Yushin Okami Quietly Bucks the Trend of Japanese Fighters Failing in the UFC

He's virtually unknown in his home country and probably the least well known 8-2 fighter in the UFC, but Yushin Okami is the state of the art for Japanese MMA.

Josh Gross has an in-depth profile of the middleweight contender that discusses his unusual career path:

Of the many reasons Okami believes he's thrived stateside, understanding and embracing inherent differences between eastern and western MMA is at the top of the list. And for that he can thank Isono, who retired in 2004 after just two fights, the last a stoppage loss in England.

"I think it is simply a factor of most Japanese fighters don't understand the difference in environment between the U.S. and Japan," Okami said. "In my case, I fought several fights in foreign countries. I had experience fighting in foreign countries before fighting in UFC. It's a big difference. And there is another difference in how to win in Japan or UFC. It's a different system of judging. The fighters need to understand everything."

Isono, who remembers Okami (24-5) as very young and very talented when they first met at the Wajutsu Keishukai Dojo in Tokyo nine years ago, made it a point to teach Okami to think about succeeding beyond the borders of ring-based MMA, which these days is more the exception than the rule. For Okami's seventh fight he travelled to Moscow in October 2003 to meet Amar Suloev in an M-1 event. He was stopped late in the first round. Nine months later, after two rebound wins in Japan, Okami dropped a tight split decision to Falaniko Vitale in Honolulu. Back home he was one of the few top Japanese prospects to eschew Pride, which was thriving at its promotional height. Okami instead competed in the only cage-based event in the country, the largely unknown GCM-promoted D.O.G. cards.

For a long time, Okami's grinding style won fights in the UFC but won him no fans in the front office. Grinding out a long series of decision wins via top control but losing the big fights to Rich Franklin and Chael Sonnen kept Okami on the undercards of UFC events. But his last performance, a dramatic TKO win over Lucio Linhares that featured boxing so crisp I had to do a Judo Chop about it, seems to have turned things around for Okami. 

Now he's featured as the co-headliner of a free TV card and is fighting one of the most highly credentialed wrestlers in the division in Mark Munoz. Even Dana White is talking about a potential title shot for Yushin.  We'll find out tonight if he's going to finally put it all together or be just another disappointment to the Emperor.

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