Hayato ‘Mach’ Sakurai was born on August 24th, 1975 in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. Hayato trained his entire life in martial arts in his native country of Japan and later in the United States, helping to make him one of the most respected and feared pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Sakurai made his professional MMA fighting debut on October 4th, 1996 with the Shooto organization, submitting his opponent Carl Uno for the victory. After spending five years undefeated through 20 matches and winning the Shooto middleweight title, Sakurai was finally beaten by Brazilian jiu jitsu fighter Anderson Silva in August of 2001. Sakurai suffered injuries due to a car accident shortly after the loss but still agreed to take the Ultimate Fighting Championship up on its offer to give him a shot against UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes. Hughes would go on to win the fight with a TKO in the fourth round.
Sakurai continued to fight with the Shooto league and eventually joined the PRIDE Fighting Championships, the largest MMA league in Japan. Through four years of fighting Hayato lost many matches to lower-ranked fighters and MMA professionals surmised that he had simply lost his spirit and will in the ring. After a failed attempt to fight at over 180 pounds, Sakurai traveled to the United States to train with coach Matt Hume. The training paid off and Sakurai went on to defeat his next four opponents, all well-ranked MMA fighters. During a multi-fight tournament he took out both former UFC champion Jens Pulver and Shooto champion Jaochim Hansen within hours of each other to qualify for a title bout with top-ranked fighter Takanori Gomi for the PRIDE 160 pound championship.
Sakurai faced off against Gomi on December 31st, 2005 after suffering a then-unreported injury to his leg during training. After doing an excellent job of controlling Gomi, Sakurai gave up his back and suffered a rain of blows to his head. He managed to stand the fight back up but ultimately lost by TKO before the first round ended.
Despite the disappointing loss, Sakurai went on to defeat favorite Olaf Alfonso at Bushido 11 with a KO. Bushido 12 saw much of the same with Sakurai ending his bout with Lociano Azevedo with a TKO due to a knee to the head.
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