5 of the bloodiest MMA fights in history

  • Not every MMA fight ends in a bloody mess
  • But every now and again a special moment happens and a war takes place
  • If you like that kind of thing, here are five fights to watch
UFC gloves
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Ricardo Arona vs. Kazushi Sakuraba, PRIDE Critical Countdown 2005

Speaking of the golden age of MMA, PRIDE FC was something special.

The showmanship, the quality of fighters, the tournament style, and the rules, were something out of an action movie. Widely remembered for the now illegal blows, the damage caused in 10-minute first rounds was devastating.

Kazushi Sakuraba was your favorite fighter's favorite fighter. He was special in his own right. Known primarily as a wrestler, that too a Japanese pro wrestler, Sakuraba found ways to compete against the greatest mixed martial artists ever. His grappling was sound, his striking was admirable, but his durability was out of this world. There is something to be said about wrestlers' pain tolerance. Feel free to look up Mick Foley.

Ricardo Arona against Sakuraba is a great example of what MMA used to be. The UFC already had a well-established rule system at the time, but PRIDE was allowing a whole bunch of craziness in their fights. The early years of the UFC forced them to consider a set of rules to help prevent long-term fighter damage. PRIDE, however, elected to learn the hard way.

This fight, which was part of a tournament-style card, shows you everything the UFC eliminated, especially after absorbing PRIDE and their fighters. Soccer kicks were a big one, which were allowed to the head and a downed opponent.

Sakuraba's style and endurance allowed him to sit in certain areas without giving up a dominant position, similar to a young Charles Oliveira. What comes with that style is plenty of damage as you patiently wait for your openings. In this case, it did not go Sakuraba's way.

At one point of the fight, you can see Arona holding Sakuraba in a head choke while sprawled. He then lands some of the most brutal knees you will ever see. This position was popular at the time because of the amount of damage you can cause to a downed opponent. Today, that position is probably one of the safest, given that the offensive fighter would need to transition to throw any strikes or find a better opportunity on the floor.

There is video footage of Sakuraba, after the fight, with his head fully covered all the way from the ring to backstage, as he gets on a stretcher to head to the hospital.

This fight, along with many others from the PRIDE era, is the reason the UFC had to consider the rules in North America so much more. There's a good chance that the UFC wouldn't be as popular, given the potential of long-term damage and focus on athlete safety, in today's professional sports landscape.