Fighter. Dancer. Godfather of the spectacle walkout. Musician. Actor. Author. Coach. Activist. Senator. In an era in which the label “renaissance man” is thrown around too easily, Sudo has played so many roles so convincingly and moved between them so seamlessly—often juggling several at once—that he redefines the term.
Coming up in the late 1990s in Pancrase, Sudo rode the early wave of Japan’s kakutogi boom and in many ways exemplified the unique aesthetic of early-2000s Japanese MMA, where professional wrestling-style showmanship, over-the-top burlesque production values and serious martial arts spirit combined to form a strange, glorious whole. Sudo managed to embody all three. He championed the fighter walkout as a form of entertainment in its own right, elevating it to heights that even kindred spirit Kazushi Sakuraba would be hard-pressed to match. His in-ring performances bordered on performance art, as well; one moment, Sudo might be dancing away from his opponent with his back turned, while in the next, he might throw out a technique so preposterous that it was difficult to believe it had been executed on a non-cooperating opponent in a no-holds-barred fight. More on that later.
However, Sudo’s awesomeness springs not only from the sheer entertainment value he brought to the ring but from the competitive excellence that quietly accompanied and reinforced it like the dark metal framework holding up a million-watt jumbotron. True to the anything-goes spirit of the place and time, Sudo once fought a man two and a half times his size in 400-pound Eric “Butterbean” Esch, yet in between taking circus sideshow matches, dancing his way down the ramp in kabuki masks and pulling off pro wrestling spots on resisting opponents, Sudo also managed to hang losses on real, live fighters, including future champions Nate Marquardt, Mike Thomas Brown and Hiroyuki Takaya. While his results were mixed when he came up against the best of the best, Sudo racked up his career mark of 15-4-2 primarily in Pancrase and K-1 when they were among the top organizations in the world for lighter weight classes, and it is worth noting that his 2-1 UFC mark features two definitive submission wins over Brown and Leigh Remedios against one controversial decision loss to Duane Ludwig.
At K-1 Premium Dynamite on New Year’s Eve 2006, Sudo easily tapped future World Extreme Cagefighting knockout artist Damacio Page. Then, to the surprise of everyone—his own cornermen apparently included—the man of many talents announced his retirement from fighting at the age of 28.