Wanderlei Silva has tormented any number of opponents throughout his storied career, none more so than Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba. Their one-sided rivalry began under the Pride Fighting Championships banner with a clash in the Pride 13 “Collision Course” main event on March 25, 2001 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. It was not a pleasant experience for Sakuraba, who entered the ring on a three-fight winning streak and left it with a few less brain cells on which to operate.
The maniacally aggressive Silva swarmed from the start with punches and Sakuraba enjoyed a brief glimmer of hope, as he dropped the Brazilian to a knee with a sneaky right hand. Silva answered with a clinch, pancaked Sakuraba to the canvas and began the bludgeoning. Think Captain Vidal bottle scene from “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Brain-scrambling knees were first on the menu, and Sakuraba was left to crawl around the ring in desperation, as he tried in vain to snatch a leg and stop the beating. He was unsuccessful. Silva pinned him to the mat in a kneeling position, blasted him with knees to the head, neck and back and then finished it with soccer kicks. By the time the referee pulled Silva away from the carnage, a grand total of 98 seconds had elapsed, and a dazed-and-confused Sakuraba was a bloody mess.
Silva and Sakuraba would meet again on two subsequent occasions. Both times, Sakuraba was on the receiving end of pure savagery. He challenged “The Axe Murderer” for the vacant middleweight championship some seven months later -- Sakuraba had submitted Quinton Jackson in the interim -- at Pride 17 and bowed out to a doctor stoppage after the 10-minute first round. Silva and Sakuraba were then paired opposite one another in the opening round of the 2003 Pride middleweight grand prix on Aug. 10, 2003. There, Silva cut down the beloved Japanese icon with a lunging right hook. The blow sent an unconscious Sakuraba bouncing off the canvas and made him permanent fodder for highlight reels across the globe.
Though the miles had begun to pile up on Sakuraba, he recovered enough from the Silva assaults to secure later victories over former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Kevin Randleman, future UFC hall of famer Ken Shamrock and Pancrase co-founder Masakatsu Funaki.
Silva’s three wins over Sakuraba were part of an 18-fight unbeaten streak that saw the Brazilian establish himself as one of the most feared fighters in the history of the sport. He had the Pride middleweight championship on lockdown for more than five years before surrendering it to Dan Henderson and then returning to the UFC for a long-awaited showdown with Chuck Liddell. Silva never again reached the heights he enjoyed in Pride, his destructive reign there perhaps best embodied in his three matchups with Sakuraba.
Six of the eight bouts at Pride 13 concluded with first-round finishes, four of them inside two minutes. None were as memorable or as historically significant as Silva-Sakuraba 1, which took place on this day 15 years ago.