Kazushi Sakuraba’s Quintet promotion, a Japanese group attempting to turn submission grappling into a spectator sport, debuted in the U.S. on Friday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The show featured four older MMA legends, Sakuraba, Urijah Faber, Josh Barnett and Frank Mir, but the stars of the show were submission grapplers Gordon Ryan of Team Alpha Male and Craig Jones of Team Polaris.
It was Ryan’s submission of Jones with a rear-naked choke with a body triangle in 3:21 that was the key to Faber’s Team Alpha Male winning the four-team tournament, after they had earlier beaten Team Sakuraba.
Quintet is a battle of five-man teams with rules that heavily favor aggression. The five team members have to weigh under 946 pounds and in distributing that weight there were heavily skilled fighters of different sizes with different rules.
Each team had a line-up, and the winner of each match would continue to face a fresh opponent. The bouts had eight-minute time limits, unless there was more than a 20 kilogram (44 pound) weight differential, in which case it was a four-minute time limit, where, in theory, the goal of the smaller man was to avoid getting submitted and thus eliminating one of the other team’s strongest members.
The Alpha Male team of Faber, Ryan, Dustin Akbari, Antoine Jaoude and Mansher Khara won both of its series of bouts in similar fashion. Ryan came in third both times and nobody could stop him.
In perhaps the key match of the first series, Ryan submitted Barnett in 2:09 with a triangle. He followed by submitting Marcos Souza with a choke, and then clinched it for his team when the last member of Team Sakuraba, Roberto Satoshi Souza, was unable to beat him and thus was the last man eliminated.
In that fight, Souza weighed 167.8 to Ryan’s 212.2, meaning the 44-pound weight rule was in effect, meaning a four-minute match. This worked in the favor of Team Alpha Male, since while the rule is meant to aid the smaller man, with Souza being the last competitor left on Team Sakuraba, he had to submit the bigger man in under four minutes for his team to survive, and failed to do so.
The championship series was similar. Ryan won over Jones, and followed by submitting Vitor “Shaolin” Ribiero, meaning it came down to Gregor Gracie as the last survivor of Team Polaris, which had won the most recent tournament in Japan. Ryan avoided the submission, eliminating both, meaning Polaris had nobody left, while Alpha Male still had Faber left and won.
The most anticipated battle of the night by the audience of about 1,300 fans was Faber vs. Sakuraba, a battle of UFC Hall of Famers and historical performers, who started for their respective teams.
The match was notable because when Faber crossed over from college wrestling to MMA, Sakuraba was his hero.
Faber, 39, dominated the 49-year-old Sakuraba with his quickness, achieving mount in a bout where both men went for several submissions. But Sakuraba, who acquitted himself extremely well considering his age, was never in serious trouble. The match went the full eight minutes, meaning both were eliminated.
Team Polaris reached the finals beating Eddie Bravo’s Team 10th planet, in a battle where both Jones and Gracie each picked up two submission wins.
Mir, a former UFC heavyweight champion who now fights for Bellator, lost in a unique way to 2008 Olympic super heavyweight judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii, who went on to fight MMA in Japan.
Ishii, at 237 pounds, used judo moves to take Mir, at 281.8 pounds, down three times in regulation.
One of the rules were that if someone got three stalling calls, they would lose. The Japanese referees called stalling frequently to get the fighters to attack. In Mir vs. Ishii, there were three double stalling warnings, but since both got the third at the same time, the match continued.
After they went eight minutes without a winner, it was announced it would restart and go into sudden death until a finish. Ishii took Mir down once again, and with Mir on his back and not attacking, he was given a fourth stalling call, resulting in the match ending.
The show featured a lot of throwbacks to Pride, the promotion Sakuraba carried nearly 20 years ago in Japan, with the Pride theme music, and Pride ring announcer Lennie Hardt.
The audience was largely appreciative of the skill level and reacted big to all the submissions, but was often quiet, almost like a Japanese crowd studying the action. It was, from a live perspective, the most successful grappling event ever broadcast on UFC Fight Pass.
Hideo Tokoro, a popular Japanese fighter from that country’s golden era, known for his constantly going for submission, now 41, was submitted in the opener by 17-year-old American submission prodigy Nicky Ryan in 2:15 with a rear-naked choke.
Another MMA fighter, Marcin Held, who has fought for both the UFC and Bellator, had three bouts as part of Team Polaris. Held first defeated Geo Martinez with a kneebar in 1:06, impressive since Martinez had just submitted Gracie. But Held lost to an armbar next to Richie Martinez in 1:39 of a fast bout with both constantly going for finishes that drew a standing ovation from the crowd.