The UFC's Strange Promotion of Yushin Okami

Remember that scene in Bambi where Thumper made fun of Bambi because he "doesn't walk very good"? And then Thumper's mom is all, "Yo, Thumper, what did daddy say this morning?" (Thumper has the short-term memory of Leonard Shelby.) And Thumper delivers a line regurgitated by American mothers ever since: If you can't something nice, don't say nothing at all. (The Thumper family is more concerned with morality than grammar, apparently.)

It's a silly, though idealistic way, of operating in polite society. Yet, I think, with a slight tweak of the wording, there's a message in there for fight promoters. First, let's take a look at this hype video from UFC 134:

The video starts at 2:02. Here's a transcription up to the 2:20 mark:

Dana White: The best fighter to come out of Japan, if he beats Anderson Silva he finally gets not only the title, but the recognition he deserves.

Mike Goldberg: Riding a three-fight winning streak of his own, Okami's strength and power makes [sic] him the greatest threat Silva has faced as champion.

The UFC promotes mismatch main events like a cheating spouse caught in the act: It's not what it looks like! Go back and watch the title defenses of Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre over the last few years, and, 9 times out of 10, Joe Rogan is going to tell you that if you wanted to put together an opponent to beat Anderson/GSP it would be [guy standing across the cage].


The UFC took that strategy to the extreme for St. Pierre's title defense against Jake Shields. Rather than promoting their Canadian posterboy for the dominant champion that he is, all the promotion went towards propping up Shields as a legitimate threat, almost trying to suggest that his success over the last few years mirrored that of the champion. Of course, St. Pierre coasted through the fight, the latter half with one eye, and now Shields is headlining a free TV show with Jake Ellenberger.

That trend is repeated by calling the "greatest threat Silva has faced as champion." It is doubly hilarious when the operating clause references Okami's "strength and power" (Okami has all of 9 [T]KOs in his 26 career wins) as the basis for that claim. Okami isn't the greatest threat to Silva's title this year when you consider betting lines have him just about twice the underdog compared to Vitor Belfort in February.

Dana White's line is the epitome of promoterspeak. The UFC has been very careful to label Okami as the best fighter to "come out" of Japan, and not the greatest Japanese fighter of all time. Dana White is just as big a Sakuraba mark as any other Pride fanboy, and this allows them to push a angle for Okami with some wiggle room if anyone decides to call him out on it.

And the idea that Okami will "finally" (!) get the recognition he deserves might as well have been written by the Outer Party. After losing to Rich Franklin at UFC 72, two of Okami's next three fights took place on the then-unaired prelims. After losing to Chael Sonnen, Okami fought Lucio Linhares on the (again, unaired) prelims of a free TV show. Both of Okami's appearances in a main event (against Franklin and his last fight against Marquardt at UFC 122) headlined drab European shows, the latter of which was shown on tape delay on Spike TV. Yuhsin Okami doesn't get recognition because the UFC has done everything in its power to prevent that from happening.

Pushing a personality or a character or a fight is all about finding truth and exaggerating it: If you don't have anything truthful to say, don't say anything at all.

Because here's the problem: The most likely scenario next Saturday is that Anderson Silva beats Yushin Okami in a fight that doesn't look very competitive. When that comes to fruition, you devalue two things. You devalue the Japanese market and every fighter coming out of it (not a huge concern for the UFC, though it hurts Hatsu Hioki) and you devalue every single opponent Anderson Silva has fought during his title run (which is important since they're likely looking at a rematch with Sonnen next).

I see the truth of this fight, from Okami's perspective, as such: Yushin Okami has struggled for recognition from fans and promotion alike amid compiling a 10-2 record in the UFC. At 30 years old, Okami is at the peak of his career, and this is probably his last shot at winning UFC gold. I'd stay away from references to the earthquake and tsunami (that's way too melodramatic for my tastes) unless Okami pushed that himself.

That's the kind of story you want to paint for a huge underdog entering the biggest fight of his career.

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