Hook 'N Shoot out of Indiana) who chronicled early mixed martial arts via a series of video magazines.
A filmmaker who teamed with Jon Greenhalgh to chronicle the career of Greenhalgh's college friend Mark Kerr.
An actor, martial artist and play-by-play commentator.
A Gracie student who later opened his own school, 6 Levels, in Orlando. Currently trains Shaquille O'Neal.
A fighter/trainer who joined Pride beginning with the Grand Prix as a judge and ring official. Defeated Pat Miletich in a 1997 Extreme Fighting event.
Monday is an odd day for a major sporting event, but it happened to be a Japanese national holiday. "Tonight," the event program announced, "the strongest man in the world shows up!"
Because of a lackluster first round and the absence of Takada -- who had intended to face Ken Shamrock in Shamrock's comeback bout before suffering an injury -- 38,429 people entered the Tokyo Dome to see the resolution, a sharp decline in attendance. A Toyota logo decorated the ring center; American audiences would see a condensed version weeks later on DirecTV for $19.95.
In the opening bout, Vovchanchyn knocked out Goodridge without issue -- save for Goodridge lacerating his scrotum on the edge of a fractured athletic cup; while it held main event status, the fight between Sakuraba and Gracie was scheduled second on the card because of the tournament format. Musician Eric Clapton was on hand to deliver flowers to the fighters; Sakuraba entered wearing the mask of a famous pro wrestler, accompanied by two doppelgangers;
when he revealed himself, his hair was dyed bright orange.
Rorion Gracie: For me, it takes away from the seriousness of the event.
Royce Gracie: Everyone has a different way to concentrate and settle themselves down. If it calms you down coming to the catwalk rapping, hey, go for it. Knock yourself out. I don't care.
Sakuraba: The first round, Royce stuck to my back like an octopus tentacle. I moved the fight to my corner. My head is outside the ropes. This isn't my move to run away from him, it's to counterbalance the pressure of him hanging on me.
Quadros: Sakuraba, in the first round, he let Royce take his back standing up. His head is through the ropes and out of the ring right in Royce's corner. His face is maybe literally three feet away from Royce's cornermen. And he's sitting there with a look on his face like he's at the park feeding the birds or something.
Sakuraba: At one point, I wasn't doing anything special, but the crowd burst out in cheers and laughs. I didn't know but they had a closeup of me smiling. Off to the side, my friend Ueda was operating the camera. When I recognized Ueda, I looked at him and sort of greeted him, and this went from his camera to the big screen.
Rorion Gracie: The issue for me is that Sakuraba was holding onto the ropes. That's the kind of stuff I would hope the referee would prevent
Burke: The referee doesn't open his mouth. There's a scenario where Royce is going for something and his elbow touches the rope and the referee slaps him and gives him a warning.
Sakuraba: I had a kneebar locked up on him. I know I must've thought, if only for a split second, "I've got it." I could see a sense of urgency on Royce's face. Then Royce's foot [kicks me] in my butt.
Royce Gracie: I pulled it out right away. He was hanging on and it looked like he had it, so the crowd was like, "Wow." It was a show for the judges, except there weren't any judges. Heh, heh, heh.
With one competitive round over, Gracie's chances against a contemporary fighter didn't look as dour as his critics had figured. But as the fight continued, it became more apparent that Sakuraba was using Gracie's pressure-cooker strategy against him.
Sakuraba: We had two-minute breaks. I was quite tired from just one round, but with two minutes, I could recover fairly well.
Rorion Gracie: Sakuraba was more prepared than Royce expected, No. 1. He played defense for a long time. For him, going on a long run was the right thing to do. It was a smart strategy -- not trying to beat Royce, but trying to stay alive.
Royce Gracie: After the third, I remember sitting down and saying, "Son of a gun, this guy has endurance." Forget about the next fight, we're gonna finish this one. Let's see who can go further.
Burke: I think Sakuraba's game plan was to frustrate and annoy Royce, get under his skin, take it longer. Royce started getting frustrated. Then he started to inflict some damage on Royce and used Royce's Gi well against him.
Sakuraba: The Gi isn't that great a thing. It also helps me with its ability to stop things from slipping. And I can get better control of him by grabbing it. I figured I could blind him with it and start hitting him. According to the rules, as long as I don't take it off and choke him with it, it's OK.
Quadros: Sakuraba, to me, is akin to Buster Keaton or Benny Hill or some of the other great physical comedians in that he can do things in a fight that are really, really entertaining.
Sakuraba: I hit Royce's leg with really good low kicks in the third. It made him come in, but it was in a kind of desperate anger, so the timing was really easy to read. I think his knee started to accumulate damage from around then.
Royce Gracie: I always told everybody, I'm not punch proof. One punch can knock me out. I never said I was Superman. I never put that kind of pressure on me. If other people look at me that way, it's not my problem.
Sakuraba: The fifth round, Royce beckoned me to the ground; I say why not, as he's tired. It's my first time feeling him on the ground. He has long shins. He wraps around my back and easily closes his legs. It's a pain to fight someone with such long legs; making a strategy is next to impossible.
Quadros: At the time, [in the year] 2000, they weren't using digital. They were using film. The photographer,
Susumu Nagao, had a situation where he ran out of film halfway through the fight. He had to send some guy to the store to get more film to bring back to him.
Sakuraba: I heard people on the Internet saying that I tapped. Royce whispered in my ear, "Sorry" because his knee hit my cup. I tapped his butt while saying "OK, OK" to accept his apology. I wasn't giving up.
Burke: He tapped. He got caught in a guillotine early. He tapped. It was clear. Sakuraba kept fighting. If you rewatch the fight, he tapped to a guillotine. Bottom line.
Royce Gracie: I don't remember kneeing him in the groin. I did not see him tap. I didn't feel him tap. I can't say he tapped. I never said he did.
Sakuraba: Maybe because he's feeling pain in his leg, he appears to be disliking the standup fighting. He butt-flops. Maybe he can't stand anymore. In my corner, Hidehiko Yoshida is yelling, "Fly! Fly!" So I jumped, as if jumping into a pool, to punch him in the face. Then the bell
rang, ending the sixth round. Then the towel was thrown in.
Rorion Gracie: I made the decision. I talked to the old man [Royce's father, Helio], of course. He thought it was the right thing to do.
Royce Gracie: After the sixth round, I told my father and brother, "I can get up but I can't walk." I had a partial tear on the tendon and a crack on the shin. If they had told me to get up and fight, I would have.Susumu Nagao
Burke: I carried him out of the ring. I have newspapers with the two of us on the cover.
For the first time in modern mixed martial arts, a Gracie had given up -- but only after 90 minutes of fighting. With each round 15 minutes, the two had essentially fought six regulation-period fights in a row.
Quadros: The way the crowd erupted after that -- it was like the crowd had been lulled into this state, and then all of a sudden it woke up and realized, "Hey, Sakuraba won!" I looked around and saw people way, way up in the nosebleed seats standing up holding their fist in the air and going crazy. That was probably the most dramatic ovation I've ever heard in my entire career.
Hume: It was very emotional. When they finally decided to throw the towel in, it was huge for Japan. The Gracies are legends. It was a huge thing for Japan and for Sakuraba to have their equality and legitimacy for what we now call mixed martial artists.
Miletich: More than anything to me, it gave me a lot more respect for Royce. He went out there and fought a guy who was legitimately one of the best, most well-rounded fighters in the world at the time. I remember walking up to him the next morning and shaking his hand and saying, "I just want to let you know that all the fighters, including myself, have a lot of respect for what you did last night."
Sakuraba: Usually after a fight I celebrate with a beer, but with this Grand Prix, I have to fight again because I won. To win the tournament, there are still two more fights. If you think about it, winning is worse than losing.
Annoyed at having his warm-up constantly interrupted by Sakuraba and Gracie's extended fight, Coleman finally entered the ring against Shoji.
Hyams: Shoji, every time he had a fight, he would completely clean out his house, pack the whole thing up, and write out his will because he was prepared to die in there. When you watched the way the guy fought, it wasn't just for show.
Akira Shoji: I knew I might not come back, so I wanted to clean house. I called my friends and loved ones.
Miletich: It did surprise me that Shoji was able to take him down.
Coleman: Stop right there. There was no takedown. He did hit a Judo throw on me. I was stuck up against the ropes and he did have me in a little bit of an awkward position, but it wasn't a takedown. If it was a wrestling match, no points would've been awarded for a takedown. As a wrestler, it was important to me at the time not to give up a takedown because you're going to catch a lot of flak from your wrestling buddies: "You got taken down by Shoji." That's not cool.
Shoji: First of all, I knew I wasn't going to win from strength. For a Japanese to win against an American, strength wasn't going to work. I would need stamina. My idea was to tire him out and hope that would open up some opportunities.
Shoji's plan did not work. Coleman punished Shoji for 15 minutes and advanced.
Coleman: I walked to my corner after the round of that Shoji fight. And because of the Pedro Rizzo fight, where I felt like I had won -- once you lose a decision like that, it really changes your mental attitude big time. I walked to my corner and asked Miletich, "Did I win?"
Shoji: I got hit around the face and it showed because I'm pale and the bruises stand out. There was a problem with the bones in the ear drum. That affected my vision -- sometimes the ceiling would start moving, like in a cartoon. That lasted about two weeks.Susumu Nagao
Coleman: I've got chills going through my body hearing that. It's not a good feeling. I'm a fighter, but I don't like hurting people. That's the first time I've heard this. I don't like hearing it.
The last quarterfinal bout pit Kerr against Fujita.
Johnston: Fujita had no striking and no submission. What he had was being friggin' tough. He didn't have a whole lot of skill, and he'd have to take what Kerr gives and then eventually give it back. But in the beginning, he was probably going to take a beating. He knew that going in.
Rutten: Kerr was eating a lot of candy. His blood pressure was off the charts; it was very bad. He had a big bag of M&Ms and chocolates. He was eating chocolates all the time.
Kerr: My body was telling me I wasn't eating enough calories for how much I was working out. Your body craves quick fuel sources: candy, alcohol, wine. It's a real quick shot of sugar or whatever.
Rutten: I knew Mark didn't train as hard as I wanted him to before this. I knew that there was a chance he would run out of gas. And if he put all of his efforts into somebody and drills him with knees to the face and the guy doesn't even flinch, you're going to get tired, but it's a mental intimidation factor.
Kazuyuki Fujita: The knee to my head hurt me but it pissed me off, too. I think that is one of the reasons I won the fight. He made me mad.
Kerr: I had torn my MCL a few weeks prior and kept injecting Lidocaine during the Sakuraba fight because I didn't know when it was going to end. By the time I came out, I had deadened my senses all the way down to the ankle. I broke his nose -- I felt it pop under my knee -- but I got hypoglycemia.
Hyams: When that guy didn't go down after those [shots], I think that's when the fight was over. Kerr and fighters would always say, the worst thing that can happen in a fight is that you give a guy your hardest shot and he takes it. Then you know you're in for a long one. Knowing he was in for a long one, he didn't have the conditioning or the will to take it.
Rutten: Mark was one of those guys that in training would explode up. I knew he was getting hurt, but you don't know if he would do that again. One thing you don't want to do is throw the towel and have him jump up and say, "What did you do that for?" As long as I see he's OK, I'm not going to throw it.
Hyams: It went beyond that. Suddenly, a moment occurs, you knee a guy as hard as you can in the face -- twice -- and he's not even flinching. Now you're realizing that not only are you going to have to outlast this guy, right after that you're going to have to get into the ring with Coleman. Even if you survive that, your night is not over. I'm not saying he willingly shut down. But subconsciously, his body might have shut down on him.
Fujita: As a kind of strategy, I figured that if I held him off for five minutes, then the match would start to move more at my pace I am not so great a puncher, not so great a kicker, I don't really have anything all that great, but in today's vale tudo, the strongest is the one that can take a beating.
Hyams: He wasn't even really hurt. He was just gassed and covered up and Fujita was mostly giving him body blows.
Rutten: With everything, all the supplements, God knows what he took -- I was never impressed with that. When you gas out, people don't realize that what really gasses are your abs. When your abs gas, they pop out and build up lactic acid. You can't breathe anymore because your abs are pushing your lungs. That's whySusumu Nagao
you see those big, muscular guys get strong and then hit the wall after three minutes.
Kerr: It was my first real loss. The relief didn't come until much later. Within a couple of hours, I went in the shower with my brother sitting next to me and just sat down and let it all out.
Miletich: I liked Kerr because he wrestled with me for a year in high school. He was a couple of years younger than I was. I think he was a sophomore when I was a senior, something like that. He was always a nice kid. I was hoping he and Mark would end up fighting each other in the tournament. Watching him come apart, I didn't enjoy watching that.
Coleman: I'm a competitor. I was glad the fight was a war and those two were beating the crap out of each other. I was looking to win this thing. Just as bad as I felt for him, I felt good for me.
Fujita took a decision after hammering a turtled Kerr, but his knee may have paid the price; relieved that Kerr was no longer a possibility, Coleman prepared for Fujita.
Coleman: In between rounds, I was sitting with Goodridge. We were pretty good friends at the time. I had a pretty damaged knuckle from my first fight. It was all swollen up. I'm sitting here showing it to him and we're talking about it. All of a sudden, the Japanese bosses come in and say, "Well, Fujita might be done. If he's done, you're going to be fighting Goodridge." I was like, oh, s---! Well, my hand feels pretty good, Gary.
Johnston: [Fujita's] knee was so loose. He didn't have pain but it was loose. We were really worried. When he got in there to shoot that double and collapsed -- pro wrestling pays you a lot of money. It wasn't worth it: ACL repair, torn meniscus.
Coleman: There were all kinds of whispers going around. I heard this, I heard that. But I'm not listening to s---. I'm getting ready to go out there and fight Fujita like he'd come out at me like a bull. This knee, that knee -- I'm not going to believe any of it. He got in the ring and he got paid.
Miletich: We weren't sure, but I think the feeling was that he wasn't going to follow through. I think Fujita wanted the second round money. I think Mark was
going to win either way, whether it was Goodridge or Fujita, but Fujita wanted the money.
Fujita: It was bad since I'd been training, a chronic thing. It was really terrible for it to happen during a fight. If Coleman wins, of course I want to properly congratulate him, but I think to myself for it to end like that It's not over.
Johnston: He doesn't usually get mad, but I think he might've gotten a little perturbed by that. The thing about the Japanese is, they always have a smile on their face, but inside they may be thinking, "You assh---."
Fujita managed only one feeble takedown attempt before Johnston threw in the towel. Coleman would have a full gas tank for his final bout; Vovchanchyn would have his hands full with Sakuraba -- incredibly, the fighter had elected to come out after his marathon with Gracie. But barely an hour after he delivered the first loss of Gracie's career, Sakuraba suffered his first defeat in the Pride ring: Vovchanchyn was too much, and Sakuraba refused a second
round. Vovchanchyn and Coleman were the two foreign finalists.
Miletich: The Vovchanchyn-Sakuraba fight helped our confidence quite a bit, knowing Vovchanchyn had just been through that war.
Hyams: I know Coleman going into that final fight was thinking, "I need to force him to quit," and that's not an easy thing to do.Susumu Nagao
Coleman: I knew I didn't want to stand with Vovchanchyn. I knew there weren't any headbutts. I knew it was going to be hard to get him in a position to finish him. This fight could've lasted a freakin' hour. I knew this guy could take it for an hour. Can I give it for an hour? I hoped so, but I wasn't positive.
Hyams: At that point, we're not only covering Kerr but Coleman, too. Now Coleman is out there waiting to fight. Logistically, we're running around. We've got one guy in one place, one guy in another.
Coleman: Ground and pounding him could take three hours because the guy can just take a beating. I hit him with 15 or 16 knees and the guy still stood up and shook it off when it was over. Hyams: I thought it was poetic justice, that Kerr had somehow helped his road to victory.
Coleman: I mean, what's it going to take? Finally, I changed angles with my knee. Until he tapped my belly [in submission], I was thinking, "I don't know what to do."
Coleman had done what most had given him very little chance of pulling off: navigating the most substantial tournament in MMA history. As confetti rained down and he was awarded with an oversized belt and trophy, the emotion was literally too much to contain.Susumu Nagao
Coleman: My first thought was, "I have to get to the fans and give them a hug." For some crazy reason, I guess this was the moment I felt I could jump outside the freakin' ropes. I thought I was Kevin Randleman for a second. When I got mid-air, I made a bad choice. I felt like the way I pulled out of it was pretty athletic. It could've been ugly. Out of embarrassment, I got up pretty quick.
Quadros: Vovchanchyn and Coleman, they weren't getting as much play -- I'm talking about around the lobby, with the journalists and the fans and whatnot. They weren't getting the kind of play the famous fighters were. I don't know if that didn't burn inside of Coleman.
Coleman: I knew I could do it, but until you do it, you don't know. That belt was a mile away until I felt that guy tapping on my stomach.