Quintet by Sakuraba — The Proleague of Grappling


Here’s a video that just got uploaded with seemingly little to no fanfare, yet got me incredibly excited. Kazushi Sakuraba, the legendary Japanese MMA fighter, deserves a lot more mainstream attention. He’s now pushing 50, yet can’t stay away from competition. It’s granted that he hasn’t had a fight since the end of 2015, yet he’s nowhere near retired just yet. The man known as “The Gracie Hunter” and “The IQ Wrestler” has now come up with a new submission grappling event unlike any other.

With many other no-gi grappling events like ADCC, Metamoris, Polaris, Eddie Bravo Invitational, you may think that Quintet—Sakuraba’s new project—is yet another thing you’ll just read about in leisure on social media and nothing more. However, this one is different as it’s a team-based grappling event. That may seem like nothing anyway as this is hardly the first time a team-based combat sports event was ever conceived.

Quintet by Sakuraba and the “Kachi-Nuki” Team Format

Kazushi Sakuraba has joined forces with Josh Barnett for this venture, wherein they wish to bring in a new form of grappling competition to the world stage. The video above presents the “Kachi-Nuki” format, which is basically a “winner stays on” team format. I’m quite familiar with this as it’s much like the all-kill format in Proleague in South Korea for StarCraft. Having watched a lot of that beforehand, I’m incredibly excited for Quintet due to its potential.

In Proleague, there were those players who would have exceptional performances, wiping out the rest of the opposing team. They called it an All Kill over there, and it happened every now and then when a player is either having a good day or is pressured enough to eke out a once-in-a-blue-moon performance. Some players just play better when they’re playing for a team instead of just for themselves (i.e. Sea in StarCraft; Isai in Smash).

The same format is prevalent in fighting games as well. Suffice to say, it’s not a complete novelty, but it’s not common at all in combat sports due to head trauma. However, with submission grappling, which is a lot more strategic and deliberate in nature, this format can definitely work wonders. It can test the competitors’ stamina and ability to both plan ahead and adapt to specific situations.

Teams can have specialists who can match well against certain types of opponents, which will deepen the strategic aspect of this event. The only thing I’m concerned about is whether they will have teams pick their next competitor during the match or before it. If it’s the latter, that will limit the strategies that can be employed, so I do think they’ll most likely employ the former instead.

Sakuraba will compete with Barnett, as well as MMA veterans Hideo Tokoro and Daisuke Nakamura. They’ve yet to reveal their fifth member as of this writing.

Past Team Fighting Concepts

The International Fight League was the most notable example of this in professional combat sports. Perhaps they could’ve actually implemented this format, but it would’ve not been condoned by athletic commissions. Even back then, they knew getting punched in the face repeatedly throughout the night wasn’t a good idea, so multiple fights per fighter was out.

Perhaps it would be better if K-1 tried something like this since they weren’t above having their kickboxers fight three times a night in a grand prix final, but to hell with that since they already had their hands full with just straight-up K-1 kickboxing for both heavyweights and lightweights.

Other examples of teams fighting against each other in combat sports are the reality shows The Contender and The Ultimate Fighter, but those are just two teams with their own fighters being pitted 1-on-1 against each other over a period of time. They’re nowhere near the kachi-nuki format other than whatever team challenges they may have every now and then to spruce up the shows.

Then there’s the Team Fighting Championship, which is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’m totally against this as a sport due to its dynamics. I’m all for carnage as long as its fair, but team fighting is nowhere near fair due to how chaos can snowball and potentially get someone killed. Any sort of 2-on-1 situation should be discouraged, and that’s exactly what you can expect here.

When a fighter in one team is eliminated, it becomes a 5-on-4 situation, which means one of the fighters on the now-losing team will soon have two opponents on top of him. That fighter will then most likely go down as well, after which either one fighter will have three opponents on him or two fighters will be in 2-on-1 situations. That’s certainly not sporting.

This is why team-based combat sports have never broken through to the mainstream in any capacity. It took quite a while before a concept like Quintet came about. I’m not sure about the name of the event itself as it makes it sound more like a singing contest than a combat sport, but at least it’s descriptive. Here’s to hoping Sakuraba’s new project really takes off in a big way.

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Also published on Medium.