The Mahou Blog

November 10, 2006

Meltzer on Yoshida

Filed under: Uncategorized — mahou @ 4:18 pm


A somewhat rational look at Hidehiko Yoshida
by Dave Meltzer

Reprinted from the 9/25 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter

With the finals of the Pride middleweight Grand Prix coming on 11/9
at the Tokyo Dome, there are three established fighters and one question mark
left. The question mark is former Olympic judo gold medalist Hidehiko
Yoshida, who takes on Vanderlei Silva.

Silva takes a nearly incredible 43-month unbeaten streak into the finals, along
with win after win over Japanese competitors since being made into a superstar
in Japan with his first win over Kazushi Sakuraba on March 25, 2001.
But while Silva, Chuck Liddell and Quinton Jackson all combine
great striking ability with wrestling ability and have proven themselves against
the top competition in the world, Yoshida is a different animal.
There are two different versions of Yoshida, the Japanese and the
American. The Japanese version has Yoshida as a submission expert, one of the
best judokas of modern times, anywhere in the world, using that skill to stop
some of MMA’s biggest names, like Royce Gracie, Don Frye, Masaaki Satake
(while not a good MMA fighter, he is very well known in Japan from the glory
days of K-1 and even in the early 90s as a karate star) and Kiyoshi Tamura.
In the U.S., while not universal, there is a common theme among
many people. He’s a fake. A cheater. Someone who has never won a real
match. A creation of Pride, which needs a Japanese top star because Sakuraba
has taken too many beatings. The arguments are that three of his wins came over
people who have done pro wrestling (Frye, Satake and Tamura). While the
Gracie win is often misrepresented as a work and a cheat, it was controversial
nonetheless. If you want to pick things apart and look hard enough, you can
convince yourself of work in any situation. There are people who will even try
to convince you that last year’s Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama match, because it
involved two pro wrestlers, must have been a work, even though it was among
the most brutal matches in history with both suffering serious physical damage.
They said the same about Frye vs. Shamrock, despite Shamrock’s face looking
like hamburger meat and Frye’s legs destroyed from submissions, even though
clearly Frye hasn’t been the same fighter since. And as we will show, this isn’t
the first Japanese fighter this has been said about.
Yoshida, 33, came to MMA after winning the gold medal in judo at
172 pounds in the 1992 Olympics. The gold medal only tells part of the story.
Yoshida won all six matches via ippon, fighting just 16:21 total in what was regarded as an incredible performance at the time. More impressive was that in 1992, when he competed at 172, he once faced Naoya Ogawa, who ended up winning the silver at 286 pounds in the same Olympics.
Giving up more than 100 pounds, he defeated Ogawa. In 1996 in Atlanta,
moving up to 190 pounds, he placed fifth, competing with a bad knee. However,
the idea that this guy is some judo guy who peaked more than a decade ago
wouldn’t be fair, since he was world champion in 1999 and a gold medal favorite
in 2000. He ended up suffering a broken arm in the Olympics that year and was
unable to continue in the tournament. With the next Olympics not until 2004,
he retired from judo, and quickly was offered a $250,000 signing bonus by
Pride, looking for a national sports hero to add to its stable.
Yoshida’s debut match was on August 28, 2002. It was actually the
semifinal, higher on the card than either Don Frye vs. Jerome LeBanner in
kickboxing, or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp (in fairness it should be
noted that the Sapp phenomenon stemmed from this match and hadn’t hit yet,
although he was starting to garner a good deal of popularity already), on
Dynamite show at National Stadium in Tokyo, the MMA version of
Wrestlemania III, the biggest live attendance in history.
His opponent was MMA’s original legend, Royce Gracie. Gracie was
35, and hadn’t had a high profile match in more than seven years. It was a
limited striking match. Body blows were legal, but head blows weren’t, and
there could be no striking on the ground. The match would have a 20:00 time
limit, and there would be no judges, so a time limit match would be a draw. The
most controversial rule, insisted upon by the Gracies, was the referee didn’t have
the power to stop the match. The Gracies were still upset at the ref stoppage
when Sakuraba beat Royce’s little brother Royler in 1999 in the match that
really made the Pride promotion.
As history shows, the match was stopped in 7:24 and awarded to Yoshida. It either got Yoshida off to a great career start, or a bad one. Great in Japan because he established himself with a win over a legend, albeit one whose time had certainly passed. Bad, because the choke was not fully locked in, and the stoppage was premature, and quite frankly, not
allowed in the agreed upon rules. Pride officials in the U.S. informed us after the
fight that the result should be labeled a no contest, and that a rematch would
likely take place. Days later, embarrassed, they ruled that the Japanese officials
had decided it was a win for Yoshida. And there was no rematch.
People who don’t know the difference between works and shoots,
tried to label it a work. A work is a cooperative effort by two fighters, and this
was anything but that. Was it a bad call? Yes. Was it a bad call because the ref
was protecting Yoshida? No. While Gracie was on the bottom, holding guard
for the first several minutes, in the last minute, Yoshida overpowered him and
had him pinned to the mat and it looked like Gracie was going nowhere. The big
question, that we will never know, is whether Gracie would have ever gotten up
from that position without eventually being choked out. From the looks of
things, he was pinned and barely defending against a far stronger guy. My own
feeling was that Yoshida had the match won, but just not yet. Was the ref,
from his call, protecting Gracie from being choked unconscious, figuring Gracie
wouldn’t tap (which is very likely), or was he protecting Pride’s investment, and
ready to call the match the first time something came close? Only he knows the answer. That is absolutely possible. Refs give breaks to stars, and I’ve seen drawing cards in boxing get beneficial calls for as long as I’ve been a fan. But this was not a work, and Yoshida does not deserve any blame for the controversial finish. The only real argument is that Yoshida should not have accepted the win, but there is little doubt in that position, he fully believed the match was his, and would have been only a matter of seconds. And it’s unfair to blame him for not doing so, because can anyone come up with one instance
in UFC or Pride where a finish may have been called a little early and the winner
then refused to accept the win? There isn’t one, which is why the controversy toward Yoshida for accepting the win is crap.
Controversy No. 2 came on November 24, 2002, at the Tokyo Dome.
Yoshida was expected to be destroyed by another legend of fighting, Don Frye.
A pure judo guy going against someone who had only lost once and was the
second most popular foreign fighter of the modern era. The result of this was
Yoshida winning in 5:32 with an armbar in a relatively one-sided match. Once
again, the referee stopped it, but this was not the slightest bit controversial. Frye
didn’t tap, but instead got his elbow dislocated and ended up needing surgery,
which doesn’t happen from a fake armbar. This was a huge upset at the time,
and things really got out of hand. Pure judo guys had not done all that well at
MMA in the past. The out was, that Frye was a pro wrestler, and that this was
a work. In the U.S., the talk spread like wildfire, without as best as I can tell, any
evidence at all. Frye has joked about flying back home and landing in Los
Angeles, with his arm in a sling, ready for surgery, and being told by fighters that
he heard he just did a worked match. It was actually reminiscent of another
story, which we’ll get to later. The key was, how come Frye, a former pro boxer,
didn’t punch Yoshida out? Watching back the tape, one thing is very obvious.
Frye was taken down and schooled from the opening bell. He threw two weak
jabs to establish a stand-up game, but was then taken down by Yoshida’s judo
skill. There was no opportunity to throw a punch. That’s as silly a comment as
saying how come Tank Abbott didn’t punch out Frank Mir in their recent fight.
On his first fall, part of his body went numb from his neck problems that he
wasn’t aware of, which likely stemmed from the brutality of the Takayama
match. It’s hard to punch someone out when you’re being schooled on the
ground. Later in the fight, Frye did reverse things and was on top. Frye threw
a lot of body blows, none of which were particularly brutal, but he was in a tight
guard, and he did have to respect his foe. The first time he went for a punch to
the head, Yoshida moved and grabbed the armbar, and it was all she wrote.
Frye, when asked about Yoshida, said he was totally outclassed when
it came to skill and said he felt Yoshida and Mark Coleman were the two
greatest athletes ever in MMA. The gi changed the dynamics on the ground and
was a hell of a weapon in his favor. Frye will admit that he took him too lightly
in training. In fact, one of the reasons this was so stunning, was the word going
into the fight was, why would Pride risk their big investment so early against
someone of Frye’s toughness? Frye himself had told friends before the fight he
thought Yoshida was basically being given to him for an easy but high-profile
win, because he was owed a favor after taking the kickboxing match with
LeBanner that he had no chance in, and getting knocked out “for the team” so
to speak. Frye also privately told Pride officials he was willing to give up
$50,000 of his purse to Yoshida get a rematch. Pride officials weren’t willing,
because Yoshida had his win and there was no business point in them letting him
lose to someone he’s beaten. If this was for public consumption, one would say
it’s great posturing. The fact it was never hyped strongly to the public (although
it was reported here) seems to indicate Frye wanted to avenge a real loss, just as
he tried for years to put together with Coleman. The argument that Frye never
punched him that is still being used is stranger, if only because, in his next
match, with Coleman, it took Coleman longer than Yoshida to take Frye down,
and Frye never had a chance to punch Coleman out either. Nobody has, and
rightly so, accused that fight of being a work, even though it was slower moving,
less exciting and less intense.
Upon rewatching the tape, this fight looked nothing like Frye’s
numerous worked matches in New Japan rings. Frye’s style in New Japan was
to do matches that looked real, with nothing involved that wasn’t legitimate.
While they did look “more real” than a standard Japanese pro wrestling match,
they still didn’t have the intensity of a Pride match. Almost no fighters in the
world can masquerade one thing. It’s the intensity and probably the fear that you
get in a shoot match (although Sakuraba vs. Hiromitsu Kanehara and Kiyoshi
Tamura vs. Tsuyoshi Kosaka have come very close). When you are working,
there are moments, because you know you aren’t in danger, that you relax. You
can probably make it look real for a minute or two, if you are excellent at it, but
even the best can’t do so for much longer. The match had no holes, and when
they were on the ground gripping, there was full intensity on both sides. There
was no relaxation and letting up. Frye’s surgeries after the match were real.
While you can get hurt in a worked match, I’ve never heard of somebody getting
a dislocated elbow and ripped out shoulders from a worked armbar, and there
have been thousands of them done in pro wrestling. There is still the argument
that he could have gone into the fight injured, so his real injuries did not come
from the fight. Frye went into a fight with Gilbert Yvel two weeks after tearing
his quad.
Fight No. 3 came on December 31, 2002, against Satake. This was
the semifinal to the Sapp vs. Takayama match. This lasted :50, with Yoshida
winning with a guillotine choke. Satake walked right into it. Anything can
happen in a fight, but did this look fishy? Absolutely. Again, with a trained
kickboxer, nobody punched Yoshida in the face. Still, even in a shoot match,
Satake, as a kickboxer and karate guy, was only dangerous until he was
controlled and would have been a heavy underdog. It was also Satake’s
retirement fight. A few days later, just hours before he killed himself, Pride
president Naoto Morishita ripped on Yoshida after the fight. He said that
Yoshida didn’t understand the idea of being a professional fighter, saying that
as a professional, you have to entertain the fans, who paid big money for tickets
and deserved a longer match. Some have said the comments had nothing to do
with a worked match, but that since everyone knew Yoshida could win at almost
any time, he should have been professional enough to carry it for several
minutes. But it is very easy to take it as meaning Yoshida was given a win, but
ended it far faster than they would have liked.
While some would say that the former scenario sounds fake, and by
the strictest definition of the word it probably is, that is not all that unusual in
fights. In the early days of Pancrase, both Ken Shamrock and Masakatsu
Funaki, in non-worked matches, did carry opponents for several minutes. While
there is no proof of this, I’ve always been under the assumption the Igor
Vovchanchyn vs. Nobuhiko Takada match in Pride fell under something similar.
Everyone knew Vovchanchyn, at his prime, could take Takada out almost at will,
so they did an entertaining first round, and then in the second, Vovchanchyn
brutalized Takada for the win. Muhammad Ali frequently did that in his boxing
matches when he faced someone he had no fear of, with Chuck Wepner being a well known example. At times, he did this to give paying customers a show. He is not the only top boxer to do such a thing. At times he did this for other reasons. People look back in the record book and praise Chuck Wepner for going 15 with Ali, not realizing that Ali was so mad at Wepner for both things he’d said and for his dirty tactics, that he refused to
knock him out and kept letting up, so he could punish him until the 15th round.
When Tamura was announced as Yoshida’s first round opponent for the Grand Prix on 8/10, bells and whistles went off immediately. They were feeding Yoshida another tomato can, and screwing Renzo or Ryan Gracie, so-called better fighter who wouldn’t take a dive for Yoshida, out of the tournament by bringing in this pro wrestler, who would have, of all things, sold a lot of tickets to the show and helped the TV ratings and PPV. It was totally unfair. Of course, Tamura actually had beaten Renzo in the past, and beaten far tougher
opponents then Ryan ever had, and would have to be considered a better fighter
than either. His w/l record didn’t look as good, but that’s because his entire
career was based on fighting much bigger guys. The story was, weeks before
the fight, that Tamura would never hit Yoshida, that Yoshida would get this fake
win, get injured, and drop out of the tournament, never having to face Silva or
one of the others.
Of course, this made no business sense. What would be the point of
having a Grand Prix at the Tokyo Dome without a Japanese fighter in the final
four? But few MMA fans understand the first thing about business. In the
television special that drew the 16.0 rating, it was entirely based on two fights,
Silva vs. Sakuraba and Yoshida vs. Tamura. The hardcore fight fans cared about
the rest of the show. The casual TV fan in Japan did not.
As it turned out, Tamura not only punched Yoshida in the face, but
did so repeatedly. He nearly knocked him out in the first minute. He kicked the
hell out of his legs, including Yoshida’s bad left knee. And he was wearing
wrestling shoes, allowing him to kick harder than his bare feet. His kicks were
harder and faster than anyone in the tournament. After watching that fight again,
and watching Tamura’s last three fights in his own U Style promotion, which
does worked shoot pro wrestling, it is so ridiculously different. Tamura throws
kicks in U Style, but is clearly taking something off every kick, even the ones
leading to knockdowns. Again, even though Tamura may be the best wrestler
in history at making a worked match look real, there was no doubt, in seconds,
after watching U Style, that his matches there were worked. And all of his U
Style matches have been against others with far more experience than Yoshida
in doing realistic looking works. I know of fighting experts who expected the
Tamura-Yoshida fight to be a work, and had to admit, it looked far too real, at
least until the finish, which was the only thing suspicious. The funny part of this
is the same people who claimed work, also claimed this proved Yoshida had no
stand-up defense. If it was a work, it proved nothing about stand-up defense
because he would have been selling. I think it did prove he had no stand-up
defense, because Tamura’s intensity level and lack of relaxation were different
from even his most classic worked shoot matches against Kosaka. Yoshida
finally clinched, and attempted a judo throw. Tamura blocked it, so it looked
bad, but ended up on his back anyway. When Yoshida finally got Tamura down,
he got the gi sleeve choke on immediately. Tamura did nothing to defend it and
made no attempt to get out, and tapped immediately. That is a carotid artery
choke, which means it takes several seconds to work. Tamura had no history of
tapping fast in previous fights. This only proved to make arguments even
stronger when it comes to Yoshida. Those who believe his match with Frye was
real, point to the fact he did get nailed in the head in the Tamura fight with hard
punches. Those who believe it wasn’t point to the fact he did get nailed as to say
Frye didn’t do it and Frye is a better striker than Tamura, which actually makes
no sense because Frye never had the opportunity. Those who believe he’s been
a work from the start say this made four fights that were all controversial.
Yoshida then went down after the win, holding his knee. He said that it locked.
Did he put on a performance? I don’t know. I do know that in many legitimate
sports competitions, athletes exaggerate legitimate injuries, and sometimes make
up fake ones.
But the injury was legit, which also doesn’t mean he didn’t exaggerate by collapsing afterwards. Photos showed the knee all purple, and there is a rule of thumb that you don’t kick a guy’s bad knee in a worked match to that level. There was significant blood drained from his knee after the match.
The only time I can recall in a worked match seeing the knee discolored to
anywhere close to this level was Andre the Giant, against Akira Maeda in 1986.
By that time, the two were as close to shooting as probably was in almost any
major worked pro wrestling match of the 80s. Still, it was eerie that the
predictions half came true. Well, Tamura did punch to the face, and did kick the
hell out of him, which those who had it figured ahead of time said would never
happen. Of course, the charge that he really wasn’t kicking hard, which was said
by those trying to cry work afterwards, was laughable. Also, if the idea was to
make Yoshida looked great, Tamura, who is not just a pro wrestler but one of the
best workers ever, would have failed. Even the last throw didn’t look good,
which those who cried work claimed was proof, when in actuality, it was far
more evidence, but not proof, of it being legit. We have to assume that if it was
a work, Tamura, who has no history for being unprofessional, and who
legitimately knocked out his teacher in his last real fight, all of a sudden turned
into the most unprofessional asshole, making his foe look as bad as could be,
blocked his set up for the finisher, and just laid down for him at the end.
But, Yoshida did win, and did pull up lame. Of course, have Japanese pro wrestlers taken ungodly real punishment to get over the legitimacy of a worked match. Holy Takayama, remember the Misawa match, or Mick Foley vs. Vader in WCW? Of course they have. But Yoshida is still a competing athlete whose knee is his weak point. The idea of him agreeing to that is insane. Of course, insanity is not that unusual if you follow this business
for any length of time.
Taking that argument one step farther. If he withdraws from the tournament due to a knee injury, and it was a work, he would have to allow Tamura to kick the hell out of his knee. Even stranger, after first announcing an injury that would keep him from training until October, word came that not only is his knee fine and he’s back in training, and he’s just started doing road work. All the stories about him faking an injury and dropping out, at least at this point, have been blown to bits. What would kill the theory is if he fights and he stated this past week he is fine and ready to go. If that knee injury was a work that was going to cause him to pull out, he’d neither be training nor running, because now
they’d have to come up with a training injury. Also, if Pride were to have arranged it, Tamura was more popular than Yoshida, and while he may not have the mainstream sports name among the prime audience that watches this stuff,
due to pro wrestling, he is the bigger name of the two. The idea that Pride would
want Tamura to expose Yoshida in a work and then lose, makes no sense. But
again, making no sense is certainly no evidence something isn’t a work, as any
study of wrestling booking shows.
If Yoshida does pull out, those who predicted it would seem to have one hell of an argument.
Bas Rutten, when asked about Yoshida, said he doesn’t think he’s the
slightest bit overrated. But like almost everyone, he also expects Silva to knock
him out, but said that Silva has to change his usual game plan. The Silva Chute
Box training is to grapple using upper body power and a leg trip. That is the one
position against Yoshida that would play right into his strengths. Silva needs to
be patient on the outside and use his striking skill, as his usual balls out aggressive style would probably allow a clinch, and once in that position, the advantage switches to Yoshida.
But what is most interesting about this is the similarity with a period not all that many years ago, with the current most beloved of all fighters, Sakuraba.
Sakuraba was an undercard pro wrestler who worked in the old UWFI
group starting in 1994 after being a very good college wrestler. He worked
prelim matches in New Japan in 1995-96 during the New Japan vs. UWFI feud.
He moved on to the Kingdom promotion, where he had a match with Hiromitsu
Kanehara that was so brutal it would fool almost anyone.
He was Takada’s top student. On December 21, 1997, he did his first
high-profile MMA match. It was on a UFC PPV show called “Ultimate Japan.”
He was in a four-man heavyweight tournament. There were no weigh-ins.
Sakuraba weighed about 180, but he was billed at 201 pounds so he could be a
heavyweight. UFC wasn’t run very sport like in those days, and in Japan, it was
even more of a mess. In the first round, he faced 243-pound Brazilian
powerhouse and later alleged ecstacy dealer, Marcus “Conan” Silveira. Silveira
had only one loss in his career up to that point. Early in the fight, as Sakuraba
was going for a takedown, Silveira punched him. Ref John McCarthy, erring on
the side of caution, stopped the fight. Sakuraba was furious. It turned into a
major scene. The punch didn’t even stop Sakuraba, who was still going forward
with the shot when it was called. As it turned out, in the other half of the
bracket, Tank Abbott beat Yoji Anjo, but busted his hand in the process.
Sakuraba vs. Silveira were brought out in the only rematch later in the same
night in UFC history, for the tournament championship. Sakuraba armbarred
Silveira in 3:45 to win. Immediately, the cry was work, and I was one of the first
to believe it. How could this fake pro wrestler outmaneuver a BJJ superstar who
had him by more than 60 pounds? And why didn’t Silveira punch him out like
he tried the first time. Well, there was no evidence of a work other than we knew
little Sakuraba couldn’t possibly submit this more skilled and much larger guy.
Years later, some truths have come out. Silveira wasn’t that good. And
Sakuraba was.
Sakuraba came to California to train a little later. At the gyms, the word was this guy was nothing short of amazing. He could tap everyone out.
Still, he wasn’t physically impressive, and he was, after all, a pro wrestler.
On March 15, 1998, Sakuraba beat Vernon White of Lion’s Den via submission in 26:53. White was not considered a big name, and this wasn’t all that big a deal at the time because it was just a prelim match among pro wrestling shoot guys who were not considered top stars. On June 24, 1998, Sakuraba tapped out Carlos Newton in 15:19. Newton was a legitimate UFC star and considered a top contender for Frank Shamrock at the time. The match was tremendous, but was almost all both guys going for submissions. In hindsight, the irony is that today this is considered a classic. At the time, I remember
hearing how wasn’t it strange that Newton never threw any punches, and that
Sakuraba was Takada’s protege. Most of the time when stuff like this happens,
the fighter who lost loves it, but Newton vehemently denied anything was up
afterwards, but at the time people were as suspicious because it was Pride (and
Pride, by having worked matches, particularly at that time, does open itself up
for this kind of speculation). That didn’t stop rumors.
On October 11, 1998, Sakuraba went to a 30:00 draw with Alan Goes, who was 20 pounds heavier and a genuine Vale Tudo star. There were no judges at the time. Goes laid on his back, and Sakuraba wasn’t prepared for that tactic. His running double foot stomp and cartwheel guard pass were created in training after Goes’ stalling left him stymied. Sakuraba was actually, in tears at not being able to do anything in the latter stages of the match). But it was a very weird match. On April 29, 1999 came Sakuraba vs. Vitor Belfort. Again, Sakuraba was giving up at least 20 pounds to perhaps the most feared fighter in the game at the time. When Sakuraba won a one-sided decision, all I heard was
that it had to be fixed. Why? Well, because Belfort is that good. After watching
the fight, it was clear that was the last thing it was. Nobody says that anymore,
because even though Belfort is that good, time has erased any stigma from Sakuraba.
He scored another couple of wins without controversy, and people were accepting that he may, after all, be the real deal. Then came the match that made Pride, on November 21, 1999.
This time, Sakuraba had the edge. He was facing Royler Gracie, who was giving up 40 pounds. In the days before the fight, all kinds of battles took place. The Gracies insisted on no judging. They asked that if Royler could last the 30:00, that he be declared the winner since he was giving up so much weight.
Pride ruled they could have the no judges, but if it went the time limit, no matter
what happened, it would be ruled a draw. Sakuraba’s idea was to pound him
standing. Royler’s idea was to lay on his back so Sakuraba couldn’t have a
chance to do that. Sakuraba kicked Royler’s legs to death but the Gracies,
having never lost under these rules in decades supposedly, weren’t going to
throw in the towel. Finally, Sakuraba got a submission shoulder lock on as time
was running out. The ref stopped the match at just under 29:00. This stoppage
was every bit as controversial as Yoshida vs. Royce. Actually more, because it
is conceivable Royler could have held on for a minute, whereas Royce had to
escape and had to go another 12:00.
In fact, it was almost exactly the same. Royler looked trapped and the
ref called for the bell, but at the moment the bell was called, he didn’t appear to
be in danger. But he also didn’t appear to be getting out. The stoppage made
Sakuraba a national hero, because it was the first time a Gracie had lost clean,
but the Gracies cried robbery. Sakuraba’s next fight was no less controversial,
on January 30, 2000, at the Tokyo Dome against Guy Mezger. Again giving up
size, they went 15:00 to the time limit in a very close fight. A draw was the fair
decision (Mezger may have had a very slight edge, but it was close enough that
it could have gone either way) and it would be decided in overtime. Unknown
to fans, Pride had made a deal with Mezger. Because Mezger had taken the fight
late, and his cardio wasn’t up to par, he said he could only go 15:00. Even in a
close fight, the judges would then decide and that would be it. When they said
draw, Ken Shamrock, Mezger’s coach, felt double-crossed, and walked out.
Mezger then forfeited the match, Sakuraba advanced in the tournament. On May
1, 2000, at the Tokyo Dome, Sakuraba faced Royce Gracie, beating him when
the towel was thrown in at 90:00 of a no time limit match. With that win, every
previous controversy involving Sakuraba was forgotten.
And in hindsight, all the accusations of fixed fights were unfounded.
There were controversial politics in the Mezger fight, and there was a premature
controversial stoppage in the Royler Gracie fight. The irony of Sakuraba’s first
several fights and Yoshida’s is almost amazing in hindsight. Sakuraba was
thought a fake because he beat guys like Silveira, Newton and Belfort, who
people knew were the real deal, and it took a long time before people accepted
Sakuraba was actually more of the real deal than they were. Yoshida’s fight with
Royce was similar to Sakuraba’s with Royler, except Yoshida got Royce in the
position far quicker. His fight with Frye was really almost the same as
Sakuraba’s with Belfort. Quite frankly, Sakuraba’s July 29, 2001, win over
Quinton Jackson in many ways, from being pounded on and coming from behind
with a submission out of nowhere, wasn’t all that much different than Yoshida’s
win over Tamura. And I expect Yoshida’s first loss to Silva won’t be all that
much different than Sakuraba’s matches with Silva. Yet, if Silva wins, people
will jump on that as proof he was fake all along. Fortunately for Sakuraba, he
answered his questions, had far more charisma, and became the biggest star in
the game, before he ran into Silva.
None of this proves or disproves anything about Yoshida. But what
it does show is that if you look hard enough, you can find controversy with
anything. In fact, with all the talk in this direction, Rutten noted that if you
decide in advance that any fight is a work, you will find something in the fight
to convince you that is the case. And that looking back with Sakuraba, all of the
suspicion, at least when it came to worked matches at least in Pride, ended up
being totally without merit.


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