This Saturday at UFC 92 while most of us will be making our pre-PPV preparations consisting of ordering pizza and putting the beer on ice, a non-televised undercard match between Yushin Okami and Dean Lister will be taking place that could have a lot a stake.
While the vast majority of the country waits for the live feed to hit their television screens, Okami and Lister will be doing battle inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in a fight that could very well determine which man remains employed with the largest fight organization in the world.
Despite having an impressive 6-1 record in the UFC, Okami has been cursed with the stigma of being known as a “boring fighter.” Furthermore, the UFC is trying hard to get its roster down to 140 fighters and Dave Meltzer speculated in a recent edition of The Wrestling Observer that the loser of Saturday’s non-televised middleweight encounter could have their contract cut by the UFC.
Okami re-signed with the UFC not too long ago but Zuffa retains the legal option to cut most of its fighters following a loss. If Okami doesn’t win Saturday, there’s not much that the UFC can do with him. The question is, what can be done with him even if he wins?
It would appear that capitalizing on the history that exists between UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and Okami stemming from their semi-controversial encounter at Rumble on the Rock 8 in 2006 isn’t a top priority for the UFC right now. Despite having a DQ win over Silva, a planned October title bout never happened due to an injury sustained by Okami. It looks like Okami’s small window of opportunity may have closed because when Silva returns this April at UFC 97, it will be Thales Leites who will be challenging Silva and not Okami.
Okami finds himself in a position where he is not making entry-level money in the UFC, which is both a blessing and a curse. He just happens to fall into the mid-level salary category that fighters such as Fabricio Werdum, Marcus Aurelio, and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou all fell into. From a pure fighting perspective, the latter three all belong in the UFC. However, they weren’t delivering a strong rate of return so the UFC deemed them expendable.
If Okami can’t get past Lister, then he too will likely be deemed expendable. The promotion isn’t going to continue to pay him tens of thousands of dollars to appear in non-televised bouts with no promise of moving up the card.
With a 4-1 lifetime UFC record, Lister doesn’t belong on the chopping block based on merit. However, three of his five fights have gone to decision and like Okami, Lister has developed a reputation for having fights that are less than entertaining.
One of the greatest American-born jiu-jitsu practitioners alive, Lister is by and large a one-dimensional fighter. His standup has made strides but his striking still looked less than polished during a submission victory over Jeremy Horn at the live finale for the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter in June.
And as yet another mid-level salary fighter, Lister has to move up the ladder because the UFC isn’t going to pay him tens of thousands of dollars to appear in dark matches when they can give the same slot to a younger fighter earning $3,000 to show and $3,000 to win.
So while you’re kicking back this Saturday drinking a cold one and downing your second slice of pizza, just remember that at the same time in Las Vegas there will be two men likely fighting for their livelihoods.