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After a nearly two-decade wait, Frank Shamrock faces Kazushi Sakuraba, but under grappling rules

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In what was one of the most talked about potential matches in the early 2000s that never happened, Frank Shamrock and Kazushi Sakuraba, now in their 40s, face off under grappling rules Oct. 15

Frank Shamrock

One of the most anticipated fights in the history of MMA was announced for Oct. 15 in Fukuoka, Japan.

That is, if it was 15 to 17 years ago.

Rizin, at a press conference Friday, announced that Kazushi Sakuraba will face Frank Shamrock in a grappling match on the company's next show at the Marine Messe Arena. Shamrock is a late replacement for Dan Henderson, who Rizin officials announced had pulled out due to a neck injury.

Shamrock confirmed the match to MMA Fighting shortly after the press conference. He said he was first asked about doing the fight one week ago, and started training to see if he felt he could do it, and confirmed the fight this week.

Sakuraba vs. Shamrock was considered by many as the biggest possible under-200 pound fight of another generation, when Shamrock had retired as UFC under-200 pound champion after a series of spectacular finishes, and Sakuraba had become the biggest fighting star in Japan.

Shamrock went to Japan at the time, and appeared at a Pride show issuing a direct challenge to Sakuraba. But the match never happened.

Sakuraba is now 48 years old, and has done grappling matches with Renzo Gracie in 2014 and a tag team grappling match in 2016 on a Rizin show where he teamed with Hideo Tokoro against former rivals Wanderlei Silva and Kiyoshi Tamura. Both bouts went to a draw.

Rizin grappling rules are 15-minute time limit matches with no point system in effect, meaning either a submission or the fight is ruled a draw. Shamrock hasn't competed in a pure grappling match since a 1997 submission win over Henderson.

Shamrock, 44, last fought in MMA in 2009, losing to Nick Diaz with the Strikeforce promotion in San Jose. He was the first UFC under-200 pound champion, in what was then called the middleweight division but is now closer to the light heavyweight division. He retired from the UFC as champion in 1999 after beating Tito Ortiz. He was later the middleweight champion of Strikeforce and was one of the key fighters in putting that organization on the map.

Since retiring due to multiple injuries, Shamrock had once considered coming out of retirement for a fight with Ortiz, but Ortiz was more interested in fighting for the Bellator light heavyweight title at the time.

Shamrock and Sakuraba aren't the only stars from a former era being brought back on the show.

Jerome LeBanner (4-2 MMA record), 44, who was a huge star in the 1990s as a kickboxer with K-1, will have his first MMA fight since 2010 when he faces 31-year-old Deep champion Roque Martinez (11-4) of Guam, in a heavyweight bout.

Two of the fights will air live on the Fuji Network, one of Japan's major broadcast networks. Rizin and Fuji have not announced which two fights those will be.

During the late ’90s heyday of K-1, LeBanner, with his knockout power, was one of Japan's most popular fighters. He propelled that fame into doing some high-profile MMA and pro wrestling matches in Japan.

The other new fight announced was King Reina, real name Reina Miura (6-0), a 5-foot-2, 165-pound female fighter who has made a name this past year with wins over pro wrestlers Jazzy Gabert and Shayna Baszler, facing the debuting 6-foot Crystal Stokes. Rizin's gimmick with Reina seems to be to book her against much taller fighters to build around the size difference.

Former UFC fighter Tatsuya Kawajiri (36-11-2), who was a star from the glory days of Japanese MMA, will face Gabriel Oliveira (9-0) in a 139-pound fight.

The 16-fight show will also feature the mother-and-son combination of Miyu Yamamoto (1-2), a 43-year-old former three-time world champion in amateur wrestling in the early ’90s, against Irene Cabello (6-4), and her son, Erson Yamamoto (2-2), against Manel Kape (6-1). Erson Yamamoto was a former age group world champion in amateur wrestling, and comes from Japan's most famous amateur wrestling family. Miyu is the sister of Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, who at one time was Japan's biggest MMA star.