Headling the UFC 122 main card from Oberhausen, Germany, former UFC middleweight contender Nate Marquardt (30-9-2, 9-3 UFC) is set to vie once again for the opportunity to battle for a shot at the UFC middleweight crown as he takes on Yushin Okami (25-5, 9-2 UFC) in a #1 contendership showdown. Both Marquardt and Okami were victims of WEC transfer Chael Sonnen at UFC 109 and UFC 104 respectively, losing their precedence in the queue at the top of the division.
Marquardt returned in September to take on Brazilian jiu-jitsu leg breaker Rousimar Palhares, knocking him out at 3:28 of the first round in a strange battle marred by Palhares' accusations that Marquardt greased his legs. Palhares later repealed his comments as he stated it was frustration from getting caught by Marquardt's power.
Okami has battled back from his equally demoralizing loss to Sonnen with an impressive boxing performance against Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Lucio Linhares at UFN 21 and a split decision victory over Mark Munoz at UFC on Versus 2. Interestingly enough, Okami worked with Sonnen following the loss to improve his wrestling ability, and Sonnen commented in the following weeks that Okami had improved to a point in which he was dominating him in training.
While we have seen some improvement from Okami, I'm still struggling to see a parallel between Okami's wrestling and Sonnen's aggressive takedown and pound style. Okami has enjoyed success in the UFC as a very strong Japanese wrestler. but it's tough to fathom him implementing the same gameplan that worked so well for Chael Sonnen when he battled Nate Marquardt.
I suppose the interesting question to ask is whether Okami's wrestling can improve enough to overcome the improvement that Nate Marquardt is likely making in his own abilities to stuff the takedown. I would venture a guess that Okami won't be able to smother Marquardt in ground and pound for three rounds, and Marquardt has a lot more ways in which he can damage Okami in this fight.
Most notably, Marquardt should enjoy an advantage on the feet. While Okami does stay relatively compact in his striking, he's never been a guy who has the power to destroy opponents. Sure, he bounced his fists off Lucio Linhares' face at UFN 21, but it's going to be very difficult for him to pull off that kind of performance against Marquardt, especially with Marquardt track record of knocking out opponents recently.
I won't delve too deeply as I think the style match-up here will be relatively simple. Okami will hope to punish from the top while I think Marquardt will either be content to strike or try to impose his will on Okami from the top himself. The latter strategy will test Marquardt's conditioning a bit more, but I think both scenarios have Marquardt winning this bout via decision with the only exception being that Okami topples Marquardt before he can do the same.
As always, my rooting interest in all things Japanese will have me hoping for Okami to pull off the upset, but objectively -- I have to go with the fighter who has more tools to win. Marquardt takes this match-up and finally gains another shot at the UFC middleweight title.