Then along came Royce Gracie who introduced something unheard of in this "sport". Professionalism. Royce Gracie tore through the early years of MMA like a freight train through cardboard that had been sitting in a puddle for a year.
Royce Gracie was unstoppable.
Until other people tried out this professionalism stuff and it worked for them too. Royce Gracie had the sense to quit while he was at that top of his game.
And then he suddenly didn't.
Thanks to his father Helio Gracie, Royce had more brothers than dog has fleas. One of them, Royler Gracie got his arm...I'll let Seanbaby tell you about it.
Six months before this fight, Kazushi Sakuraba almost snapped the arm off Royce's brother Royler (see right). Royler never submitted, but the referee stopped the fight before he was yanked into two parts. This pissed the Gracies off-- they see limb removal as elective surgery. If you want to let someone disassemble you, who are these referees to get in your way? That's why Royce demanded a revenge fight against Sakuraba with fewer of these bullshit "regulations."
Since Royce Gracie is sort of the most important martial artist who ever lived, Pride Fighting Championships agreed to a bout with no time limits and modified rules. Sakuraba responded by offering to bring a diaper.
On the night of the fight, it was clear neither of them was going to finish things any time soon. Royce kept pushing Sakuraba against the ropes and nudging him in the leg with knees. Sakuraba defended this by making faces at the camera and trying to pull Royce's pants down. There was a little bit of confusion about the new rules, and while the strange embrace went on, the Japanese referee tried to separate them for inactivity. Royce explained to the ref in two languages that were not Japanese, that the fight was a special occasion and he could hug all he wanted. So now we have three people huddled together: an angry one trying to fight, a confused one trying to break it up, and a third one trying to tear off the angry one's pajamas. In Texas, they call this a "wedding."
As the fight went on, Sakuraba got more and more creative, combining his taunts and his attacks into an entirely new martial art. He pulled Royce's gi over his head and beat him like a hockey player. When Royce was on the ground, Sakuraba grabbed his pants and reverse-wedgied him up to drop him on his head. He snuck attacks through Royce's defenses with two-handed karate chops. In one fight, Sakuraba recreated the entire evolutionary process that led to monkeys being able to crack open palm nuts.
Did it work?
Kind of. Sakuraba wasn't disrespectful so much as he was just trying to entertain himself. He looked like a five-year-old forced to go to the laundromat with his parents. And like that poor bored child's day, this fight went on for fucking ever. For six 15-minute rounds, Sakuraba put on a violent improvisational comedy show with only one prop.
The purpose of a Gi is to teach you how to use your opponents clothing against him. It is not a superhero costume. Royce lost sight of that.
I suppose if we were serious about martial arts we would be wearing business suits in Dojos. But honestly, wearing a Gi into the ring by then was so tragically out of date it would be like showing up for the superbowl dressed like this.
The big take away here is this. If you retire at the top of your game, stay on the sidelines.