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Yushin Okami: Not the Contender We Want but the Contender We Need

After a fairly disappointing card of action at UFC 122, about the only thing that’s really changed in the MMA world is that perennial contender Yushin Okami is finally in line to challenge for the UFC Middleweight Championship. It’s an opportunity that he’s been on the cusp of getting for several years now, but only after a close decision win over Nate Marquardt has Okami finally staked a definitive claim as the next #1 contender. He can now wait patiently on the sidelines while current champ (and pound-for-pound king) Anderson Silva prepares to defend his belt against Vitor Belfort.

Okami has had a mildly strange run of fights since joining the UFC. After racking up four straight wins in the Octagon Okami had his first chance at a title shot, but he came up short against former champ Rich Franklin. He bounced back with two more victories and when the middleweight division needed a new challenger, Okami got the nod and was penciled in for a shot at Silva in April of 2009. An injury forced Okami out of the fight and Patrick Cote got the opportunity instead. When Okami returned he wasn’t granted a title shot, and instead he was regulated to the preliminary portion of the card for his next two fights. Following his loss to Chael Sonnen Okami has now won three straight and should finally get his opportunity to fight for UFC gold. But does anybody care at this point?

The short answer, it would seem, is no. Okami’s style isn’t exactly designed for winning over fans, and the fact that he doesn’t speak English has given the UFC limited options for promoting him. The win over Marquardt was hardly inspiring, and it did little to convince people that Okami would have much of a chance against Silva if the two should meet again.

Now let me tell you why Okami is the best possible choice for a UFC Middleweight Championship fight. For the purposes of this argument we’re going to assume that Silva will retain his title against Belfort in February.

For starters, let’s not overlook what Okami brings to the table. He’s spent a good chunk of time training with Sonnen and the guys at Team Quest, and as we all know Sonnen is the man that has come closest to beating Silva. His insight and training, combined with Okami’s improved striking and wealth of judo skills, means that Okami could conceivably be more well-prepared to beat Silva than anyone else in the world right now (aside from Sonnen himself, of course). There’s still not much of a reason to believe that Okami can hang with Silva on the feet, but he’s got the ability to take Silva down (and at this point it’s common knowledge that takedown defense is Silva’s lone weakness) along with a solid chin that can absorb plenty of punishment.

Of course the biggest reason to set up Silva vs. Okami is the two men’s prior history with each other. As I’m sure we’ll be reminded plenty of times in the days and weeks leading up to the fight, Okami is the last man to record a win over Silva. Anyone who watches the fight will clearly see that Silva was dominating Okami before the illegal kick that caused the DQ, but the fact remains that a win is a win. This gives the UFC a built-in storyline to promote the rematch, something that will be sorely needed as neither man is known for their ability to sell a fight to the public. I expect that the UFC will likely promote this fight as a real “grudge match,” and that shouldn’t be hard given some of the things Silva has said in the past.

Speaking on his first fight with Okami in 2008, Silva appeared to be visibly upset when thinking back on what happened. He called Okami’s DQ victory, “a cheap, cowardly way of winning,” and said that, “people that were there saw that he was in the condition to come back and keep fighting, and he didn’t.” According to Silva, “it wasn’t really a fight.” At this point in his career Silva has not yet had the chance to avenge any of his four losses, but I’d be willing to bet that if he had to pick one to try and get back, it would be this one.

What about Okami? He beat Anderson Silva, currently considering by many to be the best fighter on the planet, but nobody gives him much credit for the accomplishment. A second fight with “The Spider” is a second chance for Okami to prove that he really is the better fighter, and a legitimate win over Silva would cement Okami’s place in MMA history.

He may not be the most exciting man to challenge for the UFC Middleweight Championship, but Okami is the right man for the job.


  • Guthookd says:

    Well, I wish I could be alittle more excited about this eventual match up, but after Saturday night how can you give Okami anything more than a 1/10 chance, if that. I don’t think Nate would have been a better choice though. Both of them leave much to be disired in the way of a challenging opponent for Silva.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  • Angry Mike says:

    Training with Team Quest and Sonnen will improve Okami’s wrestling, but there’s no way that he can improve so much that his wrestling is as good as Sonnen’s. Okami’s strengths are his boxing and judo, but Silva is far better on his feet or on his back. I don’t see any way for Okami to win. The fight with Marquardt was so close that I don’t even think Okami will be competitive with Silva. If Silva gets serious and doesn’t showboat, Okami won’t get out of the third round.

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  • Guthookd says:

    Mike, I think the only way he’ll even get to the third is if Silva decides to dance for two rounds before getting to business.

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  • Rece Rock says:

    The first match up was many moons ago… Although it makes for a nice marketing segway it’s pretty irrelevant.

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  • mu_shin says:

    On board with all the above…

    Watched the Okami/Marquadt fight last night on line, and saw nothing that leads me to believe Okami has what it takes to overcome the obstacle that is Anderson Silva. Thought the fight was a great illustration of what should be called a technical draw, as neither fighter demonstrated any kind of real initiative to take the fight. Okami won on all the technical points, but hardly in a clearly decisive manner. A gameplan like that against the champion has little or no chance of any kind of success…

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  • but truthfully, the article is right….who else? Vitor is our one hope to pull off the shot heard round the world and then what? Nate would still get outclassed, the bisping(yep wandy got me callin him that forever) would get rolled, Belcher “MIGHT” be able to out reach him with size and muay thai ability, but that’s it… one else at MW…I agree though, i dont see Okami having the tools to get the job done, because if he couldnt control Nate on the ground, how quick will Anderson sub him?

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  • Dufresne says:

    I just hope that if this fight does happen that Silva channels his anger from his last fight with Okami and comes to finish and not to dance.

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  • JabCrossHook says:

    I think you shouldn’t worry about Okami fighting Silva, you should worry about Silva fighting Belfort.

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  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    Belfort will be fighting Okami for the belt again in June next year. Whilst Silva trains for a rematch with Sonnen.
    Marquardt will still be overrated 8)

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  • MCM says:

    Since there’s gonna be a ton of hype about their last fight, I check it out again. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered. Yeah, Okami was getting out struck, but he never really got hurt by Silva and once he got him to the ground, he started landing some good GnP before the upkick.
    Both fighters are light years ahead of where they were then but Silva still shows that he is susceptible to getting taken down and pounded on. I don’t think Yushin will be able to finish AS, but I don’t think Anderson will be able to finish Yushin either. Okami has never been subed in his entire career and I think if he can get the fight to the ground, he could very well walk away with the Dec. If he can’t, well, the Spider was getting out struck by Sonnen……so read into that what you will.

    Marquardt > MMA-LOGIC ;)

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  • MCM says:

    Interesting side note:
    Troy “Rude Boy” Mandaloniz was the ref for that first fight.

    I didn’t realize that ’til I watched it again.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0


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