In the co-main event of the evening, former UFC middleweight contender Yushin Okami (24-5, 8-2 UFC) will look to regain a spot in the top third of the division as he meets NCAA Division I wrestling champion and devastating ground and pound fighter Mark Munoz (8-1, 3-1 UFC). Okami most recently destroyed Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist Lucio Linhares at UFN 21 in March with a dizzying display of boxing, something we haven't seen before from the long-time UFC veteran. Before the victory, Okami was potentially in line for a title shot multiple times, but WEC transplant Chael Sonnen derailed that opportunity along with Okami's inability in previous matches to finish his opponents.
Munoz will have the opportunity to take advantage of quite the jump in competition following his knockout victory over Kendall Grove at UFC 112. The battle was a back and forth affair that saw Grove put Munoz into a lot of danger on the ground by using his long limbs and grappling prowess, but Munoz persevered and put away the glass-jawed Grove in the second round. With wins over Ryan Jensen and Nick Catone in previous appearances following his debut loss to Matt Hamill, Munoz seems to be on the verge of breaking through to the upper portion of the division. A win over Okami will easily put him into that category.
Sonnen provided the blueprint for frustrating Okami in their showdown at UFC 104, and Munoz has the wrestling credentials to be that type of relentless takedown artist who can neutralize Okami for three rounds. Unfortunately, Okami's loss to Sonnen and subsequent training sessions at Team Quest seem to have rejuvenated Yushin's abilities in the wrestling department. Sonnen commented on multiple occasions that a few days in the gym and a few words of advice brought Okami to a better level in his wrestling game. Whether or not it'll be enough to stop Munoz will be a mystery until fight time.
For Munoz, his stand-up game is definitely a concern, and while Okami showed off combination after combination against Linhares -- Linhares isn't exactly the epitome of Sugar Ray Robinson in the cage. Munoz will provide a stiffer test if he's improved at all with Black House at his side, but I think Okami ultimately holds the edge in this contest.
Stylistically, these guys are pretty similar. Both men rely heavily on top control and ground and pound, but Munoz is much more reliant on that type of fight than Okami. Okami seems to have a goal in trying to become much more dynamic on the feet, and that may be the difference that gives him the check mark in the win column. While the Linhares fight was impressive, we can't help but wonder if that type of performance was due to Linhares' deficient stand-up game or Okami's incredible improvement. We won't have to wait too long to find out however. If Okami has improved substantially, Munoz could be in for a rude awakening.
Okami has a tough task ahead of him, and this match-up makes me believe Joe Silva and Dana White are a bit sick of Okami hanging around in the upper echelon of the division. Strong wrestlers might be Okami's major weakness, and Munoz happens to be one of the best in terms of credentials in the division. But with both fighters' recent performances, it will be interesting to see how it unfolds in the Octagon. I think placing a bet on Mark Munoz is a solid way to make some money here, and I'll probably do that -- but I'm going with Yushin Okami.